• 2021 Those Who Excel Winners


    Donald M. Phares Classroom Teacher of the Year

    Andy Berg

    Charter Oak Primary School

    With nearly 30 years of teaching experience, and over two decades at Charter Oak Primary School, one wonders why Andy Berg has not been named the Donald M. Phares Excellence in Education honoree until now. "My first grade teacher, Mrs. T., was a loud, mean teacher who embarrassed students in front of everyone," says Berg. "I remember going home every night to my mom crying and begging her to not make me go back the next day. This first grade experience ended up ruining my excitement for learning and turned me off to learning at a very early age."

    Later in college, Berg realized that a career in education would allow him to offset the Mrs. T's of the world. "I could become exactly the opposite of Mrs. T. I could inspire kids! I could provide a positive, nurturing, and supportive classroom where each student felt loved and safe, and I would help them to develop a love of learning. I could make learning a pleasurable experience where students wanted to come back each day and learn more."

    Agriculture lesson

    According to Charter Oak principal Kathy Rodriguez,"His humor, leadership, dedication and work ethic make him,stand out among the rest. Anyone who walks in his room is chuckling within minutes. Andy has all kinds of sayings with his students, for the benefit of their learning, that make the onlooker smile. His humor is geared to the grade level & students are always on the edge of their seats for another zinger!"

    In addition to making learning fun, Berg also is masterful at applying data and research to teach students. "Andy has a strong understanding of data and research and knows how to apply it," says fellow teacher Renee Gregory. "His small groups are tailored after the specific results of testing and classroom demonstration of learning. He knows how to find the right resources for each situation, and executes his plan faithfully. Kids flourish, parents are pleased with the results, and teachers around him learn from his example."


    Manual High School math teacher Amanda Liaromatis was Classroom Teacher of the Year runner-up and has also been entered in the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Those Who Excel competition. 

    Administrator of the Year

    Kathy Rodriguez

    Charter Oak Primary School

    kathy rodriguez

    Charter Oak Primary School boasted two Those Who Excel winners this year when principal Kathy Rodriguez was named Administrator of the Year. Rodriguez was named principal at Charter Oak Primary School in 2017, after serving as the school's International Baccalaureate Coordinator, and a special education teacher at Charter Oak and Von Steuben Middle School.

    According to Charter Oak library manager Amanda Henley, "Kathy's commitment to our school's values shows her commitment to changing our school - and the world - through positivity, encouraging and rewarding what is right, rather than focusing on the negative. Her enthusiasm and kindness are unparalleled."

    Atsuko Masuyama

    Early Career Educator

    Lindbergh Middle School and Richwoods High School

    Atsuko Masuyama

    Lindbergh Middle School and Richwoods High School band and orchestra teacher, Atsuko Masuyama, won the Those Who Excel award in the Early Career Educator. Masuyama was cited by RHS principal Carly Emken and LIndbergh principal Sue Malahy for her enthusiasm and innovation in devising ways to teach music during a year of partially virtual instruction. 

    Lindbergh 8th grade student Miley Ngo said, "Mrs. Masuyama is one of the rare educators, gifted with the talent of making a generic classroom feel like a family. She is able to make the classroom a safe and comfortable learning environment where the students feel comfortable enough to ask questions when they don't understand something. Mrs. Masuyama pays attention to students and their emotions and you can tell she genuinely cares about the well-being of each student."

    Masuyama also has advanced to the quarter-finals in the 2022 National Grammy Music Educator Awards. Approximately 2,000 music educators entered and 200 advanced to the quarter finals. The list of semi-finalists will be announced in September. 

    Student Support Staff

    Meghan Moody, Certified Tutor, Calvin Coolidge Middle School

    Meghan Moody CCMS

    The Those Who Excel Student Support Staff category recognizes certified or licensed staff members who are not classroom teachers including speech, physical and occupational therapists, school psychologists and social workers and certified tutors.

    Meghan Moody, certified tutor at Calvin Coolidge Middle School, is the 2020-2021 Those Who Excel award in this category.

    Moody was a full-time classroom teacher for eight years before deciding to step away from the classroom. She quickly realized that she could not leave teaching – a lifelong passion – completely. She began tutoring high-risk middle school students at CMSS. “I have loved and appreciated my experiences at every age level, but the complexities involved in working with middle schoolers have challenged me in a way no other demographic has. This is absolutely where I feel most at home,” says Moody.

    According to PPS school psychologist Erin Triplett, “Working within a Multi-tiered support system (MTSS) successfully requires significant foundational knowledge. Meghan is well-versed in the intervention resources available within the building and, above all else, an expert in her students and their needs. Her strong relationships with them make the tutoring experience even more effective.

    “Even beyond her expertise, Meghan is a pleasure to work with. She can easily update parents when needed. Her documentation of her services is detailed and very user-friendly to other members of the team. When a school psychologist intern was assigned to work with a student on academic concerns, Meghan immediately knew which students would most benefit.”


    Educational Service Personnel

    SFC (Ret) Christopher Oertwig, Manual High School

    Christoper Oertwig

    Known at Manual High School as Sergeant O, Christopher Oertwig has been the school's Army JROTC instructor for over a decade. During that time he has built a program which has achieved the highest U.S. Army rating: Honor Unit with Distinction. According to retired assistant principal Cory Brown, "Sgt. O is not the intimidating sergeant from the movies. He is very nurturing and respectful. He can help give students a sense of belonging that they may have been looking for. He also helps students see the potential within themselves that they may not have seen."

    Manual High School 9th grade counselor Kendra Robison says Oertwig has a remarkable ability to build and maintain relationships with students. "His cadets are family to him and he treats his cadets like they are his own. He shares in their struggles and rejoices with him in their successes." 

    Manual High School senior Cadet Lieutenant Colonel (CLTC) Nataly Rodriguez says, "Sergeant Oertwig puts his students above himself -- putting their well being and safety above all else. He is a man with a truly pure heart and one of the most inspirational and motivational teachers I have ever met." 



    PPS School Nurses


    In a typical school year, school nurses are an invaluable part of a school team. Director of Special Education Dr. Ann Bond lists the responsibilities of a school nurse during a typical school year: they provide direct professional nursing services; first aid, illness, and emergency care to students; administers/coordinates administration of medication with appropriate documentation; ensures compliance with state mandates; assesses the health and safety needs of the school environment in compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines; communicates/collaborates with In-School Heath Clinics for student health screenings; and develops and maintains current health care plans for students who need special nursing interventions during the school day.

    The 2020-2021 school was anything but typical and the 23 Peoria Public School school nurses stepped up to the challenge. 

    "In addition to the primary nursing responsibilities, during the 2020-2021 school year all of our nurses have taken on additional responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic," says Bond. "All of the nurses have been trained to administer antigen tests to staff and students who display symptoms. Out of all of the tests administered (over 1,000 in just a couple of months), 98% of the tests were negative which resulted in students remaining in school and staff remaining at work. The nurses have also stepped in and helped when needed with temperature checks, monitoring COVID symptoms, helping with the quarantine room, and being the “go-to” expert in the buildings for COVID-related questions."

    According to Joshua Collins, Director of Transportation and the PPS COVID-19 Committee, "Supporting students, families and staff over the past year was an ever-increasing challenge but our district nurses handled it professionally, gracefully, and efficiently!"

    Following are the 2020-2021 PPS School Nurses:



    The Manual High School Attendance Team consisting of Carl Holloway, Marvin Jordan, Charmaine Russell and Stanton Hangen was the District Runner-Up in the Team category and will advance to the ISBE Those Who Excel competition.


    Community Volunteer

    Major Heath Sells, The Salvation Army

    Major Heath Sells

    When COVID-19 closed schools statewide in March 2020, Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat set Feed the Children as the first priority.

    More than 70 percent of PPS students are considered low income and qualify for free school meals. Between March 17 and August 17, 2021, Peoria Public Schools staff and volunteers and Sodexo served over a half-million meals to PPS students and their families. The team from The Salvation Army, led by Major Heath Sells, were an integral part of that effort.

    While many families were able to pick up meals at the nearest school building, families without transportation who lived too far from a PPS school, needed meals delivered. Often the homes and neighborhoods requiring home delivery changed with only a day's notice, but Major Sells' flexibility and leadership during the initial chaotic days of the pandemic ensured that meals arrived at school buildings and families' homes. 

    "The school district looked for partner agencies all throughout Peoria to assist in the distribution of meals to the city's families and the Salvation Army, led by Major Sells, played a vital part in in the planning, execution, and delivery of the meal delivery system," says Collins. "From attending meetings to coordinating meal pick-ups and drop-offs to delivering meals to families with limited mobility, Major Sells personally contributed to the distribution of over 500,000 meals over the summer of 2020. He played an integral part in the successful implementation of the meal distribution and delivery program always with a great attitude and a smile on his face."

    When students returned to the classroom on a hybrid schedule in fall 2020, Sells continued to deliver meals to district families who lacked transportation and had chosen to continue virtual learning.