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District 54 students, staff receive INSPRA Distinguished Service Awards

District 54 is proud to announce the following recipients of Distinguished Service Awards for 2019 from the Illinois chapter of the National School Public Relations Association (INSPRA):

• Kennedy Apple and Taline Abousamra, sixth-grade students at Dirksen Elementary School, won an award in the Student category.

• Meagan Kasper, administrative assistant for the District 54 Community Relations Department, won an award in the Support Staff category.

• Michele Peacock, Sunita Mani-Sriram and Julie Raio, secretaries at Eisenhower Junior High School, won an award in the Team category.

• Superintendent Andy DuRoss won an award in the Administrator category.

The statewide Distinguished Service Awards program honors individuals and groups who have consistently gone above and beyond on behalf of their schools and whose efforts have enhanced education and conveyed its importance to the community at large.

Kennedy A. and Taline A.

Student winners with their certificatesDirksen has a new sound lab in its library this year, and one of the first projects students worked on was researching and creating a podcast of their choosing. After the project ended, Kennedy A. and Taline A. asked their library media teacher if they could create a regular podcast for Dirksen. This is not a club or a class activity, but a student-created communication with a teacher serving as a mentor.

The girls presented a proposal for a podcast with community announcements, such as upcoming school events and information on extracurricular activities. After finding that the podcast wasn’t reaching the audience size they envisioned, Kennedy and Taline created new material to attract more listeners. They added interviews with teachers and students, with thought-provoking questions. They incorporated interactive segments to engage listeners. For example, if students complete a survey saying they listened, the girls mention them during the podcast. Students are also encouraged to share questions they have for the school during their library time. Taline and Kennedy will research the question and share their findings with all. Kennedy and Taline spend countless hours of their free time working on their planning document. They also skip lunch and recess twice a week to record and edit each episode.

Meagan Kasper

Meagan with her certificateSince Meagan Kasper was hired as the community relations secretary in January 2018, she has taken District 54’s communication efforts to new heights.

Although graphic artist isn’t in her job description, Meagan has a natural eye for good design and has developed or redesigned many flyers, programs and brochures. She even co-facilitated a class on designing with Canva for other support staff at the District 54 administrative center.

While always focused on her work, Meagan makes time to build relationships and enhance morale, so district administrators asked her to co-lead the district’s Happiness Team. Meagan leads the monthly meeting for more than 100 employees. She starts each meeting with activities that enhance relationships between departments.

Meagan is also committed to fostering partnerships. For example, she organized the Schaumburg Parent University Summer Camp Expo, reaching out to organizations, promoting the expo and staying late to ensure the event was successful. When asked to take notes for the District 54 Education Foundation’s golf committee, she took her involvement to the next level by also procuring numerous donations. These activities are beyond the expectations of her position, but she happily tackles these challenges to support the families we serve.

Michele Peacock, Sunita Mani-Sriram and Julie Raio

The three secretaries with their certificatesThe secretaries at Eisenhower Junior High School in Hoffman Estates have established strong relationships with staff, students and parents to best support student learning and well-being.

The secretaries are usually the first people that students, families and staff encounter when they enter a school, and often the first people our new families meet. Eisenhower’s secretaries are known as the office queens because they give each patron the royal treatment. They have the talent of turning a challenging circumstance into an opportunity to build a positive relationship. They approach each situation by first being active listeners, and then communicating in a supportive manner to ensure all individuals feel heard and respected.

The Eisenhower secretaries keep students at the center of their work. They mentor students who need additional social or emotional support, and are often sought out by students looking for a personal connection with an adult at school. They make connections with these students and consistently demonstrate that they care about them unconditionally. One secretary bought a winter jacket for a student who could not afford one. Another bought two of the students she mentors graduation gifts. Even when the students leave Eisenhower, they will often see these secretaries cheering them on at high school.

Superintendent Andy DuRoss

Andy DuRoss with his certificateWhether talking to a parent, meeting with a teacher, or engaging with students while visiting schools, District 54 Superintendent Andy DuRoss prioritizes building relationships to enhance communication.

One of the biggest impacts a superintendent can make is enhancing the district’s culture. In 2017, DuRoss brought the positive psychology principles outlined by Harvard Researcher Shawn Achor to District 54. This training demonstrates how happiness and optimism fuels performance and leads to success. When DuRoss talks about student success, he is not just speaking about academic success but social and emotional success as well. He is committed to the happiness of his students and employees.

In 2018, DuRoss invited parents, community members, administrators, teachers and support staff to serve on the District 54 Strategic Plan Task Force. The district adopted new goals and four focus areas: innovation, whole child success, exceptional employees and fiscal responsibility. From this work, District 54 launched an innovation task force and rolled out a new social-emotional learning curriculum. Under DuRoss’ leadership, the positive culture in District 54 continues to thrive and student achievement continues to grow.

INSPRA honored all District 54 recipients during its annual Distinguished Service Awards luncheon on May 10 in Bolingbrook.