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Illinois Network of Charter Schools Announces the Winners of the 2019 Charter Excellence Awards

Posted on: December 13, 2019

Principal and teacher awardees each receive a well-deserved $10,000 grant

CHICAGO, IL – Today, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) announced the winners of its 2019 Charter Excellence Awards. Each year since 2011, exceptional principals, teachers, students, and advocates receive the Charter Excellence Award in recognition of their contributions to the continuing success of Illinois’ charter public school movement. Charter schools in Illinois serve predominantly students of color in areas underserved by traditional public schools.

Awards are given in the principal, teaching, student, parent, and advocate categories. Additionally, the Principal, High School Teacher, and Elementary School Teacher of the Year each receives a $10,000 grant. Throughout the week, these award winners received their Charter Excellence Award in surprise ceremonies at school with family, coworkers, students, and supporters in attendance.

This year, INCS received a record-breaking 90 nominations for leaders, teachers, parents and students from across Illinois’ charter sector, which spans 139 schools throughout the state. This year’s nominations were fiercely competitive, highlighting the historic achievements of Illinois’ large charter public school population.

The 2019 Charter School Principal of the Year, Ken Lee of KIPP ONE Chicago, exemplifies the spirit of commitment and success consistent among all Charter Excellence Award winners. “I have personally experienced what it’s like to be a teacher working with Ken, and I know what a huge impact he had on my development,” said Whitney Paul, Founding Teacher at KIPP ONE. “With Ken’s strategic design and systems, I was able to develop the tools to go from helping 80% of my students meet their academic targets to almost 100%.”

Particularly special among the awards is the opportunity to recognize outstanding charter public school students for their leadership and excellence at their respective schools. This year, six students received Charter Excellence Awards, including high school senior Jordan Hunt from CICS Ellison in Chicago. “Jordan is our Student Ambassador president, cheerleading captain, and she is on the senior council for events. She is a leader through and through. That is what you see in Jordan Hunt,” shared Taquia Hylton, Director of CICS Ralph Ellison.

Pritzker College Prep, a campus of the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago, shared the unique distinction with Southland College Prep of having award winners in multiple categories, including the 2019 Charter Excellence Parent of the Year, Linda Santiago. Ms. Santiago represents the determination of thousands of parents across Illinois who are empowered to choose the best public education for their children.

According to Katie Curtain, journalism teacher at Pritzker College Prep, Linda’s presence is known at every parent advisory council meeting. She has earned a reputation for guiding her fellow parents through practical situations, like navigating through PowerSchool more effectively, while also educating her peers on how to best share their empowered voice as charter parents. “She gladly steps in to help translate content and questions for Spanish-speaking parents without a second thought, and she also shares her experiences speaking at Chicago Board of Education meetings to convince other parents to get further involved,” Curtain explained.

All finalists and winners were recognized at an awards reception on Wednesday, December 11, where they were joined by elected officials, charter public school leaders, and community supporters.

2019 Illinois Charter School Principal of the Year

Ken Lee, KIPP One Academy

Principal Finalists: 
Elizabeth Jamison-Dunn, Catalyst Circle Rock
Sarah O’Connell, CICS Bucktown

2019 Illinois Charter High School Teacher of the Year

James Kowalsky, Southland College Prep Charter High School

High School Teacher Finalists: 

Eduardo Pimentel, Youth Build McLean County Charter School

Sam Slavinsky, Noble – Rauner College Prep

2019 Illinois Charter Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Lucy Amaro, Erie Elementary Charter School

Elementary School Teacher Finalists: 
Terris Brooks, Foundations College Prep
Lauren McGuire, KIPP One Academy

Charter High School Student Winners: Niyela Garza, Southland College Prep
Carla Duran, Horizon Science Academy, McKinley Park
Jordan Hunt, CICS Ellison
Maria Ramirez, Noble – Pritzker College Prep

8th Grade Student Winners: 
Daniella Fitzmaurice, Tamayo Elementary, an Acero School
Alex Pacheco, Rowe Elementary School

Parent Champion

Linda Santiago, Noble – Pritzker College Prep

Charter Advocate

Lucy Weatherly, Intrinsic Schools

Charter Champion

Alderman Michael Scott, Jr.



The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) advocates for the improvement of public education by leveraging the charter school model as a catalyst to transform lives and communities. As the voice of Illinois charter schools, INCS engages a diverse coalition of policymakers, school leaders, parents, and community members to create systemic change and secure high-quality schools for underserved communities.