The College of Education will induct six alumni into its Hall of Fame on Friday, October 23.
The Class of 2015 includes alumni from the Department of Special Education, School of Teaching and Learning, and the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations. The college boasts a talented alumni community of more than 45,000. More than 1 in 7 teachers in Illinois are graduates of the University, and better than 1 in 4 first-year teachers hired in 2012 or later are also Redbirds.
Stewart Adams ’71, M.A. ’74, Ed.D. ’03, has been integral to improving the state of special education services in Illinois. His dedication and expertise have positively influenced countless students, teachers, and lawmakers throughout his career and into retirement.
Adams earned a bachelor’s in elementary education in 1971, a master’s in special education in 1974, and a doctorate in education in 2003, all from Illinois State University. Serving the same community where he grew up, Adams was a special education teacher in the Rock Island-Milan School District for 33 years, retiring in 2005. He led an annual school trip to Washington, D.C., for 27 straight years, was the department chair for 60 secondary special education teachers, and was named a Master Teacher by the Moline Dispatch-Rock Island Argus Newspapers for Western Illinois in 1998.
In 1973, Adams was part of the team that piloted Illinois’ first cross-categorical, special education delivery services program. His participation led to the expansion of this programming model across Illinois, and Adams has mentored new cross-categorical teachers for the district ever since.
Outside the classroom, Adams’ contributions to the Illinois Education Association (IEA) span 40 years. And in 1984, he became the first teacher to be appointed by an Illinois Governor to lead the Illinois State Advisory Council for the Education of Children with Disabilities. He served as its vice-chair from 1985-1988 and chair from 1988-1990. His advisement in this and future roles opened the door for more teachers and parents to lend their voice in policy and decision making at the state level.
In his retirement, Adams established the Spring Forward Learning Center, an after school program assisting hundreds of low-achieving youth to thrive emotionally and academically. In addition, he served as a paraprofessional for Rock Island-Milan, working one-on-one with an at-risk immigrant student from West Africa. He was named the 2014 Retired Teacher of the Year by the Illinois Education Association (IEA). Adams also supports aspiring educators at Illinois State by funding an academic scholarship.
Thomas Bertrand, Ph.D. ’02, has dedicated his career in education to helping students, teachers, and school administrators to realize their potential. His efforts and accomplishments in school leadership were recognized in 2015 when he was named the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) Illinois Superintendent of the Year Award.
Bertrand earned his doctorate in educational administration from Illinois State University in 2002. He accepted his first teaching position in 1985 at Mid-County High School after earning his bachelor’s in education from Quincy College. He later served as an English and social studies teacher, as well as a wrestling and football coach at Pittsfield High School. He then taught English at Mendon Unity Junior and Senior High School. During this time, Bertrand earned his master’s in educational administration from Western Illinois University. And at age 26, he became the principal of Mendon Unity, leading a faculty that included his own former high school English teacher.
For the past 23 years, Bertrand has served Rochester Community Unit School District 3A (RCUSD) in downstate Illinois, the last 13 coming as superintendent. As the leader of RCUSD, Bertrand directed the overhaul of technology infrastructure to deliver one-to-one computers and Wi-Fi access for all students and staff—including on school buses. He has also prioritized differentiated professional development for faculty and staff as well as the creation of a now nationally acclaimed bullying prevention program.
Throughout his career, Bertrand has sought out ways to support school and administrator development throughout Illinois. In connection with IASA, he serves as a leadership coach and mentor to superintendents, and is a trusted consultant to Illinois Regional Offices of Education on the subject of school improvement.
In an effort to support the next generation of school leaders, Bertrand serves as an adjunct professor teaching graduate-level, educational leadership at Eastern Illinois University. He previously served as an adjunct at the University of Illinois-Springfield.
Michael Conver, M.S. ’72, Ph.D. ’84, has demonstrated rarefied versatility as a humanitarian and educator throughout his career and into his active retirement. He has served as a teacher, teacher educator, Air Force veteran, novelist, counselor, administrator, and volunteer.
Conver earned two degrees from Illinois State University, a master’s in counseling and guidance in 1972, and a doctorate in educational administration in 1984. Following his doctoral work, he served as the assistant principal of Thomas Metcalf School, Illinois State’s P-8 laboratory school, for two years. He then supported teacher and administrator development across Central Illinois through the Illinois Administrator’s Academy and Mid-Illini Educational Service Center.
In 1989, Conver accepted an assistant professor position at Bradley University, where he supervised student teachers and taught courses in school law, finance, and research. He returned to secondary education in 1993 to become the principal of Elmwood Junior and Senior High School. Four years later, Conver was hired to lead Richland School District 88A. During eight years as superintendent, his district climbed out of debt, reinstated cut programs, and built infrastructure to serve its rapidly growing community.
Conver officially retired in 2005 from a career in education that almost never happened. Following six years of service in the U.S. Air Force, Conver entered the job market in 1968 with a bachelor’s in journalism from Bradley University. While writing for television, he discovered education was his true passion, and sought a teaching certificate at Illinois State. He worked for 15 years in the Peoria Public School District 150, earning accolades as a teacher, coach, and teacher mentor.
Since Conver’s retirement to Kentucky, he was named the 2011 Kentucky State Elementary School Volunteer of the Year, published the novel Small Forces about a special needs student, and has continued to mentor teachers, students, and administrators.
David Kinney ’73, M.Ed. ’77, Ph.D. ’88, is recognized throughout Central Illinois as a leader who strengthens the school districts and communities he serves. He has experienced success throughout K-12 and higher education, and remains active in local and statewide education associations.
Kinney graduated from Illinois State four times, earning a diploma from University High School in 1969, a bachelor’s in music education in 1973, a master’s in educational administration in 1977, and a doctorate in educational administration in 1988. For the first 13 years of his career, he was the band director at Mossville Junior High and Elementary School. He then became the school’s assistant principal as well as assistant to the Illinois Valley Central School District 321 (IVC) curriculum director. Kinney accepted the director role four years later while concurrently serving as principal of Rome Elementary School.
Kinney served IVC at the district level from 1992 until his retirement in 2009, demonstrating a versatile skill set. He was the business manager, assistant superintendent, and the superintendent the final five years of his time at IVC. Through his leadership, the district expanded curriculum, fine arts, and technology education, and its college preparation programs. He was inducted into the IVC Hall of Fame in 2010, and was elected to its school board in 2011.
A year after his retirement, Kinney was “temporarily” hired as interim comptroller to assist Peoria Public Schools District 150 out of an unfavorable financial situation. Over four years, he guided the district to three years of positive fund balances. His comprehensive understanding of school operation enabled the district to afford facility and service upgrades while balancing the budget. In recognition of Kinney’s efforts, the district dedicated its new wrestling room at Peoria High School to him.
In January 2015, Kinney accepted the position of interim superintendent of Central School District 51 in Washington. His presence has helped to provide leadership and stability to the area ravaged by tornadoes in 2013.
Amy (Brophy) Laughlin
From her first day in the classroom, Amy (Brophy) Laughlin ’98 has strived to change the outlook for all struggling readers at the elementary level. The tremendous impact of her work was recognized with the 2015 California Teacher of the Year award by the state’s school board.
Laughlin earned her bachelor’s in elementary education from Illinois State in 1998, and student taught in a yearlong professional development school in Wheeling. While attending the University’s education career fair during her senior year, she was actively recruited by California school districts, and decided to begin her career as a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Cahuilla School in Palm Springs.
By the end of her third year of teaching, Laughlin earned her master’s in curriculum and instruction from California State University San Bernardino. She also accepted a new teaching position at Hansen Elementary, a Title I school in Anaheim. In 2008, Laughlin became Hansen’s literacy intervention teacher. She developed a comprehensive schoolwide intervention program for struggling readers at all grade levels. The work led to significant gains from English Learners (ELs) and socioeconomically disadvantaged students and earned her the Honorary Service Award by the parent teacher association.
Outside the classroom, Laughlin has committed much of her energy to safeguarding the learning environment of all students. She also received the Human Relations Award for jumpstarting a collaborative effort with the Anaheim Police Department. This initiative continues to provide life- and community-changing intervention to students who are at risk of becoming involved in gang activities.
In 2013, Laughlin earned her administrative services credential from California State University Long Beach and served as Hansen’s summer school principal the same year. This fall, the award-winning educator began a new phase of her career as the Principal of Lee Elementary School in Los Alamitos, California.
Donna J. Troka
Donna J. Troka ’75 is a tireless advocate of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In 36 years of service as an elementary special education teacher, she helped hundreds of students and families overcome severe learning and developmental disabilities.
Troka earned her bachelor’s in special education from Illinois State in 1975. She dedicated her career to serving her students and the surrounding community of East Aurora School District 131. She began her career in a primary intellectual disability classroom and later worked with students with severe communication and developmental disabilities.
In 1988, Troka was recruited by the district director of special education to develop and teach a new primary self-contained, communication disorder classroom. In this role, she provided individualized instruction in her classroom for 12-16 students during their kindergarten and first grade years. Several students went from a two-to-four-year-old age level both academically and developmentally to first grade general education classrooms for reading and math.
She often went beyond the call of duty by modeling learning strategies for parents in their homes. Troka’s unique system of behavior management and a calm reassuring dynamic classroom structure enabled her to resolve all student behavior concerns without referring a single student to the principal.
Troka’s prototype classroom served as a learning laboratory, and was visited by administrators and by aspiring and practicing teachers alike. In Aurora and Kane County, elementary school teachers continue to model their classrooms after her learning environment.
Throughout her career, Troka collaborated with higher education faculty on field research to develop best practices. In 2005, she earned a master’s in education from the University of St. Francis in Joliet. Troka was also recognized with the Special Education Teacher of the Year Award by her district on two occasions, and was recognized with the Distinguished Educator Award by the Kane County Regional Office of Education in 2010.
The 2014 Hall of Fame inductees included: John Avendano, Ph.D. ’03; Thomas M. Eddy ’75, M.S. ’77, Ed.D. ’97; Kathleen Kane ’75; Linda A. Rosendall ’70; Carl J. Wenning, Ed.D. ’07.