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2020 RIMSD Educator of the Year

Friday, April 17, was supposed to the first-ever Teacher Appreciation Gala at the Stern Center to recognize the outstanding teachers from each school in our district. Each principal selected a teacher who is a tremendous support for students and demonstrates what it takes to be an outstanding teacher amongst their peers. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the practice of social distancing, it is in the best interest to cancel the event. However, we still want to congratulate and highlight the honorees! 


2020 Educator of the Year Honorees

Jessica Stockwell

Jessica Stockewell - Denkmann  Elementary School

Jessica is an advocate for all children and a dedicated educator. She is highly respected by the entire staff here at Denkmann. She has gone above and beyond for both students and staff.

For the students:

She works countless hours to prepare quality rigorous lessons for the students in her classroom. She works very closely with her second-grade team and leads their PLC sessions weekly. She has also been the lead member of our Culture Committee that prepares building-wide events and activities to celebrate students and their success. She has taken the lead with our Student Lighthouse team and helps guide them in the work they do for our school. She is always thinking of ways to support the students in every aspect here at Denkmann. She believes in all children.

For the staff:

She is an acting mentor to her grade level team. She collaborates with them weekly and supports all of our second-grade students through this work. She is willing to lead and support any of the activities we plan for students and staff. From family nights to school day celebrations, she actively supports, plans, and participates in all of these activities.

For the three quarters, I have been the principal here at Denkmann Jessica has gone above and beyond for all. She is a building leader and is an exemplary teacher. It is my pleasure to nominate her for this award.



Sallie Heine - Eugene Field Elementary School

Mrs. Heine is our Swiss Army Knife of Eugene Field. She does a plethora of jobs that keeps us running smoothly; she sponsors the after school LegoClub, teaches science to our K-2 students during LEAD, developed an efficient way to roster our students for LEAD, she is in charge of lunch recess, she is trusted with our finances, she serves our BLT and PTA. Mrs. Heine is a very talented, hard-working professional educator that makes Eugene Field successful.



Becky DeJonghe - Frances Willard Elementary School

Becky is the teacher that other teachers strive to emulate and all students want to have as their teacher.  She makes teaching look easy due to the significant amount of time she spends planning and preparing lessons.  Becky continually teaches students to use data and lets her students take ownership of their learning.  She is loving, tough, fun, and fair all wrapped into one.  Not only is she a strong academic teacher, but she also is amazing with teaching social-emotional skills and helping students be their own best advocate.  She seamlessly blends social-emotional learning into everything she does during the day, making her classroom feel like a true community of leaders and learners.  We are truly fortunate to have Mrs. DeJonghe.  She has spent 20 years here at Frances Willard and has impacted so many families in our community. It is an honor to call her our colleague and believe that she exemplifies all of the qualities that the Rock Island-Milan School District wants in its educators. 




Kelli Brannen – Washington Jr. High SchoolKelli Brannen represents relentless forward progress as a teacher. She is not only well versed in her content area, but she also intentionally drives to the heart of the skills that move students’ learning to deeper levels. The value of a relationship is not taken lightly in her classroom; she works tirelessly to make connections with her students and to show them a deep level of care. Kelli is a leader among her peers, taking on new endeavors with the AVID elective and serving as the leader of the Social Studies PLC. Her consistent motivation to do more and to do better to serve the student goes above and beyond every day. She is, without a doubt, a true educator of the year!



Alice Lee - Rock Island Center for Math & Science

Ms. Lee is a hard-working and professional teacher who is whole-heartedly dedicated to providing the best education to each of her students. The planning and passion she puts into each lesson is unmatched by most educators. Ms. Lee skillfully weaves in social-emotional learning, grade level academic skills, successful work habits, and fun into her instruction. She works collaboratively with her grade level partners to advance students and produce some of the highest assessment results. Ms. Lee takes an active leadership role in broader school activities, such as co-chairing the RICMS Leader in Me Lighthouse and organizing a school and community event to honor our national and local veterans at our annual Veterans Day assembly. If there is a need, Ms. Lee will graciously offer to help. Ms. Lee is an all-around great person and educator!



Tim Carroll - Edison Jr. High School

Tim strongly believes all students can learn. He is constantly and consistently finding ways to connect math lessons to daily life for students. He has embraced the new math curriculum; we know change is hard. He has incorporated more think-pair-share activities and students trying math before learning math. He encourages them to challenge themselves and provides opportunities for this within his lessons. This is also evident in the PSAT practice problems he provides the relationship committee to distribute for Teacher Advisory on the last Monday of each month.

Tim works with our 8th graders after contract time to run a concession stand at all home sporting events. This allows students to develop real-world math skills, communication, and professionalism. He purchases all of the snacks and candy, and then uses the profits to enhance his colleague's classrooms with technology (speakers, blue-rays, new remote controls, etc.).

Tim has taken over MathCounts. He encourages and welcomes ALL students to participate, not only the advanced students. Several students asked him to start a chess club, so he did. His room is full every Tuesday and Thursday after school with students challenging each other. Chess is more than moving the pieces on the board, it requires strategy and execution. Tim is absolutely deserving to be recognized as the first-ever Edison Educator of the Year.



Denise Lekwa - Horace Mann Early Learning Center


Denise has worked for many years in our Head Start program and has a high expectation for all of her students. She exemplifies excellent classroom management skills and works well with staff. She has served on many committees such as the curriculum committees and BLT. She actively volunteers for opportunities to lead and serve within the program.



Cheryl Gipson – Thurgood Marshall Learning Center


Cheryl Gipson has been a high school special education teacher in Rock Island – Milan school for 29 years. Cheryl began her career at the Rock Island High School and moved to Thurgood Marshall when the program was first developed. Throughout her tenure, Cheryl has been assigned students facing overwhelming challenges who have been unable to succeed. She is patient, compassionate, knowledgeable, and resourceful. Under her direction, students have graduated and become productive members of our community. She is more than a teacher to her students; she is a stable presence, a counselor, and a coach. Many of her students attribute their success to Mrs. Gipson’s involvement in their education. As a Special Education Case Manager at Thurgood Marshall, her day never ends with the bell as she spends countless hours of her own time. Cheryl has also been a mentor to many new teachers over the years. Her work as an educator for the Rock – Island Milan Schools will continue to make a positive impact for years to come!



Mandi Stout - Longfellow Liberal Arts

Ms. Stout’s work ethic and level of commitment are evident in everything she does! Her determination to succeed permeates her entire career here in Rock Island, from her willingness to co-head up the fall Scholastic Book Fair to becoming a Lead Teacher to becoming a Mentor. Due to her knowledge and great aptitude for learning and her ability to transfer that learning to the students in an exciting way!



Wendy Kerker – Ridgewood Elementary School

Wendy Kerker goes above and beyond for each of her students. She has a passion for each child who walks through her door. Her work ethic, dedication, compassion, and commitment to excellence puts her a step above anyone else. When she is teaching there are no shortcuts and students know what is expected and perform to each of her expectations. She is able to push students and get fantastic results on assessments year after year. Ridgewood is extremely lucky to be able to call her a Roadrunner.



Becky Morley - Earl Hanson

Mrs. Becky Morely was nominated by both her peers and administrator. She is known for her compassion and expertise when teaching English Language Learners. She is kind and compassionate to students, parents, and colleagues. She always has a smile on her face and is willing to help in any situation. Becky does an outstanding job making all the ELL families feel welcomed at our school. Our EL families are indebted to her for making such a difference in their young lives. She is a member of the Building Leadership Team and Chairs the Cultural Night that is held each year at Earl Hanson. Becky has been in the Rock Island School District for 29 years.



Troy Porter - Thomas Jefferson Elementary School

Mr. Porter consistently has the highest standardized assessment scores in our school. He establishes a true culture for learning in his room, communicates his expectations to his students, and holds them accountable for attaining them. He provides them whatever assistance they might need in order to meet those high expectations, whether it is meeting with them before school, at lunch, or after school. More important than establishing high expectations for his students, his students accept those high expectations as their own. All of his students are eager to learn. Mr. Porter never loses sight of a learning opportunity. Daily he is working with his students on math skills as they stand in line to receive their lunches.

Mr. Porter understands the importance of relationships. His are some of the best relationships in the building, with students, with families and with his colleagues. Virtually every day, when he’s not working with them, Mr. Porter eats lunch with students. And not only with his current students. Students from other classes whom he has taught in the past also ask to eat lunch with him. We call this Mr. Porter’s “Lunch Bunch”. They sit ad talk about many things, sports, music, or current events for example.

Mr. Porter is also an exceptional member of our professional community. He has served on our School Lighthouse Team (BLT) for a number of years. He is always present at our after school events, family nights, Fall Festival, the Milan Labor Day Parade, the MLK Center Parade. If we are having an event, Mr. Porter is there. Mr. Porter is also a regular attendee and contributor at out monthly TJ Booster Club (PTA) meetings. He is a leader among leaders in our Leader in Me school!

Mr. Porter also decided that we should have a Lego Club at Thomas Jefferson. He works with many of our third graders on a voluntary basis after school once a week in Lego Club. The students use STEAM strategies and techniques to make their own Lego creations.

Every year, the students in Mr. Porter’s class put on a wax museum about the time of Presidents Day. Students take on the roles of Presidents or First Ladies (many girls take on the role of Presidents), and make presentations to our school community as classes rotate through the museum, as well as to families and community members who choose to attend. All of these things take an enormous amount of time beyond what is required. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other things that Mr. Porter does well, including putting on a Thanksgiving feast for his students every year.

Mr. Porter foes above and beyond for our Thomas Jefferson school community every single day.



Mike Mertel - Rock Island High School

Mike is a fantastic teacher who goes above and beyond for his students. When you walk in Mike’s classroom you will witness students engaged in the lesson and excited to be in the classroom. Mike is always willing to try new strategies by incorporating technology, AVID strategies and arranging his room to make it more conducive to student learning. He is a teacher who truly believes that all students can learn and be successful. Outside of the classroom, Mike is a true leader in the building. Listed are some of the things he does for students and staff outside of his classroom:

  • ïLeads professional development for RIHS Staff
  • ïAVID Site Teacher Member and Lead teacher
  • ïCreated a new course for students- Educational Internship
  • ïHead Varsity Girls’ Soccer Coach
  • ïJunior Student Ambassador Lead



Stephanie Sanders - Rock Island Academy

It is with great pride that I write this letter in support of Ms. Stephanie Sanders as the recommendation for Rock Island Academy’s Educator of the Year. Though Ms. Sanders does not teach for awards or special recognition, her daily work is the embodiment of what all educators strive for at the pinnacle of their careers. What makes Ms. Sanders even more special is that she brings it every day in a building that is filled with an incredible and amazing staff.

Stephanie Sanders embodies what excellence looks like in k-12 education. Her passion for teaching and learning combined with her instructional awareness, and belief in high expectations for all places her in the gifted category for cultivating the minds of students. Ms. Sanders is a leader among leaders, leading vocally as well as by example. She has been instrumental in the decision making process at both the building and district levels, and has played a pivotal role in the forward progress of Rock Island - Milan School District for the last 19 years, 17 at the Academy.

Ms. Sanders is a multi-faceted instructor of knowledge and child growth with each subject and each child. She will go to battle for students, her building and her community. She is known well by the families of her students, past and present. She has laughed and cried with and about her students. They are not just her students today, they are hers forever. While remaining current with instructional practices and technology, she can reach those struggling or troubled students with simple, yet profound motherly instincts and empathy coupled with complete professionalism. Yet, at the same time challenge and accelerate her brightest students because of professional development experiences and innovations she has perused and mastered.

Ms. Sanders also motivates other staff to never give up on any child and never settle for less than their best, as that is what we are all here for. When she is not spending extra time researching a strategy or intervention for a child she is constantly looking for strategies to help other staff members. She challenges staff to rise above and be at their best for the students each and every day. She works tirelessly and intentional. She always has a smile that is contagious even on anyone’s worse day. And if you need a snack, she has those too just in case a student may be hungry. Some of the toughest students in the district enter her classroom unmotivated and broken and exit at the end of the year empowered and excited to learn and grow.