Excellence in Education Awards

The annual Excellence in Education Awards honor exceptional teachers, administrators, and support staff in DeKalb County. Funding for the awards is made possible through the generosity of Yvonne Johnson. Yvonne is a retired elementary school teacher for the Sycamore School District. In 1999, she created the DeKalb County Excellence in Education Award Fund at the DeKalb County Community Foundation. The Fund supports the annual awards and recognizes those making a positive difference in our schools, our education professionals.

"Excellence in Education was designed to emphasize the great work being done and bring it forward to residents of DeKalb County. Besides being in a classroom, educators work in the community, their church, and groups that value their work. When the Fund was started, surrounding counties recognized educators, but not DeKalb County. I am fortunate that I was acknowledged for my efforts. In turn, I want DeKalb County educators to feel this appreciation. This recognition includes elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers, support staff, and administrators."

Yvonne Johnson

Nominations are a joint effort from teachers, administrators, and the community. The awards recognize respected professionals who inspire the love of learning in students. In addition, these admired individuals play an active role in their schools and communities. Award winners receive $1,000 and public recognition during an awards ceremony and reception planned for summer each year. The deadline for 2023 community nominations is February 10. 

Every district in DeKalb County is eligible to nominate a person for each of the following areas:

  • Pre-K – 5th Grade Teacher
  • 6th – 8th Grade Teacher
  • 9th – 12th Grade Teacher
  • Support Staff (e.g., secretaries, classroom aides, custodians, food service, bus drivers, and maintenance)
  • Administration

For more information on the Excellence in Education Awards, please contact Community Foundation Grants & Scholarships Manager Becky Zantout at 815-748-5383 or b.zantout@dekalbccf.org.

2022 Excellence In Education Award Recipients

Pre-K – 5th Grade Teacher

Lisa Winters, Instructional Math Coach, Sycamore Elementary Schools - Sycamore CUSD #427

Lisa Winters has taught for 33 years, with 13 of them in the Sycamore district. She earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Illinois State University and her master's degree in educational administration from Northern Illinois University. Lisa has spent extensive time learning how best to teach mathematics, including working with the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project. She currently supports all math specialists and elementary team leaders in Sycamore. Before becoming a math coach, she taught kindergarten and 3rd grade. Lisa actively supports her church summer camp, Camp Wow, and annually volunteers for Feed My Starving Children.

6th – 8th Grade Teacher

Karmen Ewald, English Language Arts Teacher, Genoa-Kingston Middle School - Genoa-Kingston CUSD #424

Karmen Ewald has taught for 20 years, with almost all of them in the Genoa-Kingston district. She earned her bachelor's degree in education from Northern Illinois University and her master's degree in teaching and leadership from St. Xavier University. Karmen was instrumental in getting a Builders Club started to impact the community and build student leadership. She is involved in the Toys for Tots program and facilitates food donations to the Genoa Food Hub. She is an active member of the Genoa Kingston Education Association and works to build positive relationships between the school and the community.

9th – 12th Grade Teacher

Drayton Eggleson, Choir Director, Sycamore High School - Sycamore CUSD #427

Drayton Eggleson has worked in education for 11 years, all in the Sycamore district and with every grade K-12. He earned multiple degrees in music education from Northern Illinois University. In addition to the many music-oriented extra-curriculars that Drayton oversees, he also has sponsored the pep club and student council. Drayton was part of planning The Big Sing, a community singing event that debuted in 2021. He is dedicated to helping new music educators on their pathway in the profession. He served as a high school representative for the Sycamore Education Association.

Support Staff

Cindy Lauritzen, Food Service Director - Hiawatha CUSD #426

Cindy Lauritzen has worked in education for 13 years, with nine years in the Hiawatha district. Cindy takes her job seriously because healthy meals are essential to her student's physical and mental well-being. She supports the local CATCH program by providing nutritious snacks. During COVID-19 and remote learning, Cindy and her staff distributed daily meals to students. She volunteers for the school district whenever she can, whether keeping a scorebook, selling football tickets, or working the concession stand. She also volunteers for FFA events.


Nicole Stuckert, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services - Sycamore CUSD #427

Nicole Stuckert has spent all 13 years of her education profession with the Sycamore district. Nicole earned her master's in business administration from Northern Illinois University and her certified school business official certification. She oversees a $45,000,000 budget for the district and prides herself on aligning the district's mission to that budget. She instituted the district financial dashboard to make the district budget accessible to stakeholders and continues to maintain it. Nicole serves on the local Rotary chapter and has worked with local high schools through the Business Leadership Academies. Outside her school district work, Nicole serves on the board of directors for the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

If education is an area of interest for you, consider giving a gift to help us grow the DeKalb County Excellence in Education Endowment Fund. Your gift will allow for further growth in recognizing those who go above and beyond in education to help others.

Donate to the DeKalb County Excellence in Education Award Fund >

To discuss your charitable interests or to give back to the community by establishing a Fund of your own, please contact Executive Director Dan Templin at 815-748-5383 or dan@dekalbccf.org.