District 54 is proud to introduce our 2022 Ensuring Student Success Award Winners.
Amy Thompson, the principal at Hanover Highlands for the past two years, was nominated by one of the school’s teachers for holding the staff and students in her building to high standards, while also leading with compassion. Amy creates a positive climate of respect, by getting to know each individual, taking the time to find their strengths and investing in the growth. She regularly attends team meetings to help guide conversations and problem solve any difficult situations. Amy is also the school’s biggest cheerleader – celebrating all victories and progress no matter how small. Most importantly, she leads by example with the goal that other staff members follow her initiative, developing a strong team to best serve the children of Hanover Highlands.
Kendra Crane is a special education teacher at Anne Fox Elementary School who is willing to do whatever it takes to support her students and her colleagues. She creates a welcoming and safe environment in her class, so her students know she cares. In addition, Kendra supports her student’s families ensuring their basic needs (food, clothing, etc.) are met at home so they can come to school ready to learn. Kendra shows leadership not only on the special education team, but throughout the school. She helps her students connect with staff members and students at Fox by creating special jobs and projects for them. She also brings her experiences and expertise to the greater school community as a collaborative, supportive and solution-oriented team member who other teachers turn to for advice and support.
Although only in her fourth year of teaching, MacKenzie Frieders has already established herself as a leader at Dooley Elementary School. In her fifth-/sixth-grade classroom, she creates an inclusive learning environment where all students feel they belong and are willing to take risks to learn and grow. MacKenzie is also a leader to the student ambassadors and other school clubs. Under her guidance, the student ambassadors raised thousands of dollars for organizations such as Amita Health Cancer Center. MacKenzie is a leader among her colleagues. Her positivity, reflective practice and desire for continuous improvement have helped her grade-level team function at extremely high levels. In addition to her team leadership, MacKenzie has facilitated school-level professional development and even supported district-level professional development around teacher wellness.
Jim Biedke’s title may be Grounds Department Lead, but to the children and staff at the Early Learning Center (ELC), he is known as the man who makes their dreams and ideas come true. He helped develop and install a book walk in front of the ELC, where students engage with a story while walking the path. When the school needed an additional space for gross motor time during the pandemic, he installed a Sensory Garden out back for the children. Each year, he hosts a Touch a Truck event as a supplement to the school’s transportation unit. When the pandemic led to a cancellation of the in-person event, Jim took the initiative to create a video for the children instead. With every behind-the-scenes project he leads, Jim remains focused on how he can positively impact our students.
Social Worker Robin Polanco spends her days at Blackwell Elementary School working with her students, their families and her colleagues to support the needs of the whole child. She starts each day supervising the Blackwell Breakfast Club, providing free food to students from financially struggling families. She then pushes into classrooms or pulls students out for small groups, where they talk about issues such as friendship skills. She also helps families connect to resources, such as food and mental health counseling. Robin collaboratively works with teachers to create systems that will help any student in their classroom and to care for the staff member’s well-being as well, so they can be at their best when supporting the children. Simply put, Robin collaborates with families, staff, students, community organizations and anyone willing to be a team player in supporting the Blackwell community.
Student Ambassador Facilitators
In 2018, School District 54 launched a new Student Ambassador program designed to empower students to take a leadership role in creating school environments that best supported their academic success and social-emotional well-being. Currently every junior high school and elementary school in District 54 has a Student Ambassador Club facilitated by staff members who teach the children about using their voices, accepting others and providing service inside their schools and out into the community. The following facilitators collectively received the District 54 Ensuring Student Success Team Award.