Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation (CUSF) will honor nine teachers in 2024 with the Shining Star Awards.  Selected Unit 4 and District 116 teachers are nominated by their peers and exhibit exemplary service, extra effort, enthusiastic attitude, and innovative ideas that noticeably benefit their students.  Unit 4 Schools are represented by Kellie Clinton, librarian at Westview Elementary, Jeralyn Goodfellow-Vargas, coach and interventionalist at Stratton Elementary, Sarah Iehl, 5th grade teacher at Dr. Howard Elementary, Aby Olson, physical education teacher at Carrie Busey Elementary, Nick Schulze, music teacher at Franklin STEAM Academy and Kara Whiteley, English-Social Studies teacher at Central High School. District 116 Schools are represented by Erin Claxon, music and choir teacher at Urbana Middle School, Les Kutz, art teacher at Dr. Williams Elementary and Felicia Tufano, English teacher at Urbana High School.

2024 Unit 4 Shining Star Selections

Kellie Clinton

Westview Elementary

Kellie Clinton is the librarian at Westview Elementary School in Champaign. Kellie’s nominator stated that she has “a front row seat to view Kellie’s endless energy, ever flowing fountain of ideas and popularity with students and staff.” This year Ms. Clinton audited every classroom’s book collection so that classroom libraries could be diversified and updated. She also led projects to install a Buddy Bench and a “Little Free Library” at the school. Kellie runs a Book Club for the upper grade students and raised money so that every student could have their own copy of the book. Kellie has worked to foster relationships with parents by hosting a morning coffee club “Coffee with Clinton”. In addition, she also serves as the volunteer coordinator for the annual Heritage Night at Westview.

Jeralyn Goodfellow-Vargas

Stratton Elementary

Jeralyn Goodfellow-Vargas is the instructional coach and interventionist at Stratton Academy of the Arts in Champaign. That title according to her nominator “does not come close to describing everything that Jeralyn does at Stratton.” When the school administration needs something, Jeralyn is the first person they come to when they need support to solve a challenging problem, run a collaboration meeting when administration is needed elsewhere, present at staff meetings, make schedule changes, etc. Jeralyn’s nominator says she also helps to run the school’s social media account, leads the English Language Arts and Science/Social Studies team with curriculum training, helps to set up schoolwide showcases, and builds relationships that support all students who need interventions to succeed.”

Sarah Iehl

Dr. Howard Elementary

Sarah Iehl, is a nationally board-certified teacher who has taught first through fifth grade at Dr. Howard Elementary for 20 years. Sarah is the math lead at Dr. Howard and mentors her colleagues by serving as a resource for teachers on the math curriculum as well as developing professional development activities for teachers. Sarah also coordinates the America Reads/America Counts program at the school. Ms. Iehl serves as the liaison for Dr. Howard and the University of Illinois teacher preparation program. In this role she recruits prospective mentor teachers and assists with training those mentors. Her nominator notes, “Sarah invites pre-service teachers into Dr. Howard classrooms so that the next generation of teachers get a bright start.”

Aby Olson

Carrie Busey Elementary

Aby Olson is the physical education teacher at Carrie Busey Elementary in Champaign. Her nominator notes, “as a P.E. teacher Aby works with all K-5 students with an incredibly wide range of development and abilities, and Aby can adapt activities so that all students absolutely love going to P.E. Aby provides a wide variety of activities both traditional and non-traditional so that all students are engaged. In addition to her responsibilities as a P.E. teacher, Aby organizes a school-wide 3k run, and coaches the 4th and 5th grade school running program which participates in the Illinois Marathon 5k. Finally at the end of the school year, Aby coordinates and oversees the Fun Day, an event filled with all sorts of games and water activities. This event is one of the most memorable days of the year for students and staff.”

Nick Schulze

Franklin STEAM Academy

Nick Schulze is in his 10th year teaching music/strings and is currently at Franklin STEAM Academy. According to his nominator, “Mr. Schulze is focused first and foremost on creating a positive student experience. He makes it clear that he is excited to see the students and always sets an enthusiastic tone for the lesson. Mr. Schulze regularly collaborates with other music teachers to organize concerts that highlight all of the schools performing arts disciplines. He works hard to design performances that make all students feel successful and the display of student achievement contributes to the community at Franklin. Mr. Schulze consistently takes leadership roles among his colleagues to improve the districts music department and volunteers to help at other schools’ concerts.”

Kara Whiteley

Central High School

Kara Whiteley is the 11th grade English teacher at Central High School in Champaign. Kara’s nominator said that “This year Kara went above and beyond her usual duties by taking on the responsibility of developing and successfully implementing a brand-new course and curriculum: the College Board AP African American Studies course. Kara has invited guest speakers from district leaders, community activists, university professors and former students to bring their expertise to her Central students. She worked tirelessly to make the new course relevant, rigorous, and rewarding for the students.” Kara’s nominator says “she creates a safe space for her students to share their ideas and experiences by encouraging discussion on challenging topics in her classroom.”

2024 District 116 Shining Star Selections

Erin Claxon

Urbana Middle School

Erin Claxon has taught music in the Urbana schools at both the elementary and middle school levels. While working at Dr. Williams Erin taught a jazz unit, bringing in a jazz group to play for her students and collaborated with the school’s art teacher to create a fun and engaging fashion show which the whole school participated in. At Urbana Middle School, Erin has worked hard to grow the school’s choir program. Ms. Claxton has taught students how to read music and to sing songs in various languages. She has added unusual and fun units to her classes such as having them learn about motion picture music and how to create their own soundtracks for video clips. Erin’s nominator said that “students are excited to be a part of her classes and it shows by the growth in the choir department in the past 4 years”.

Les Kutz

Dr. Williams Elementary

Les Kutz is a first-year visual arts teacher at Dr. Williams Elementary. Les’s nominator notes “Les has created a new way of doing art in the building. They have upended the usual instructional format by inviting students to sign up for different activities such as crocheting, sewing, and zine-making and coming in groups from different classrooms for that activity. Other teachers are eager to collaborate during social emotional planning sessions as well to plan new projects.” According to Les’s nominator, “students have responded enthusiastically to Les’s message of “be yourself” and treat every single person you see with genuine warmth, love, and respect.”

Felicia Tufano

Urbana High School

Felicia Tufano is an English teacher at Urbana High School. In addition to teaching 10 -12 grade English, Felicia is the creative force behind the school’s yearbook and student newspaper. In her classroom she has created a vibrant hub of discussion, analysis and discovery. Beyond the English classroom Felicia sees the yearbook and student newspaper as platforms for student voices to heard, stories shared and memories to be cherished. Felicia has also led the schools journalism class to an outstanding performance at the IHSA State Journalism Competition. Felicia’s nominator shared that in addition to everything she does for the students “Felicia is also a mentor to new teachers and a supportive colleague who willingly shares her expertise and resources with fellow teachers.”

All Shining Star recipients will receive a $250 cash award and a $250 CUSF grant for their classrooms in the upcoming fall.  Teachers will be recognized at the annual CUSF Spring Fling Teacher Appreciation Social 5/1/24 at Riggs in Urbana.

The mission of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation is to invest in an equitable and empowered future for Champaign Urbana by strengthening the community’s commitment to our public schools, teachers, and students.