Those Who Excel 2023

Record Number of Those Who Excel Award Recipients at H-F
Those Who Excel Award Logo

District 233 Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School is proud to announce that this year it had the most Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Those Who Excel Award recipients in school history. According to ISBE, Those Who Excel awards honor educators who have made significant contributions to Illinois’ public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools. Awards of Excellence, Merit and Special Recognition have been presented annually since 1970 across multiple categories: classroom teachers, early career educators (teachers with 1-4 years of service), school administrators, student support personnel, educational service personnel, community volunteers and teams. H-F received at least one award in each category this year.

Individual 2023 winners from H-F are:

Emily Carroll: Award of Special Recognition - Classroom Teacher — Ms. Carroll, a Special Education teacher who teaches Social Science classes, was nominated by Director of Special Education Dr. Angela Taylor, who wrote in part: “Ms. Carroll creates creative lessons and differentiates instruction that meets the unique learning needs of students at various learning levels, and she identifies related services and strategies to ensure students’ success.“

Dr. Lawrence Cook: Award of Meritorious Service - School Administrator — Dr. Cook, District 233’s Chief School Business Official who oversees the district’s finances and its Business Office, was nominated by Superintendent Dr. Scott Wakeley, who wrote in part: “Dr. Cook is often a voice in the room providing the needed perspective that we must set high expectations for all students and support them with resources, lessons and role models to help them achieve.”

Andrew Gaus: Award of Special Recognition - Classroom Teacher — Mr. Gaus, a Special Education teacher who co-teaches with the Science Department, was nominated by Department Chair of Science Kim Smith, who wrote in part: “Andy steps up even when it is not his job to step up and it is not expected …. Andy has served as a liaison between the Special Education Department and the general education departments to ensure that all students’ needs are met in the classroom.”

Candice Hall: Award of Meritorious Service - Educational Service Personnel — Ms. Hall, District 233’s Transportation & Logistics Coordinator and the Assistant to the Director of Operations & Maintenance, was nominated by Director of Information Services Steve Richardson, who wrote in part: “... she is an impressive problem solver who is always able to address complex issues with strategy and confidence. Along with her undeniable talent, Candice has a penchant to be an innovative force in any space that she works in.”

Dr. Aginah Muhammad: Award of Excellence - Community Volunteer — Dr. Muhammad, president of the Homewood-Flossmoor Parent Association (HFPA), was nominated by Superintendent Dr. Scott Wakeley, who wrote in part: “Dr. Muhammad has taken it upon herself to reinvent the way the organization (HFPA) functions to best meet the needs of parents/guardians and serve our students and staff.”

Cody Rudnik: Award of Meritorious Service - Early Career Educator — Mr. Rudnik, a Physical Education, Health & Driver Education teacher who is working his first year at H-F, was nominated by Department Chair of Physical Education, Health & Driver Education Adam Vogel, who wrote in part: “Cody inspires his students as a Physical Education teacher by modeling activities, as well. He is willing to put himself out there and creates a positive energy amongst staff and students.“

Lauren White, LCSW: Award of Meritorious Service - Student Support Personnel — Mrs. White, a social worker and coordinator of the school’s Wellness Wednesday programming for students, was nominated by Department Chair of Guidance Jim Schmidt, who wrote in part: “The care, concern, gentleness and understanding by which she interacts with people, especially struggling students and families in severe crisis mode, exemplifies the true meaning of servant leader.”

Team 2023 award recipients from H-F are:

H-F Resiliency Project: Award of Meritorious Service - Team — This new 2022-23 project focuses on proactive intervention by identifying and addressing students’ at-risk behaviors before they become severe problems, while also increasing students’ protective factors. Director of Communications & Community Engagement Carla Erdey, who nominated the team, wrote in part: “The H-F Resiliency Project team members engage directly with parents and guardians to provide the educational resources they need to best help their children. They are listening ears. They are reassuring voices that we will work through this together. They are champions for kids and for families.” Team members are: Department Chair of Guidance Jim Schmidt; Associate Principal Craig Fantin; Director of Student Supports Jennifer Rudan; School Deans Terrell Alexander, Catherine Brown, Brett Geijer, Dave Klawitter, Chris Maniatis and Zachary Wells; School Social Workers: Myrna Cavazos, Jocelyn Cowan, Heithon Hurdle, Greg Jones, Danielle VanVliet, Lauren White and Kristina Zandi; School Psychologists: Dr. Carla Boyd, Marina Brennan, Dr. Anna Pignatiello and Kofi Shuck; and School Counselors: Kevin Coy, Dawn Edwards, Brad Kain, Ashley Keca, Lindsay Leverson, Lorrie Maul, John McCarthy, Danielle Mitchell, Dr. Karen Olson, Dana Palermo, Melissa Sauder, Tiphnee Staples and Roberto Suarez.

Co-Taught Social Science with Reading: Award of Meritorious Service - Team — Co-Taught Social Science with Reading is a Tier 2 reading intervention program, designed to assist students as they expand their reading comprehension and information-processing skills, vocabularies and fluency to transfer such skills across content areas. Department Chair of Social Science Nick Anello and Department Chair of Reading Lauren Freeman, who co-nominated the team, wrote in part: “The number of students who are engaged in lessons, asking questions, using critical-thinking skills, reading for understanding, and improving writing skills grows daily as teachers are able to assist and support students to have more confidence in themselves and their abilities.” Team members are: Reading Teachers Courtney Hendricks, Kimberly Peterz, Kimberly Perisin and Christopher Reid; and Social Science Teachers Hailey Baumstein, Allison Farkos, Brian O’Donnell and Gil Smit.

ISBE will celebrate these awardees and others from across the state of Illinois at a banquet on Saturday, April 29. To learn more about the awards program, visit