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McCormick named Illinois Special Education Teacher of the Year

Published February 2, 2023

Nicole McCormick, special education teacher at District 214’s Specialized Schools, has been named Illinois Special Education Teacher of the Year for 2023.

McCormick also is a finalist for the statewide Illinois Teacher of the Year award, which will be announced later this year. District 214 boasts two of the 13 finalists; Hersey High School world languages teacher Michael Ayala was named 2023 Cook County Co-Regional Teacher of the Year, and also will be in the running for the statewide award.

McCormick teaches in the life transition program, which provides innovative, specialized instruction to 18 to 22-year-old students with disabilities, preparing them for life after school. She also serves as the head coach of the District’s Special Olympics team.

“I was very honored to have Meghan Muldoon Brown, the District’s Director of Special Education, nominate me for this award,” said McCormick. “I was very surprised and still can't wrap my head around what this honor means.”

In nominating McCormick for the award, Muldoon Brown wrote: “In her role this year, Nicole has reimagined our vocational programming to create meaningful and individualized experiences for each student, and align these experiences with career pathways to better reinforce their post-secondary preparation. Nicole has made the District philosophy of ‘Redefining Readiness’ really come alive for our special education transition students, and this has become evident in their progress.”

McCormick says she knew early in her life that she wanted to be a teacher. Her interest in Special Education is personal; her career choice was influenced by having a family member with Down Syndrome. She received her bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Illinois State University, and followed that up with a master’s degree in educational leadership from North Park University.

McCormick joined District 214 in 2010. “A decade ago, Nicole was one of the first teachers who started a transition program for students with an [Individualized Education Program] who had met academic graduation requirements, but needed daily life and employability skills,” says Valerie Norris, Specialized Schools principal. Norris calls McCormick “a disability advocate on a mission”—to significantly increase the number of disabled adults employed in the area.

For her part, McCormick said, “The most rewarding part of this role is seeing student growth. This could be small wins, such as a student using a microwave by themselves for the first time, or seeing a small group taking and filling orders for their peers at Forest Brew. The most rewarding experience I have had is seeing former and current students volunteering, working and using the skills built within the life program to help them serve and thrive in their own communities.”