Press Release

SPRINGFIELD – 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 virtual IEA Representative Assembly (RA). 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.

“We are so proud of all of our members, from pre-k through higher education. We have professionals at all levels who are focused on providing an outstanding public education to all of our students,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said. “This year’s award recipients have gone above and beyond in what will surely go down as one of the most trying years in education history. Through a global pandemic, our educators stepped up to make sure they reached every student whether through virtual, hybrid or in-person learning. In the face of extreme challenge, they rose to the occasion. Congratulations to all our awardees!”

The IEA award recipients were nominated and chosen for their awards by their peers.

The 2021 IEA RA award winners are:

IEA Bob Haisman Teacher of the Year – MEGHAN “MAGGIE” CASTROGIVANNI (Lincoln-Way East High School – Frankfort, IL)

Maggie Castrogivanni, who is a high school teacher at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort was chosen as the IEA Bob Haisman Teacher of the Year and the Illinois nominee for the National Education Association (NEA) Award for Teaching Excellence. Maggie fought to preserve the sewing class at Lincoln-Way East when the program was about to be cut. She teaches human resources and several food services classes, as well –an impressive load for a new teacher. She’s been at Lincoln-Way for just two years. On top of that, she is extremely innovative in the classroom and incorporates many texts that embody Critical Race Theory. She views the curriculum as a mechanism to further democratize and enhance the social relations of her students and community.

Education Support Professional of the Year – Debra Ward Mitchell (Thornton High School – South Holland, IL)

Debra Ward Mitchell has a combined 37 years of experience at Thornton High School and Thornridge High Schools both in School District 205. During that time, she has made a tremendous impact on her students, her community and in her union.  She is currently the director of the Infant Care Center at Thornton. When the pandemic hit last spring, Debra worked to make sure she was extra supportive to the students, parents and the community. She called and followed up with parents to check on them and sent cards encouraging them.  In her community, Debra has spent 19 years as the program manager for a summer youth program in her local community. During that time, she developed training policies and procedures that generated innovative guidelines for many programs. At her church, Debra volunteers as a cheerleading coach, track and basketball coach, as well as sponsors field trips and activities for the youth of the community. Driven by her compassionate spirit, she always seeks to help others.

IEA HIGHER EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR – JIM GRIMES (Loyola University – Chicago)

Jim Grimes is intricately involved in the IEA. He’s been a region chair, IPACE executive committee member, NEA director, IEA Higher Education Council member, Region 67 elections chair and held various other positions, including local president and bargaining chair.  Since 2015, he has served as a facilitator for the NEA edCommunities Higher Education online professional practices platform. In addition to his work at the IEA, Jim is also an award-winning educator and broadcaster. He is an adjunct professor at Loyola University in Chicago, teaching mass communication, speech, multi-cultural communication and public relations. He recently served five years as coordinator of the Illinois Broadcasters Association’s Multicultural Internship Program.

Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award – Maria Sinkule (Addison School District 4 – Addison, IL)

Maria Sinkule has gone above and beyond during one of the most trying times for our profession, our students and our communities. Maria is a social worker in Addison School District 4. After COVID hit in March last year, Maria worked tirelessly during the summer months to ensure no family in Addison went without food. She partnered with the Addison Fire Department and Women’s Club to organize a food drive called Operation Pay it Forward. Maria also collaborated with local churches and food pantries to collect surplus donations to prevent the food from going to waste and help feed more families in Addison. Through her support and partnership, assistance was provided to about 70 families who experienced food insecurity. Through her fundraising efforts, four families received financial assistance for rent. Maria’s work is nothing short of inspirational and extends well beyond the pandemic. In her years of service, she has developed trusting relationships with families, community agencies and a network of other local professionals. She has helped numerous families throughout the years with transportation, immigration, and assisting families file for support through unemployment, Social Security income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and health insurance. In education, she speaks against inequities that are present in education and advocates for change. She is also a professor at Aurora University – where she prepares incoming generations of social workers to do the same.

Bob Haisman Student of the Year – Alexandria “Alex” Toay (Northern Illinois University, Dekalb)

Alex Toay has shown continual commitment to IEA’s and NEA’s missions while studying at Northern Illinois University to become a special education teacher. She consistently puts the good of educators and students at the forefront of everything she does. Community outreach and social justice are part of her agenda as a leader. Toay has facilitated conversations among board members as part of the IEA Board of Directors’ Subcommittee on Racial and Social Justice. It’s also important to note that other aspiring educators have joined Student IEA because of her recruitment efforts. Alexandria cares about leadership development. Other chapter and state leaders have benefitted from her mentorship.

Bob Haisman Student of the Year – Dylan Toth (Illinois State University – Bloomington, IL)

Dylan Toth acts and carries himself beyond his years. Toth is a student at Illinois State University and is an active member of the IEA. He has also served on the NEA’s Aspiring Educators Advisory Committee, and NEA resolutions committee. He served as Illinois State University (ISU) Student Education Association (SEA) chapter president and Student IEA chairperson. In his roles as Student IEA chairperson and IPACE member, Dylan promotes public education. He is active by advocating for social and racial justice. He has led online events at the IEA and NEA for other aspiring educators. Dylan’s chapter membership greatly increased due to his leadership. ISU SEA grew by more than 50 percent in the fall of 2020 because of his recruitment efforts. He is a great mentor and friend to other chapter presidents and state student leaders.

NEA Award for Teaching Excellence Nominee – Ashlie Marcy (LeRoy Elementary School – LeRoy, IL)

Ashlie Marcy is an excellent example of a teacher who is both a learner and leader. Marcy is a library media specialist at LeRoy Elementary School with more than seven years of experience in education. She’s worked to diversify her school library, engage readers and support students through the formation of a gay-straight alliance (GSA) club. She has partnered with the local librarian to diversify the town’s library and with the county clerk to register students to vote, to both meet student needs and serve as an ambassador to the profession. Her work in the community continues through Illinois State University and the Regional Office of Education, where she is a frequent presenter in topics ranging from civics, to library collection curation, to STEM professional development.

Mary Lou and Keith Hauge Award – Gayla Dial (Retired – Mounds, IL)

Gayla Dial is a retired educator who really has done it all. Gayla has used her years of experience as an educator and as an IEA member to help mentor new teachers. She recently wrote a grant for her retired chapter, Deep South IEA-Retired, to fund an effort to provide new and beginning teachers with supplies. Throughout her 31 years with the IEA, Gayla has been actively involved in her union. Her contributions are too numerous to list: she’s been a local vice president and president, GPA member, a GO-Team member and she’s also a member of the IEA Retired Council – and so much more. 

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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.