ISBE to Recognize Exemplary Educators October 25 at `Those Who Excel’ Banquet

Outstanding Early Career Educator Named

NORMAL, IL – More than 230 educators and school staff members will be recognized later this week at the 40th annual Those Who Excel banquet in Bloomington-Normal. The Illinois State Board of Education annually honors bus drivers, custodians, support staff, counselors, volunteers, board members, teachers and administrators from among the 857 school districts in the Prairie State.

“It is really exciting to recognize individuals from so many fields who are impacting student success in a variety of ways,” said State Board of Education Chairman Gery J. Chico. “Through Those Who Excel, we are able to celebrate those dedicated people who put students first each day, whether they are clearing the sidewalks for a safe entry into school on a snowy morning or staying late to tutor students. Each of these nominees is committed to helping students achieve and we are very pleased to have this opportunity to honor their contribution to Illinois’ students and public education.”

For the eighth consecutive year, the evening ceremonies will include celebrating one individual chosen as the Outstanding Early Career Educator. This year that honor will go to Cassandra “Cassie” Fenton who will be among those recognized Saturday, Oct. 25 at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal. To be considered for the Early Career Educator award, a nominee must be within their first five years of teaching and their nomination paperwork must include a recommendation from an administrator, a teacher, a student and a parent or community member. A committee of peers, organized through the Illinois State Board of Education, chooses the award winner.

Cassie drew on her own experiences as a student at Crystal Lake Central High School when it was time to consider possible careers. Her success working with her teenage classmates and her interest in math led to her current post as a high school math teacher, something she describes as a “calling.”

A teacher at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire for the past five years, Cassie teaches a diverse range of students, including those with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), though she rejects labels.

“Cassie is an extraordinary teacher who brings hope to students who have long been resolved as ‘math unable,’ ” explains Dashan Jain, director of mathematics at Adlai E. Stevenson High School. “As an early career educator, she has challenged the labels placed on students with needs and placed the responsibility of bridging the gap on herself. She is developing as a leader of differentiated instruction.”

Staff and students also say that Cassie creates a safe and welcoming environment in the classroom.  In her letter of recommendation, one of her students wrote that on the first day of school, “Mrs. Fenton asks her class to write down what we need from her because she wants us to feel safe every day. Because of Mrs. Fenton’s efforts, I didn’t fear having the wrong answer because I knew the class wouldn’t criticize me.”

“Learning about teachers who demonstrate a strong connection to students in their first few years of their career is exciting,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “I am happy to have the chance to bring attention to educators who are making a difference early in their careers because they represent the future of what I and many others still believe is one of the most important professions. Cassie is clearly a teacher who is making a difference in our classrooms.”

Cassie graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and a Bachelor of Arts in secondary education. Her determination to help all students be successful inspired her to earn her Master of Arts in differentiated instruction from Concordia University Chicago.

ISBE recently launched a new Those Who Excel webpage at The site includes the latest news about the award program, lists of Those Who Excel honorees from recent years, bios of the current Illinois Teacher of the Year and Early Career Educator of the Year, and a list of Illinois Teachers of the Year from 1970 to the present.

This year’s Teacher of the Year will also be named upon the close of the Those Who Excel ceremonies Saturday night. The finalists were announced earlier this month. The event is sold out.

A complete list of recipients by county can be accessed at