State announces 2021 Teacher of the Year nominees

Two suburban educators are among 10 finalists for the 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year Award to be announced next month.

Kathleen Duffy, who teaches social studies at Barrington High School, and Aimee Park, a science teacher at Lisle Junior High School, qualified as finalists for the state’s highest honor for exemplary educators by making the 10 Regional Teachers of the Year list released Tuesday.



“There are so many extraordinary educators, in Barrington 220 and the state of Illinois, and it is surreal to be a finalist for this award,” said Duffy, a Barrington native and graduate of Barrington High where she played volleyball and softball.

She now teaches global studies honors and AP world history, coaches the freshman softball and volleyball teams, and sponsors the Unsilence Club.

A committee of administrators, teachers, educational service and student support personnel, and past Illinois Teachers of the Year selected the 10 outstanding regional teachers from 102 nominees statewide.

The Illinois State Board of Education also created three new honors to recognize outstanding bilingual, early childhood and special education teachers.

Veronica Rodriguez, of Juliette Low Elementary in Arlington Heights, was named the state’s first Bilingual Teacher of the Year. Katie McGarvey, of Hoffman Estates High School, was named Special Education Teacher of the Year.



“I am honored and blessed to have won this recognition and to be representing all bilingual and dual language teachers across Illinois,” said Rodriguez, who taught kindergarten for 10 years and now teaches third- and fourth-graders. “All my students and their families are also winning this with me. They are a big part of my journey and the reason I am here.”

Rodriguez will act as an ambassador for dual language and bilingual teachers statewide over the next year.

Kate Lee, a music teacher at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, also was named the 2021 Outstanding Early Career Educator, awarded to a teacher with one to four years of teaching experience.

“Receiving a Teacher of the Year award has taken on new meaning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” State Superintendent of Education Carmen Ayala said. “Our educators have surmounted radical shifts in how they teach and connect with students. They went to extraordinary lengths to care for the mental, physical, as well as academic well-being of their students.”

ISBE will recognize its Teacher of the Year awardees and announce the 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year virtually during its Oct. 21 board meeting. This year’s Those Who Excel awardees will be announced in the coming weeks. For more information about the program, visit

The 2021 Illinois Teacher of the Year will represent Illinois in the Council of Chief State School Officers’ National Teacher of the Year Program.


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