D99's Very Own

Every month, Cicero District 99 proudly recognizes it's employees for their hard work, dedication and tireless contribution to the families of Cicero. Here are their stories....


Juana "Angie" Ortega

“I like to explain that personally on my part, I always treat children with respect, and care, as if they were my own children.”

For the past eight years, Juana “Angie” Ortega has dedicated her mornings and afternoons to helping the students at Unity Junior High School. Whether cooking hundreds of meals and checking that students get their lunches to eat, or helping students safely cross busy streets, Ortega is proud of the work she does — and remembers to treat each child with respect.

Karen Abma

Karen Abma, who grew up in Cicero, attended three District 99 schools — Woodbine for kindergarten through sixth grade, Columbus (now Columbus East) for seventh grade, and Goodwin for eighth grade.

Abma’s not only proud to work for District 99 because it’s where she grew up, but because of the ethos of care and support she says is a huge part at Columbus East.

Lara Petrone

“No matter what is happening in the building — and a lot is happening on a day-to-day basis — she’s calm, and she never looks frazzled. Every student’s really comfortable with her — and I think they kind of like to go see her.”

Michelle Nugent, special education supervisor at Daniel Burnham Elementary School, talks about how the school's nurse, Lara Petrone, keeps her cool at work — and "is cool" — among students, staff and families.

Mike Konopasek

“He knows everybody. As a joke, I call him the governor — the mayor — because he has to stop and talk to everybody; see what’s going on. He really is an extroverted person that tries to make the best of whatever situation is going on in their classroom and meet their needs.”

Kelly Szanyi, custodian at Liberty Elementary School, describes her colleague Mike Konopasek as a positive force at work.

Essential Workers

District 99 wanted to take the time to properly recognize the District's essential workers — those who are helping the District run like a well-oiled machine, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19. 

Join District 99 in thanking the Buildings and Grounds, Food Services, Security, Technology and Transportation departments for their continued hard work and drive to go above and beyond for the students, staff and families of District 99!

Marcela Galvez

District 99 and the board of education recognized Marcela Galvez as one of D99's Very Own for her decade of support to students, staff and families as a clerk at Unity Junior High School.

A graduate of Goodwin Elementary School's Class of 2000, Galvez is proud to have served the families of her hometown and give back to the school district which she grew up in.

Liliana Castaneda

Liliana Castaneda, a third-grade transitional teacher at Burnham. Her journey tells of her immigration to Chicago as a child to her career now helping children whose backgrounds are much like her own.

Elvia Arellano

"Growing up, I wasn't a straight-A student. I struggled a lot. As a teacher, I constantly ask the kids, 'Do you understand it?' 'Do I need to work with you more?' And I try to reach out to them more than [I did] when I was growing up."

Elvia Arellano is the true definition of D99's Very Own. She grew up in Cicero and attended Columbus East, Columbus West and Unity. And, not only did she student teach in Cicero before beginning her career in District 99, but she also proudly teaches alongside some of her own former teachers!

Lezley Harmon

"Lezley is this force of nature. She is quiet and she is calm, but her control over her students is amazing. She has been the role model for me in so many ways in that she has taught me how to just stay calm in those moments that can get very elevated." - Jill Miller, principal of Cicero East

While Lezley Harmon's tenure in District 99 may not be as long as those of others, she has proven herself a kind and selfless leader in the two schools she has worked in for her five years in Cicero.

Chester Bolociuch

"I enjoy working with the staff, the students. I've made a lot of good friends, met a lot of good people, met a few princesses along the way, and I enjoy my job."

For the past 31 years, Cicero native Chester Bolociuch has been dedicated to his many roles within the Buildings and Grounds Department here in Cicero District 99. 

From the halls of Drexel as a student, to helping with upkeep in the halls of several schools across District 99, Bolociuch has surely made his mark in Cicero!

Lissette Cruz

"My oldest son did attend Cicero public schools, and I always admired the environment that he was in. I thought, ideally, it would be great to work for a place like this."

Over the past 21 years, Lissette Cruz has served as a program assistant, clerk and secretary across several schools in District 99. 

Ray Mikolajewski

"I am from Cicero, I always grew up in Cicero, and I love it." 

Ray Mikolajewski, a head custodian for the Administration Building, started working for District 99 back in 1985. His father, who worked for the District from 1981-1994 (also as a custodian), asked him if he wanted a job. He accepted, and 35 years later, Mikolajewski is still working hard, making sure his building is clean, maintained and up to high standards! 

Nicole LaRocco

"I always love the students most with my job, but what makes this particular position unique is being able to work on skills that they are going to be able to use no matter what position they take in life."

Nicole LaRocco, who has been with District 99 for eight years now, holds a special place in history as the District's first STEAM teacher. She currently teaches at Sherlock Elementary School, where she gets to teach at a school dedicated for the subject she loves teaching so much.


Viviana Sifuentes

"She's patient, she's loyal, she's funny, she has an amazing sense of humor, she's very dedicated. She is just incredible with students, with staff, with her colleagues."

These are just a few of the kind words Lissette Cruz has to say about Viviana Sifuentes, a Cicero native and a secretary at Unity

Carol Yurkovic

"I feel like 'Welcome Back, Kotter' sometimes, because I grew up here! And so just coming into town — you know, this is where I lived, this is like home. It's just very comfortable. I like being here, I like this town. The kids are great, and the teachers that I work with are fabulous." 

Longtime District 99 teacher Carol Yurkovic — who grew up in Cicero and graduated from Columbus School (now Columbus East) — reflects on what it means to her to have spent her career working where she was raised. 

Denise Carpenter

"I'm hoping that working in HR and hiring the teachers that we do, that I have the vision of the District that these teachers will provide these students the education they need for their future like they did for me."

Denise Carpenter has worked in various roles across District 99 since the age of 17 — starting her work in the district through a work study program while a student at Morton East High School.

More than 30 years later, Carpenter still enjoys coming to work in Cicero every day.

Angelica Estrada

"I love teaching in Cicero because as a Latina, I feel like I represent what could be for the kids. I always tell my kids I didn't speak English when I started school, and they look at me like, 'Really?' I'm like, 'Yeah!' I feel like I represent that hope like if I made it, you can make it too."

Angelica Estrada, a sixth-grade teacher at Columbus East, tells us how much it means to her to work as a teacher in Cicero — a  big difference from her original career path choice as a criminal justice major in college. 


Deisy Mena

"When I had just finished college, District 99 called... It was an easy choice to come back to where I grew up. I just want to be a good example for my students."

Deisy Mena, a physical education teacher at Unity Junior High School for the past 13 years, is featured as one of this month's D99's Very Own for her impact teaching in the district where she grew up. 

Anthony Grazzini

"In Cicero, our surnames may change, but the people stay the same, and the people here want the absolute very best for their kids. That's why I'm so excited to be here as we ignite the road to excellence."

Anthony Grazzini, director of PLCs, Special Events and Grants, shares what it truly means to him to be working for the same school district which he grew up attending.


Evelyn Sanchez

"I always share the experiences of me immigrating to this country and I think that makes a connection with the parents — knowing that they can identify with me. It's not easy to come to a country with no language, and it's very challenging but it's possible."

Daniel Burnham Elementary School teacher Evelyn Sanchez, who came to Cicero from Mexico as a child, shares why she loves teaching in Cicero 

Angela Caravetta

 "Coming back to where I grew up... it's warming to me, it warms my heart being here."

Angela Caravetta, a teacher at Daniel Burnham Elementary School, was recognized at this week's board meeting as an outstanding District 99 alumna who worked her way up from being a program assistant to a beloved teacher. 

Marybeth King

So, what keeps this director of Human Resources coming back year after year? The personable relationships with both the students and staff. 

"There's so much support here, and so many caring relationships that you build," King said. 

Kimberly Montoya

Because her District 99 teachers meant so much to her during her time as a young student, Kimberly Montoya felt so privileged to come back to Cicero to teach as soon as the opportunity came up.


Jorge Garza

Jorge Garza, a transitional social studies teacher at Unity Junior High School, was nominated as one of D99's Very Own for serving as a mentor to Cicero students — following in the footsteps of some of his own motivational Cicero teachers from back in the day!

Laura Licea

 "On my first day here at Liberty, before I even met Ms. Licea, I had staff members coming up to me and they're like, 'You're so lucky to have Ms. Licea as your mentor — she really is like Mother Theresa of the school!'" These are the words of Nicola Kiela, a colleague of Liberty Elementary School social worker Laura Licea.


Dorene Cherry

1986 — the year the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl, the year of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, the year The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted and the year that Dorene Cherry began working for Cicero District 99!

Check out this video to see why Cherry, the District's accounts payable manager, has meant so much to the district for the past 33 years as was nominated as D99's Very Own


Anel Sanchez

Anel Sanchez, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Warren Park Elementary School, travels 50 miles round trip each day to teach students in her hometown — but she can't imagine doing anything else. That's dedication!


Kristina Moreno

"I feel like I'm more relatable to the students and just a role model that they can look up to and say... 'She went to all of the schools in Cicero, graduated at Morton East, went to college — I can do it too.'"

Kristina Moreno, a first-grade teacher at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, shares some insight as to what she loves about teaching in her hometown. 

Nancy Brown

Cicero District 99 recognized Nancy Brown, a second-grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School for making a difference in the communities they grew up in.


Elizabeth Alba

Cicero District 99 recognized Elizabeth Alba, a secretary at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, for making a difference in the communities they grew up in.

Jorge Pina

Cicero District 99 recognized Jorge Pina, a second-grade teacher at Warren Park Elementary School, for making a difference in the communities they grew up in.


Dawn Benvenuto

Cicero District 99 recognized Dawn Benvenuto, district technology clerk, for making a difference in the communities they grew up in.

Jennifer O'Connor

Cicero District 99 recognized administrator Jennifer O'Connor for making a difference in the communities they grew up in.


David Nunez

Cicero District 99 recognized district technology staffer David Nunez for making a difference in the communities they grew up in.

Arlen Villeda

Cicero District 99 recognized teacher Arlen Villeda who grew up in Cicero and attended Cicero schools


Noemi Tenorio

Cicero District 99 recognized teacher Noemi Tenorio who grew up in Cicero and attended Cicero schools