February 14, 2024

District 54 is proud to announce that the following individuals and teams were recognized with a 2024 Illinois State Board of Education Those Who Excel Award:

  • Ayako Abe, sixth-grade Japanese-English dual language teacher at Dooley Elementary School;
  • Nell Haack, principal of Collins Elementary School;
  • Michelle Roth, behavior coach at Einstein Elementary School;
  • Joe Havel, operations technician in the District 54 warehouse;
  • Joe Smolenski, a Link Elementary School volunteer; and
  • The Campanelli Elementary School Child Study Team: Nurse Ashley Blocker, special services teachers Jessica Hoyer and Megan King, Social Worker Caroline Bullington-Derks, Speech Pathologist Diane Lange and Psychologist Carly Simmon.


Ayako Abe – Award of Excellence

Ayako is innovative, reflective, hard-working and results-oriented. She is a perfect example of a building mentor to new teachers as she is continually creating a positive climate of respect and success in her classroom and throughout Dooley School. Ayako leads her sixth-grade students in planning Dooley’s school-wide annual event, Nihon Day, she sponsors the Japanese Speech Club, is part of District 54’s Leadership Academy and facilitates Japanese Culture Camp over the summer. 

Nell Haack – Award of Excellence

Nell has served as a teacher, a literacy coach, a new teacher mentor, an assistant principal and a principal in District 54. In all these positions, she has focused on developing relationships with the students, the staff and the families she supports. Most importantly, she leads by example with the goal that other staff members follow her initiative, which has helped her develop a strong team to best serve the children of Collins School for the past 11 years.

Michelle Roth – Award of Merit

As a behavior coach, Michelle Roth is an integral part of Einstein’s Social Emotional Learning Team. She is always going above and beyond to find new ways to engage students in activities and conversations that celebrate and encourage them to be the best they can be. She works to make connections with all students, especially those who have a higher social and emotional need. Students consistently seek her out for support and guidance because they view her as a mentor and caring adult. Aside from her role as a behavior coach, Michelle heads up the student patrols, runs the food pantry at Einstein and helps the Einstein PTA with all events. She is known for the strong, authentic relationships she builds with both students and colleagues, immensely contributing to the caring, positive culture at Einstein.

Joe Havel – Award of Merit

In the District 54 Warehouse is where Joe Havel truly shines as a behind-the-scenes superstar! As a leader on the warehouse team, Joe is in charge of receiving anything and everything that is delivered to District 54. Whether it be curriculum materials, copy paper, custodial supplies, nurse necessities or technology equipment, Joe makes sure it gets received, logged and delivered to one of the district’s 29 buildings. Even though Joe isn’t visible to students or school staff, his work ethic and positive attitude are always in action to help the district run smoothly and efficiently. He accepts every challenge that comes his way as an opportunity to do his part in ensuring student success (which can be many in one day in the warehouse!) Lisa Kappler, who is also part of the warehouse team said “I have worked in the D54 warehouse for 27 years… Joe is really something special. His honest, friendly and considerate nature makes him a natural leader… It is a pleasure to see a younger person really embrace the opportunity he has been given to excel.”

Joe Smolenski – Award of Merit

The Link Elementary School community would not be complete without “Mr. Joe.” Since 2010, Joe Smolenski has been spending time and energy in multiple classrooms, attending kindergarten music performances, helping with art projects, leading the end-of-the-year sixth grade kickball game and much much more. Mr. Joe fosters success for students of all backgrounds and abilities by creating a supportive learning environment through patience, flexibility, and kindness. He provides students with the resources they need to succeed academically, such as small-group work, mentorship, and classroom materials. On a weekly basis he works with students with EL backgrounds, autism and speech delays. Mr. Joe continues to amaze the staff in the way that he adapts his instruction to meet the needs of all students. Although Mr. Joe’s role is technically a “volunteer,” he is a valued member of several grade level Professional Learning Communities. He collaborates with teams as they plan lessons, and continues to be a part of the reflection process post activity.

Campanelli Child Study Tea – Award of Merit

Team members Ashley Blocker, Jessica Hoyer, Megan King, Caroline Bullington-Derks, Diane Lange and Carly Simmon go out of their way to welcome new staff and students to the Campanelli, and make sure that they feel comfortable and included. They listen with respect and problem solve with open minds, always keeping the needs of the student at the forefront. They are incredibly supportive of one another, celebrating each other’s successes, and highlighting each other’s strengths during meetings. They are strong advocates for their students and consistently work with teachers and parents to make sure that students’ needs are being met. The focus is always on setting students up for success, whether that be academic, behavioral or emotionally based. Campanelli CST members value being students themselves. They stay updated on new developments in their respective fields, and share that information with others. They keep consistent data on student progress, and use that data to drive innovative interventions to guide students toward success. This team fosters engagement amongst the rest of the Campanelli staff and a desire to put their best foot forward every day because the Child Study Team ensures everyone knows they are respected and supported.