Ten faculty and staff from Stevenson have been selected to receive recognition in the Illinois State Board of Education’s 45th annual Those Who Excel Awards program.
Two people earned the highest honor, the Award of Excellence: Dave Irsay (Early Career Educator) and Crystal Maleski (Educational Service Personnel). Irsay teaches mathematics, while Maleski coordinates the school’s social media efforts.
Eight educators were recognized with the Award of Merit: Special Education teacher Tami Napolitano (Classroom Teacher), and the Spanish 2 team of Zara Dittman, Samuel Figueroa, Stephanie Fischer, Joey Fitzpatrick, Nancy O’Malley, Elfie Repel and Adrienne Ruzicka (Team).
The 2019-20 Those Who Excel Awards banquet will be held Oct. 19 in Normal. Stevenson’s Those Who Excel recipients also will be recognized at the November meeting of the District 125 Board of Education.
Here are brief summaries of each recipient:
Dave Irsay, Certificate of Excellence, Early Career Educator
Irsay has taught at Stevenson full-time since 2015, and also served as a long-term substitute during the second semester of the 2014-15 school year. He is the faculty team leader for Geometry Accelerated, a course primarily for sophomores, and also teaches Algebra 1. Irsay is well-known for merging his passion for mathematics and music, taking popular songs and developing content-specific lyrics to help students remember certain concepts. Irsay was inspired to become a math teacher during his junior year of high school, where, ironically, he never took an advanced or Advanced Placement math class. He went on to earn not only a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Mathematics Education, but also a master’s degree. Irsay also received a Transitional Bilingual Endorsement in Spanish. “As a high school student who felt displaced, my hope is to teach and inspire hope that it truly does not matter where you are right now, and that with hard work, one can achieve your goals and dreams,” he said.
Crystal Maleski, Certificate of Excellence, Educational Service Personnel
Maleski joined Stevenson in 2017 after spending more than 10 years running her own social media company. During her first two years at SHS, the school’s social media following increased by 40% and the number of followers on its Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts has surpassed 27,000. Every day, she walks the hallways with camera in hand, looking for potential posting material. In addition to connecting well with the students, Maleski also has worked with several faculty and staff members to become active on social media. The Michigan native has been a familiar face at Stevenson for several years. Her four children attended Stevenson and were involved in volleyball, water polo and swimming. “Stevenson is more than a nationally ranked school,” she said, “it’s a building full of stories that I have the honor of sharing through social media.”
Tami Napolitano, Certificate of Merit, Classroom Teacher
Napolitano joined Stevenson in 2005, and over the past nine years has built from scratch a program that supports students diagnosed with autism. The program has grown to include more than 40 students with autism diagnoses ranging from mild to severe. The Libertyville native developed her interest in special education while studying and playing basketball at Northwestern University. She volunteered to work in a reading program with local elementary school students, and a teacher complimented her for making every student feel important, including two with autism. Napolitano knew little about autism at the time, and began to research the condition. “I returned to that classroom several times, trying new ways to communicate with and engage them,” she said. “The following trimester I took an Introduction to Special Education course that changed my life. I immediately knew my career wasn’t in physical therapy but special education.”
Spanish 2 Team, Certificate of Merit, Team
The Spanish 2 team has been one of the most innovative groups at Stevenson. Over the past eight years, the seven-member team was the first to integrate iPads into the classroom, embrace standards-based grading, and engage in transparent sharing of data ranging from grade distributions to student feedback. The Spanish 2 team was the first at Stevenson to not only administer the national Student Voice Survey to every student in the course (more than 400 students), but also was the first team in which every member chose to share his or her individual results with the entire team. The transparency has led to the meaningful inclusion of social emotional learning within the curriculum. “Collectively, our S2 teachers have built a robust and well-articulated curriculum that nurtures students’ curiosity and builds the type of relationships within the classroom that make learning more meaningful,” said Director of World Languages and ELL Justin Fisk.