For Immediate Release
Wednesday, November 30, 2022

State of Illinois celebrates school support professionals and nominates two of the best for national award

​Susan Naber of McLean County Unit District 5 and Johnyell Owens of New Trier Township High School District 203 will represent Illinois in the national Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Awards sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education 

​SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) and Governor JB Pritzker announced today the nominations of Susan Naber of McLean County Unit District 5 and Johnyell Owens of New Trier High School District 203 to represent Illinois in the 2022 Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) Awards, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. Congress enacted the awards program in 2019 to celebrate classified school employees and recognize the best in the nation among school support personnel.  

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will select a single classified school employee from all states' nominations nationwide to receive the national RISE Award by spring 2023.  

“I couldn't be prouder to nominate Susan Naber of Brigham Early Learning Center and Johnyell Owens of New Trier High School to represent Illinois in the 2022 RISE Awards," said Governor JB Pritzker. “Our school support staff are heroes—making sure that every student has an advocate in their corner. From providing gymnastics lessons and socially distant enrichment programs to advancing equity and sponsoring identity-based clubs, Mrs. Naber and Mr. Owens have risen to the occasion—supporting students at every turn, no matter the challenges. To Mrs. Naber and Mr. Owens: congratulations on this extraordinary achievement. You've made Illinois proud."  

“As Mrs. Naber and Mr. Owens demonstrate, every single person who works in our schools makes a difference in our students' lives. These two exceptional classified school employees changed the lives of students and their families, going above and beyond to build relationships, strengthen their schools' culture and climate, and provide students with the support they need to succeed," said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen I. Ayala. “I am so proud to celebrate all of Illinois' school support professionals and to nominate Mrs. Naber and Mr. Owens for the prestigious RISE Award. Illinois' stellar support staff do so much to raise the bar of excellence for our schools, and they deserve to be honored."  

For the last nine years, RISE Award nominee Susan Naber has served as a paraprofessional in early childhood special education classrooms at Brigham Early Learning Center in McLean County Unit District 5. Naber has consistently raised the standard of education at Brigham and is known for being an advocate for both her colleagues and students. Naber has also been celebrated for her commitment to families outside of the classroom, like offering socially distant enrichment exercises during the pandemic, supporting students' interest in gymnastics lessons, and serving as a Brigham ambassador to new families.  

Johnyell Owens has worked as a security staff member at New Trier High School since 2006. He became a full-time security staff member in 2010 and has truly excelled in his role. Owens' colleagues commend him for establishing strong relationships with staff and students alike and being involved with extracurricular and other community events. Owens is also an impactful leader in equity. He sponsors the African American Club to help support Black students and sits on New Trier's district equity team.   

For the purposes of the award, a classified school employee works in any grade from pre-kindergarten through high school in any of the following occupational specialties: paraprofessional, clerical and administrative services, transportation services, food and nutrition services, custodial and maintenance services, security services, health and student services, technical services, and skilled trades.   

Nominees must, at a minimum, demonstrate excellence in the following areas: (A) Work performance; (B) School and community involvement; (C) Leadership and commitment; (D) Local support (from co-workers, school administrators, community members, etc., who speak to the nominee's exemplary work); (E) Enhancement of classified school employees' image in the community and schools.  

ISBE and Gov. Pritzker select the RISE Award nominee annually from top-scoring Those Who Excel awardees. The State of Illinois nominated Ingrid Ackerman from Schaumburg Community Consolidated School District 54 for last year's RISE Award. Applications for ISBE's Those Who Excel & Teacher of the Year program will be accepted through Dec. 9.   

Find more information on the RISE Award ​here