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Hedy Elliott named Donald M. Phares Classroom Teacher of the Year

Hedy Elliott, teacher at Lincoln K-8 School Within A School (SWS), has been named Peoria Public School 2019  Donald M. Phares Classroom Teacher of the Year, one of seven District Those Who Excel winners announced by Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat during an all-staff video presentation streamed this morning.

In nominating Elliott, Lincoln Principal Thomas Blumer noted, “Typically, her students are unmotivated and defiant; however, by the time they exit her classroom, her pupils have made significant improvements, both academically and behaviorally. Her ability to create a classroom culture that is inclusive and welcoming wears down even the most reluctant student. They walk into her classroom at the beginning of the year thinking of themselves as failures, and walk out of her room with the idea that education can transform their lives.”


SWS is a self-contained classroom with a mix of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students, many with behavioral and truancy problems. The SWS model, with fewer students in the classroom, fewer transitions and a nurturing, structured environment has succeeded in putting students back on track academically. Since initiating the program three years ago, discipline referrals have dropped dramatically and attendance and NWEA scores have increased significantly. Elliott sets a high bar for her students, introducing 8th grade curriculum for all students with more advanced vocabulary and advanced math. 

In addition to teaching for Peoria Public Schools, Elliott also coordinates the Peoria Park District Moonlight Coalition for Adult Learning at Proctor Recreational Center. She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Illinois Park and Recreations Community Service Award, 25 Women in Leadership, Martin Luther King Drum Major Award and Church Women United’s Human Rights Award.

Also recognized this morning by Dr. Desmoulin-Kherat were:

  • Fabian Daniels, principal, Harrison Community Learning Center, Administrator of the Year. Dr. Nicole Wood, Executive Director of Primary Schools, said Daniels has transformed the school culture at Harrison. She empowers teachers to step into leadership roles. She has reduced teacher turnover by initiating a New Teacher Academy within the school, introducing new instructional strategies and restorative practices. Daniels was named 2017 Elite/Peoria Park District Principal of the Year.


  • Michelle Wolfe, Valeska Hinton Early Child Education Center (VHECEC) Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) teacher is this year’s Early Career Educator, recognizing classroom teachers with two-to-five years’ experience. Wolfe’s co-teacher and nominator, Molly Herman, said, “I have never met a deaf educator as passionate as Michelle for providing equal access to language.” Wolfe found a mobile app to help parents learn the sign language used in lessons, so they could better communicate with their students at home. Wolfe is an advocate, collaborator, expert in her field, invokes inspiration and a respected leader at VHECEC, said Herman.


  • Thomas Jefferson Primary School nurse Jill Seaton, is the Those Who Excel recipient in the Student Support Personnel, which recognizes licensed professionals. Seaton is a nurse in Thomas Jefferson’s Round, which educates students with medically complex conditions, including severe seizure disorders, spina bifida, heart conditions and other unique and rare diseases. As a result of Seaton’s background and expertise in pediatric nursing and her rapport with students’ other medical and social service care team members, many of Thomas Jefferson’s medically fragile students would be unable to attend school.

  • Monica Wilson, Safety Resource Officer at Lincoln K-8, is this year’s Educational Service Personnel Those Who Excel winner. “Wilson shows heart, strength, and genuine joy through her interactions with staff, students and parents.” Said Lincoln teacher Lindsay Parton. Wilson initiated The Project Bear Behavior Award, in which she tracks the behavior of at-risk students and awards each year’s winner with a police officer bear and a special lunch. An accomplished musician, Wilson plays guitar and sings for students and even composed a song for a graduating Richwoods High School student whom she had mentored for many years.


  • Erynn Dykstra, a Parent Teacher Club (PTC) volunteer at Charter Oak Primary School and Mark Bills Middle School, is the Those Who Excel winner in the Community Volunteer category. Charter Oak Principal Kathy Rodriguez said, “Dykstra demonstrates a stellar example of service, citizenship and leadership every day. She is a dedicated activist, problem-solver and a passionate servant.” Dykstra also has served in leadership roles for the Peoria Art Guild, the Peoria Regional Chapter of the Autism Society of America and serves on the PPS Parent Leadership Team.

  • The 2019 Those Who Excel Award in the Team category was awarded to the Junior League of Peoria (JLP) for their role in revitalizing the District’s Adopt-A-School program and Little Free Library installations. According to Adopt-A-School Coordinator Sarah Oakford, the leadership and service of JLP members led to a 247 percent increase in active partners with over 1,400 volunteers providing more than 20,000 hours of service to the district. Most recently, JLP members were instrumental in financing the purchase of materials to build Little Free Libraries for 13 K-4 buildings. JLP members bring skills, expertise and contacts from the private sector to enhance public education efforts.