Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists named

The Illinois State Board of Education has announced the 10 finalists for 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year.

This year’s finalists include educators with a variety of backgrounds ranging from an Air Force pilot to a teacher who hands out free instruments to students in the hallway to inspire a passion for music.

“Being a teacher means being a leader, a creative thinker, a problem-solver, a caregiver, an advocate, and a bridge between students and their futures,” said state Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala. “Teachers inspire, connect and transform — not just students, but entire communities. One of the gifts of having a career in education is the privilege to work alongside and learn from educators who bring creativity, compassion and courage to their schools every day. I am deeply honored to recognize Illinois’ 2020 Teacher of the Year finalists.”

Susan Converse has represented Illinois as the 2019 Illinois Teacher of the Year. She is a special education teacher at Edwardsville High School in Edwardsville Community Unit School District 7.

“The Illinois Teacher of the Year is given the priceless opportunity to serve as ambassador for all the outstanding educators across our state,” said Converse. “I am grateful to have had the chance this year to learn from and collaborate with Teachers of the Year from across the country and share the wonderful things that are happening in education in Illinois.”

The finalists were selected by a committee of administrators, teachers, educational service personnel, student support personnel, and past Illinois Teachers of the Year. The final selection of the Illinois Teacher of the Year is made by the state Superintendent of Education.

The Illinois State Board of Education will announce the 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year during the Those Who Excel banquet on Oct. 19 at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Normal. The Illinois Teacher of the Year will represent Illinois in the Council of Chief State School Officers’ National Teacher of the Year Program.

The 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists are:

Tanya Katovich

• Jennifer Leban, a sixth-through-eighth-grade creative technology teacher at Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205













• Joe Ruffolo, a physics teacher at West Leyden High School in Leyden High School District 212 in Northlake

• Debra Nicholson, a math teacher at Rich Central High School in Rich Township District 227 in Matteson

• Maggie Moore, a biology teacher at Hononegah Community High School in Hononegah Community High School 207 in Rockton

• Helen Brandon, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Bloomington Junior High in Bloomington Public Schools District 87

• Michael Murakami, a seventh-grade math teacher at Whiteside Middle School in Whiteside School District 115 in Belleville

• Eric Combs, a sixth-through-eighth-grade band instructor at Richland County Middle School in Richland County CUSD 1 in Olney

• Tamara Kuper, a sixth-through-eighth-grade math, art, career and life skills teacher at Aviston Elementary School in Aviston Elementary School District 21

• Daniel Hartman, a fifth-grade teacher at DuBois Elementary School in Springfield Public School District 186