District 54 announces six winners of prestigious Those Who Excel Award

Posted August 28th, 2015 by Terri McHugh

District 54 is proud to announce the following recipients of the 2015 Illinois State Board of Education’s Those Who Excel Awards.

  • Amy Czerniak, an intervention coach at the Muir Literacy Academy in Hoffman Estates, won an Award of Excellence in the student support personnel category.
  • Dia Rizmani, a third-grade teacher at the Hoover Math and Science Academy in Schaumburg, won an Award of Excellence in the early career educator category.
  • Sue Mayernick, the principal at the Early Learning Center in Schaumburg, won an Award of Merit in the administrator category.
  • Karen Weinzierl, a chorus and music teacher at Eisenhower Junior High School in Hoffman Estates, won an Award of Merit in the classroom teacher category.
  • District 54 STEM Instructional Coach Ben Loduha and the junior high and elementary teachers who coordinate the FUSE program in District 54 won an Award of Merit in the team category. FUSE is an interest-driven program incorporating the concepts of STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts/design and mathematics.
  • Paula Falvo, a secretary at Lincoln Prairie School in Hoffman Estates, won an Award of Recognition in the educational service personnel category.

Amy Czerniak

Amy Czerniak began her career in District 54 as a special education teacher. In this role, she worked tirelessly to find new strategies for teaching, multiple pathways for student learning and countless ways to keep her students engaged. After five years, she became the literacy coach. As a coach, Amy meets with teacher teams to collaboratively plan lessons, create high-level assessments of student learning, and analyze data to support the next steps in working with students.

She also directly supports students. When students work with Amy they are focused, positive and above all, learning. This is due to her natural ability to create a learning environment where students feel valued and safe. It is because of this positive learning environment that students are engaged and learning at unprecedented rates. For example, she began working with a fourth-grade student last year who was reading at a beginning first-grade level. Due to collaborative problem-solving, led by Amy, and aligning strategies for instruction, the student has made 1½ years of progress toward grade-level standards.

Dia Rizmani

Dia Rizmani originally majored in biological sciences and worked in laboratories. However, she returned to school to get her teaching degree when she realized she was always teaching – through staff training, college tutoring and other avenues. Despite teaching for only four years, Dia is already a leader at the school and district level, serving on the Hoover School Leadership Team and the District 54 Literacy Task Force. Additionally, Dia represents District 54 on the Roosevelt University Redesign Committee, which is responsible for redesigning and improving the teacher preparation program at Roosevelt.

She is also making a difference with her students. As the daughter of immigrants, Dia said she often felt isolated at school. Therefore, in her classroom, she teaches her students to celebrate their differences. By building upon each student’s strengths and cultural backgrounds, the learning environment is highly inclusive and regarded as a safe place for all to learn. This environment led to 100 percent of her students meeting their growth targets on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment last year.

Sue Mayernick

Sue Mayernick opened the District 54 Early Learning Center last year; supervises a staff of 128 employees; and is responsible for the care and education of about 800 students ages 3 to 5, who were accepted to the center due to a disability or the fact that they were at-risk for success in kindergarten and beyond.

As the principal of the Early Learning Center and the director of early childhood programming, Sue supports not only the students but their families as well, helping them navigate their children’s first years in school. But Sue is best known for making the care of our youngest, and often neediest, students her top priority. She is a strong voice advocating for the needs of her students and their families on a legislative level. This work is, for her, not just a job but a calling.

Karen Weinzierl

Students in Karen Weinzierl’s music classes at Eisenhower Junior High School learn to read music, play the piano and even create their own music using the Finale Notepad program. However, Karen also uses her music classes to teach science, math, history and literacy. Her philosophy of education is that music should not be taught as a cultural “add-on” but as a core part of the basic curriculum integrated into all subject matter.

As the music field leader for District 54, Karen has greatly influenced other music teachers by providing the professional development necessary to incorporate the new Illinois Learning Standards into the music curriculum. She explains how she reviews the literacy and math growth targets for each of her students on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment to ensure that she is aware of her students’ needs and to incorporate the support they need into her music lessons.


District 54 STEM Instructional Coach Ben Loduha and a team of teachers from District 54 elementary and junior high STEM schools make up the FUSE Team. Over the past three years, as a result of this team’s tireless efforts, students have been provided unique STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiences focused around rocketry, coding, GEMS (Girls in Engineering, Math and Science), FUSE (a STEM partnership between District 54 and Northwestern) and our Summer STEM Academy, providing students additional opportunities to explore and engage with these unique experiences.

Every child is a scientist at heart. As a result, the main focus of Ben and the FUSE teachers has been to increase STEM literacy for all students, fostering our students’ curious and creative minds. Effective STEM instruction capitalizes on students’ interest and experiences, identifies and builds on what they know, and provides them with experiences to engage them in the practices of science/engineering. This team of educators has spent countless hours before, during and after school collaborating with grade-level teams of teachers to help them develop a deeper understanding of the district’s STEM curriculum and how it applies to the material taught in mathematics and science classes. In addition, the FUSE team has presented to parents and the community regarding the current structures of STEM programming available across the district.

Paula Falvo

Paula has all the skills that an excellent school secretary should have. She is organized, supportive, efficient and follows through to ensure that the job gets done. But what makes Paula truly special is her talents that go beyond what you would expect of her job description. Paula shares her artistic talents with the Lincoln Prairie community, by supporting set design for the school plays and decorating the office with murals reflecting the school’s annual theme.

Her communications skills are also beyond none. She works with students, staff and parents to help problem-solve situations, by offering suggestions and proactively anticipating misconceptions in order to avoid miscommunication. Her strength as a communicator is directly related to her ability to form relationships with the people she serves. By actively listening to others, she is able to support them in the best possible way.

The Illinois State Board of Education will honor all District 54 representatives during its annual Those Who Excel banquet on Oct. 17 in Normal.