The selection will be announced during the “Those Who Excel” banquet on Saturday, Oct. 19
By Pamela Rensing
SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) 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.
One of the finalist is Tamara Kuper of Aviston a sixth-through-eighth-grade math, art, career and life skills teacher at Aviston Elementary School in Aviston Elementary School District 21.
Kuper, 50, grew up in Trenton, and attended Wesclin High School. She is a 1991 graduate of Eastern Illinois University with a Bachelors in Education, and a 2014 graduate of McKendree University with a Masters in Administration.
She has been a teacher for 29 years, first at St. Paul in Highland from 1991-1997 and then at Aviston Elementary from 1997-present.
“I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a young child, so there really was no other choice for me,” said Kuper. “Every day is a new experience and opportunity for me and my students. I enjoy getting to know them, seeing them excited about learning, and celebrating their successes in and out of the classroom. I am very lucky to be going to a job that I love every day!”
Kuper was notified in August that she was selected as a finalist. “I was extremely surprised! I am humbled to be associated with such a fantastic group of educators and look forward to working with them to share all the positive Illinois schools have to offer. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity.”
Tamara and her husband Mike Kuper have been married for 27 years. They have three children: Ryan-21, Sydney-17, and Dawson-13.
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.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala stated, “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.
“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 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists.”
Along with Tamara Kuper, the other 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists include:
• Tanya Katovich, a chemistry teacher at Hoffman Estates High School in Township High School District 211 in Palatine
• Jennifer C. Leban, a sixth-through-eighth-grade creative technology teacher at Sandburg Middle School in Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 in Elmhurst
• Eric Combs, a sixth-through-eighth-grade band instructor at Richland County Middle School in Richland County CUSD 1 in Olney
• 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 in Bloomington
• Michael G. Murakami, a seventh-grade math teacher at Whiteside Middle School in Whiteside School District 115 in Belleville
• Daniel W. Hartman, a fifth-grade teacher at DuBois Elementary School in Springfield Public School District 186 in Springfield
ISBE will announce the 2020 Illinois Teacher of the Year during the Those Who Excel banquet on Saturday, 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.