Clevenger Student Art 7 OpUrbana Middle School Visual Arts Teacher, Rusty Clevenger, is the 2024 recipient of the Gene Amberg Excellence in Teaching Endowed Chair from the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation. Clevenger will be presented with the award during class on Wednesday, May 15 at 12:25 p.m.

Mr. Clevenger has been teaching in the Urbana School District for 15 years, “I really do love the District,” Clevenger said. His love for the District and his students is a trait that does not go unnoticed. His nominator and colleague, Bonny Thiel said, “Mr. Clevenger’s optimistic and proactive outlook helps move learning forward for all of his students.” Building student relationships was a key theme throughout each supporter of his nomination. “Rusty takes the time to know the students as humans and the challenges they face academically and personally,” said Cara Maurizi, Urbana Elementary Fine Arts Coordinator. “This allows every student to feel seen and heard,” A parent of one of Clevenger’s former students added, “Mr. Clevenger’s purposeful engagement of all students cultivates their love and appreciation for art.”

Clevenger began his career in Urbana in 2009 as a traveling fine arts teacher for Dr. Williams and Wiley Elementary Schools. In 2018, he became a full-time Fine Arts Teacher at Dr. Williams, where he stayed until 2021, when he moved to Urbana Middle School, where Principal Derrick Cooper said he has “inspired countless young artists to develop their talents and reach their fullest potential.”

The Gene Amberg Excellence in Teaching Endowed Chair recognizes a teacher who exemplifies eight traits:

  • Utilizes imaginative approaches to keep students interested
  • Demonstrates a willingness to take the risk of pursuing needed learner solutions in their classroom(s)
  • Recognizes and practices that learning is continuous and mutual
  • Practices the keen sense of criticality of relationships with students
  • Displays qualities of warmth and a caring attitude toward students, colleagues, and parents
  • Communicates effectively with parents, both orally and written
  • Applies the concepts of firm, fair, and friendly in the classroom
  • Maintains a sense of humor in dealing with peers, students, and stakeholders.

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Families, students, and colleagues praised Clevenger as a dedicated, determined, and well-respected educator. “Teachers like Mr. Clevenger are passionate about what they do,” former student Will Quisenberry said. “They not only run a safe learning environment, but they also spend extra time outside of their teaching day supporting other teachers, finding ways to enrich school for students, and making a difference for kids who need mentors in their lives.”

“(Clevenger) made us feel welcome in the classroom all the time,” said former students Nico, Dylan, and Logan Wiemelt. “He made art fun, but it wasn’t always just easy activities; he challenged our curiosity and our ability to think creatively.”

Clevenger will receive a monetary award for three consecutive years to recognize his accomplishments. Clevenger is the seventh recipient of the Amberg Excellence in  Teaching Award.


The award is named for Dr. Gene Amberg (Ph.D.), who began his career in public education in 1972 as an elementary school teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. He was named superintendent of the Urbana School District in 1992. In 2003, the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation Gene Amberg Excellence in Teaching Endowed Chair was established to honor Dr. Amberg’s leadership and dedication to children and educators throughout his career. Professional colleagues, friends, and family continue to contribute to this endowment, to be presented to an Urbana School District teacher every three years for excellence in teaching.

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