Oak Park teacher finalist for teacher of the year
Kindergarten teacher Elyse Smith of Oak Park watches as Rosie Ondrla, 6, of Oak Park picks out the sequential order of a story during her kindergarten class at Longfellow Elementary. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 24, 2012 8:02AM
OAK PARK — Longfellow Elementary School kindergarten teacher Elyse Smith is a finalist for the 2012-2013 Illinois Teacher of the Year award.
“We are incredibly proud of Elyse, and greatly appreciate her hard work, strong commitment to education and tireless efforts on behalf of our students and their families,” District 97 Policy, Planning and Communication Director Chris Jasculca said. “She is an exemplary ambassador for our schools, our district and the entire Oak Park community.”
Growing up in Oak Park and attending Longfellow as a student gave Smith a love of District 97. Smith has taught at Longfellow for the past seven years, five as a kindergarten teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Illinois State University and a master’s degree in reading education from Concordia University in 2009.
“I always knew I wanted to be an elementary teacher,” Smith said. “Young children are so eager to learn.”
The Illinois State Board of Education narrowed down more than 200 nominations to nine finalists. The finalists were selected through ISBE’s “Those Who Excel” educator recognition program. The program annually recognizes and honors people who have made outstanding contributions to public and non-public elementary and secondary education, Jasculca said.
Teachers who earned an Award of Excellence from the recognition program became finalists for Illinois Teacher of the Year. Smith was one of them.
“There are no words to express how I’m feeling,” Smith said. “I’m extremely honored and excited to have made it this far.”
Colleagues, students and community members wrote recommendation letters on behalf of Smith for her nomination.
“She works hard for her students, for their parents, for her school, for her district, and for the community,” Longfellow Principal Angela Dolezal wrote.
“Her professionalism and talents are recognized throughout our school and the educational community,” Longfellow Assistant Principal Valerie Helm wrote.
Former student Isabel Galic wrote, “Ms. Smith was an incredible teacher, but, to me, and I’m sure other students as well, she was not only a teacher, she was also a friend. She always showed that she cared about her students by going out of her way to give us support.”
Regardless of the outcome, Smith said she looks forward to continuing to learn and build relationships with students and families.
The Illinois Teacher of the Year will be announced on Oct. 20 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal.