Brandon Rutherford, 3-4-5 grade enrichment teacher at Stratton Academy of the Arts, was surprised with the Mann-Hankel Teaching Excellence Award from the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation during his class on Monday morning. This is the second year CUSF has provided this award, established by Barbara Mann and her husband Steven Hankel. The award recognizes a Unit 4 tenured teacher who exemplifies the traits of Dedication, Integrity, Commitment to Every Student, Service, & Excellence.

A 2010 University of Illinois graduate, Mr. Rutherford has made his teaching “home” at Stratton Academy of the Arts since 2014. He previously taught third grade at Garden Hills Academy in Champaign, where he was named a New Teacher of the Year in 2013 by the Illinois Science Teachers Association. Mr. Rutherford also earned his National Board Teacher Certification in 2014. One of his nominators describes his commitment to “using different teaching strategies to connect with the many learning modalities of his students, including hand-on activities, project-based learning and student led curriculum. Mr. Rutherford has an exceptional commitment to meeting every student where they are and shows that everyday through his instruction.”

A parent whose student was in Mr. Rutherford class was encouraged by discussions of advanced social topics facilitated by Mr. Rutherford with “impressive, thoughtful and empathetic support.” “Mr. Rutherford balances teaching and talking with students like they are thoughtful, intelligent individuals, and remembering that they’re also silly, and developing kids.”

His nominator also praises Mr. Rutherford for this service to the school and the students. “I’ve seen him present new research concepts at staff meetings, get funding for computer software and field trips, and create a gardening program with the Randolph Street community garden. He is incredibly dedicated and always available to help and support students and their families.”

Barbara Mann, a former CU Schools Foundation Board Chair and her husband Steve shared their interest in creating such an award. “My parents were teachers and I grew up seeing their deep commitment to their students and firm belief that education was the path to success. Their own lives were deeply impacted by the teachers who believed in them during their very challenging childhoods. Steve and I created this award to acknowledge them and all the teachers who have touched our lives. Our children had wonderful teachers at Unit 4 who nurtured them, challenged them and gave them a firm foundation for success.  This is our small way of expressing gratitude to all of them.”

This award honors a tenured educator with 10 years of teaching experience, and a minimum of 5 years’ service in Unit 4 schools. The Mann-Hankel Teaching Excellence Award will recognize Mr. Rutherford with a monetary award of $2,000.