Illinois Education Association honors educators from around the state

ROSEMONT – The state’s largest educator organization, the Illinois Education Association (IEA), today honored those with an outstanding commitment to their schools, their students, their communities and to public education.

The awards were presented during the IEA Representative Assembly (RA) at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont. The RA is the legislative body of the IEA and helps the state’s largest union set its agenda for the year. There are 1,200 IEA delegates, guests and state dignitaries who attend the RA.

“These awards showcase some of the most incredible work happening in education in Illinois,” said IEA President Kathi Griffin. “Our members go above and beyond for their students every single day. These award recipients show just how far we’re willing to go to make sure our students get what they need both inside the classroom and outside of it. From teachers, to education support professionals, to our student and retired members, our organization is fueled by our fight to make sure every student in Illinois has access to a fair and equitable public education.”

The IEA award recipients were nominated and chosen for their awards by their peers.
The 2020 IEA RA award winners are:

Illinois State Board of Education Teacher of the Year and NEA Award for Teaching Excellence Nominee – Eric Combs (Richland County Middle School – Olney) 

Eric Combs, who is a band teacher for 6th to 8th grade students at Richland County Middle School in Olney, was named the 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). Combs also was chosen as the Illinois nominee for the National Education Association (NEA) Award for Teaching Excellence. In addition to being the band teacher, Combs started a program at his school that loans out instruments to students free of charge. A majority of the students in the Richland County Community Unit School District 1 are considered low income. But, his work doesn’t end there. Eric has built a global network of band teachers who have taken an interest in his music program. Eric shares his instructional materials at no cost to the more than 4,000 followers he has. Last year alone, 650 band instructors contacted Eric about his materials. Through the network he created, Eric also raised money to start a band program in Honduras, which provides instruments to students at no charge. Eric has been a teacher and IEA member for 15 years. He has his Bachelors of Music and Masters of Arts in Music Education from Eastern Illinois University. As the 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year, Eric will be able to share his love of music, and his knowledge, with a huge audience, and we are thrilled that he is also the IEA nominee for the NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence.

Education Support Professional of the Year – Debra Ciciora (Eisenhower High School – Blue Island) 

Debra Ciciora is a paraprofessional for special education and CORE classes at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island. Ciciora works alongside teachers to help the students of Eisenhower learn and grow. She also is serving as a mentor for new teaching assistants within Community High School District 218. In addition, Ciciora is certified in Supplemental Reading and the Wilson Reading Program. She’s been honored as a recipient of the Lock Box Challenge and the ESP STAR Award. Ciciora is being honored for her advocacy, IEA involvement, community engagement, personal achievement and overall enhancement of the education support professional image.

Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award – Sara Huser (Crystal Lake Central High School, Crystal Lake)

Sara Huser is a bilingual counselor at Crystal Lake Central High School and a proud IEA member. Through her work at school, Sara met a student named Meydi Guzman Rivas. Meydi came to this country with her father, fleeing violence in Honduras. In October, Meydi and her father were taken into custody by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and accused of missing a court date during their quest for asylum in the U.S. Sara has worked tirelessly to free Meydi from the prison she was held in for the last four months. She became Meydi’s power of attorney, started a GoFundMe to help cover Meydi’s legal costs and found a law firm to take on Meydi’s case pro-bono. Meydi was recently released on bond and is now back in school and living with Huser, her husband and her four children in Crystal Lake. Huser is continuing her work alongside Meydi to make sure Meydi is granted asylum and can stay in this country. While they work their way through the court system, there is some good news. Even after missing four months of school, it appears Meydi is still on track to graduate this spring. Huser has truly gone above and beyond the duties and responsibilities associated with her job of being a high school counselor. She has proven herself to be selfless and an advocate for our most vulnerable students. She took a courageous stand and continues to fight for her student today.

Bob Haisman Teacher of the Year – Lyndi Mallers  (Olympia High School, Stanford)

Lyndi Mallers has been a special education teacher at Olympia High School in Stanford for three years. Mallers goes above and beyond in her role as a special education teacher. She is a true activist, both in her school district and within the IEA. She’s attended trainings and many diversity professional development sessions to gain knowledge, so she could co-sponsor a Gender Sexual Alliance chapter at her school.  She has partnered with the Pride Coalition in her area and the Illinois State University Pride Group to ensure success with this program.  Mallers has shown and continues to show her dedication and commitment to her profession, to public education and to being an advocate for public education. Her excellence, as an educator and as an advocate, set her apart and make her an exceptionally well-deserving of the Bob Haisman Teacher of the Year Award.

Bob Haisman Student of the Year – Bri Haas (Western Illinois University, Macomb)

Bri Haas is a successful music education student at Western Illinois University (WIU), earning high marks in her classes. She has made the top ensemble at WIU since her first semester, premiering last semester as a student conductor for the WIU concert band. She created a junior band through the National Association for Music Education where students from the Macomb area can learn from collegiate and professional musicians at a low cost so that money is not an impediment to students learning about music. Haas also is an advocate for public education. As president of her local IEA student chapter, Haas emphasized her passion for education at every meeting. In her community, she is known as a trusted, knowledgeable voice on public education who advocates for inclusivity and diversity. Haas is an excellent leader, but one of her true strengths is building others up and promoting them ahead of her own contributions. She truly is dedicated to the advancement of the education profession.

Mary Lou and Keith Hauge Award – Diane Chapman (Retired – Geneva)

Diane Chapman has been a member of the IEA for 25 years. As a former member of the Geneva Education Association, Diane is currently serving as president of the IEA West Suburban Chapter. She’s also a member of the IEA-Retired Racial and Social Justice Committee as well as the Region 40 secretary. Diane organized a national presentation that was supported by NEA titled, “Who are the adversaries of public education and how do they impact us and our students”? This was accepted for presentation at the National Leadership Summit three separate times in Denver in 2019. Diane is also a mentor to student IEA members. She was fundamental in the organization of IEA-Retired Summer Leadership Academy for the past several years.

Mary Lou and Keith Hauge Award – Loretta Tisdel  (Retired – Crete Monee) 

Loretta Tisdel has been a proud IEA member for the past 35 years. A former member of the Crete Monee Education Association, Loretta currently serves as the secretary-treasurer on the IEA-Retired Council, on the NEA-Retired Legislative Committee, the IEA-Retired Racial and Social Justice Committee and on the Budget Oversight Committee. Loretta has actively recruited newly-retired teachers and support personnel to become members of the South Suburban IEA-Retired chapter. She volunteered as a pilot member of the Center for Economic Progress Cadre, assisting lower income members in her community at a tax assistance site that offered tax returns at no cost. She not only participated in the training, but she also encouraged some of her chapter members to get involved on behalf of their community. Loretta continues to use the same leadership skills she possessed as local president, now as a leader of the South Suburban IEA-Retired Chapter and as a member on the IEA Council of Retirees.  She is knowledgeable, fair and exhibits great integrity in her communications and dealings with retired members. She is a great example of someone who has continued to remain active in IEA on the local, state, and national level, as a retired member. She continues to exemplify dedication, enthusiasm, leadership, advocacy and passion in her involvement with IEA-NEA, and with IEA-Retired, which is certainly part of the legacy left by the Hauges.

Photos of award winners are available for download here. Each award winner is photographed with from left IEA Secretary-Treasurer Tom Tully, IEA Vice President Al Llorens and IEA President Kathi Griffin.


The 135,000 member Illinois Education Association (IEA-NEA) is the state’s largest education employee’s organization. IEA represents preK-12 teachers outside of the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.

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