Illinois Education Association Region 5 honors educators for outstanding commitment to their schools, students and communities

EDWARDSVILLE, IL – The Illinois Education Association (IEA) Region 5 honored educators from Breese, Greenville, Hillsboro, Litchfield, Saint Peter and Troy for their outstanding commitment to their schools, their students, their communities and to public education. The annual IEA Region 5 awards banquet recognizes honorees based on union, school and community activities.

“Our members have gone above and beyond for their students and schools these past few years,” IEA Region 5 Chair Karen Gall said. “We celebrate this year’s award recipients and draw inspiration from their dedication and willingness to go above and beyond day in and day out.  Our students are so lucky to be surrounded by so many outstanding educators. Congratulations to all our awardees!”

The IEA Region 5 award recipients were nominated and chosen for their awards by their peers.

The 2023 IEA Region 5 award winners are:

Region 5 Outstanding Teacher Award – Taryn Markezich (school counselor, Mt. Olive High School)

Markezich stands up and cares for every student who enters her office. When it comes to her students, she never backs down from a fight and will work overtime to make sure their needs are met. Recently, Markezich advocated for a student who was not receiving the full complexities of their IEP and worked hard to keep them in school. She created a Zen Den so students who are struggling can feel safe and comforted. She helped create a CRT program at Mt. Olive High School and is also involved with the Student Assistant Program to support students who struggle with grades, behavior and social abilities. She stops at nothing to make sure every student is supported and welcomed at school and in the community.

Region 5 Outstanding Teacher Award – Ami Shanafelt (English teacher, Breese Central Community High School)

Shanafelt’s enthusiasm and energy push students to exceed their limits in writing and literature. Her students feel comfortable taking risks because they know they are supported and valued. Shanafelt is instrumental in helping students realize their future potential; she works very hard to help students apply for and secure scholarships for college and career advancement, often writing dozens of letters. As the sponsor and co-founding faculty member of Central’s Service Club, Shanafelt facilitates community service opportunities for students. She coordinates the Read Across America event at local grade schools in the county and recently piloted the Educators Rising Club, which supports high school students who are interested in the teaching profession.

Region 5 Outstanding Teacher Award – Ernie Oakley (junior high math teacher, Pocahontas Elementary School)

Oakley is a deeply caring teacher who has a great rapport with students. His sense of humor is perfect for Jr. High, so much so that students have coined the phrase, “a Mr. Oakley joke.” He even incorporates his famous tie collection with his lessons. Oakley often gives up planning time to work with students who need extra help. He sets clear expectations for schoolwork and behavior, which results in greater success for his students. Oakley has been an integral member of our local executive committee for decades and has used his incredible math skills to be our lead contract negotiator. As a member of our district’s Educational Excellence Committee, he has guided curriculum decisions for the betterment of our students. He sets an example of hard work and dedication for new educators and he has been an invaluable mentor. With his open-door policy, he makes every student and colleague feel like their opinions matter.

Region 5 Outstanding Teacher Award – Karen Lotz (special education teacher, Brownstown Elementary School)

Lotz is always there to greet students with a smile. She has worked with students with disabilities for more than 20 years. She meets the needs of every individual student to help them do their best. Lotz has been a beloved mentor to new educators; she is always there with a listening ear. This year, she will celebrate her retirement! She has touched the lives of so many students and educators and will be greatly missed.

Region 5 Outstanding Educational Support Professional Award – Tina Murray (instructional aide, Triad Middle School)

No matter what kind of day she is having, Murray greets every student with a smile. Her positive attitude is felt by every student and staff member. She is a true professional who works well in any situation and classroom. She often checks into the office to lend a helping hand. When Murray works with special education students, she treats them as if they were her own. The students absolutely love her and so many have grown and flourished under her care.

Region 5 Outstanding Teacher Award – Dan Newkirk (middle school health teacher, Litchfield Middle School)

Newkirk has devoted his entire adult working life to helping students through teaching and coaching — 33 years and 95 seasons! As a middle school health teacher, he built a curriculum for students that centers around activities and conversations to help them understand the importance of physical and emotional health. He gets to know his students with a kindness and patience that is so important at their developmental stage. For most of his career, Newkirk has coached three sports a year. He has made an impact on countless student athletes in football, cross country (a program in which he was instrumental in starting), golf and wrestling. A strong member of our union, he is not afraid to take a stand to improve working conditions for staff and learning conditions for our students. As he retires, Newkirk will truly be missed as a leader and educator in his local.

Region 5 Outstanding Teacher Award – Katie Savage (kindergarten teacher, Madison Park Elementary School)

Savage creates a classroom environment that fosters growth, confidence and love while incorporating real world expectations for students. She creates a culture of humor, respect and peace and has implemented practices that make Madison Park a more supportive environment for all. Savage is a strong advocate for colleagues and students. She holds various leadership roles and is the president of the Litchfield Education Foundation, which provides grants and opportunities to the district. As a parent to students in the district, she works hard to make ALL students’ experiences at Litchfield like those she would want for her own children. As the Litchfield Education Association building rep for Madison Park, she makes sure the voices of her union siblings are heard. Anyone would be lucky to work with Savage. She brings professionalism, mindfulness, accountability, joy and humor to Madison Park Elementary.


At 135,000 members strong, the Illinois Education Association (IEA) is the largest union in Illinois. The IEA represents PreK-12 teachers outside the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.

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