D99's Very Own

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


Bella Ramos

“I’ve gone to school here, I grew up in Cicero, I grew up volunteering in Cicero, so I think in general, I’ve just liked helping out the community.” 

Drexel Elementary School nurse Bella Ramos isn't just familiar with the community from working here for the past few years — she attended District 99 schools and still lives in Cicero today!

Recognizing her patience, care and willingness to go the extra mile not just for her students, but colleagues as well, Ramos was nominated by Drexel school leadership as Employee of the Month. 

Ray Garcia

"When I see the students come into the classroom, I see myself in them. It just reminds me of how I grew up, and so I want to give back. I want to improve our community. They're a reflection of me, and I'm a reflection of them, so I think that's kind of what keeps me here."

Ray Garcia, a fourth-grade dual-language teacher at Sherlock Elementary School, grew up in a Mexican American family on the north side of Chicago. However, he's been a resident of the Cicero/Berwyn area for more than two decades and is proud to teach students who remind him of his humble roots. According to Garcia, working in District 99 is one of the best ways he feels he can be a community leader and help the next generation blossom to their greatest potential.

Alicia Rohr

“Alicia has a really strong work ethic. She goes above and beyond, and has allowed other staff members to come and watch her teach and learn ESL strategies. She’s really been a team player.” -Denise Thul, principal at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School

 Alicia Rohr, an ESL resource teacher at Wilson, was recognized for her years of service to District 99, tirelessly working to improve the lives of hundreds of children who have come across her path and needed an extra boost in their curriculum! 

Phillip Niersbach

“Phil is like the heart and soul of our building. He has found his place in being a champion for kids. He’s just always looking out for kids’ best interests.” -Joanna Lago, Sherlock principal

Phillip Niersbach, a building instructional coach at Sherlock Elementary School, was recognized by District 99 as Employee of the Month for his dedication to educating Cicero students and for always bringing a positive attitude and sense of enthusiasm to everything he does.

Whether welcoming students into the building for the start of school, or giving kids the confidence boost they need to tackle tough problems in the classroom, Niersbach's infectious energy, upbeat outlook and patience resonates not just with students, but his peers as well.

Kayla King

"Education is so important; education is their ticket to grow and develop. They can do anything that they want to do, and if set their mind to do it, they can achieve it — that's what I always tell them."

Kayla King, a fourth-grade teacher at Warren Park Elementary School, was recognized by District 99 as Employee of the Month for her dedication to educating Cicero students and for always bringing a positive attitude and sense of enthusiasm to everything she does, both in the classroom as as a leader of student extracurriculars. 

As a Cicero/Berwyn native herself, working in the same area in which she grew up in is something King is proud of. She works to demonstrate to her students that they too can get the best education in District 99 schools and get started on a road to lifelong educational success.

Patty Georgacopoulos

"Patty’s all about making connections with her students, making connections with faculty. She truly gets to know the kids, sees them for who they are and is very motherly with them. She is so kind and generous with the kids, and goes out of her way to make them feel comfortable and at-home.” - Jen Evans, principal at Burnham

Her caring demeanor, team-player attitude and true passion for leading the classroom are just a few of the highlights viewers will hear about Georgacopoulos and why she was nominated.

Alejandro Jaime

“One night, [Jaime] worked overnight to get through a project and worked until 6 a.m. He just made that happen — I thought that was an amazing amount of dedication. If there’s obstacles, he finds a way to get through those obstacles.” -Brad Randmark, assistant principal at Unity Junior High School

For 25 years, Alejandro Jaime has worked as a custodian in District 99, ensuring that halls, classrooms, restrooms and other common spaces are maintained in tip-top shape to help students and staff have the cleanest and most welcoming learning spaces possible. 

Megan O'Malley

"I would say Megan is the perfect balance of being very firm but also very caring about both our students and staff. Her communication is extremely impeccable; I will always know what is going on with the Special Ed Department — she makes it a point to keep us posted." -Dana Tiede, principal at Goodwin, remarking on what makes Special Education Program Supervisor Megan O'Malley an outstanding employee.

For over 12 years, Megan O'Malley has dedicated herself to working diligently with students in District 99's Special Education program, ensuring that kids are equipped with the tools they need in order to improve in the classroom and succeed once they walk out the school's doors.

Matt Sullivan

"You really get to know a lot of people and the families too. Once a week I see the kids, so every time they come in, I have to make sure they have the best time possible."

For 19 years, Matt Sullivan has "physically" educated hundreds of Cicero students as a PE teacher. And, while not every student may be the most athletic or enjoy each game and sport played, Sullivan ensures that all of his students get something out of his classes, and find something health-related that they can incorporate in their own personal lives. 

Rosa Covarrubias

"One of the attributes that Rosa really brings to the District that is also a rare find is just her level of positivity and her zest for life and humor. I think the one thing that accomplishes is it brings this level of collaboration and positivity...and I think that's something she really embodies for us." -Elisabeth Nealon, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services 

Rosa Covarrubias has worked in Cicero District 99 for 18 years, working with people from all different departments and hundreds of students and their families.

Adela Bernal

"I love that each day is different. I think that each day is a challenge. I feel as though the person who stands in the gap between the parents and the school." -Adela Bernal, secretary at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School

Thirty-three years ago, Adela Bernal came across an ad in the local Cicero newspaper for a job opening as a secretary in District 99. As a mother with a young family, the long hours and commute that came with working as a legal secretary downtown had lost its appeal.

Two weeks after applying for the job, she was hired. Little did she know, that day would be the start of over three decades of dedicating her life to thousands of students, staff members and families in Cicero.


Beth Reingruber

"Beth will advocate for her students like none other. She's the type of person who takes it home to heart when her students are struggling, and she has always gone above and beyond to make sure they get whatever they need socially, emotionally, academically." -Heather Mathis

Heather Mathis, principal at Unity Junior High School, has worked alongside Beth Reingruber for many years in District 99, with Reingruber helping dozens of students in a variety of ways as a social worker.

Tina Riedl

"I enjoy coming in to work because of all of my colleagues — my wonderful office team, the amazing students and their parents. It makes my job fun and interesting. Although I didn't grow up in Cicero, I knew a lot of friends of mine from college that grew up in Cicero, and I played softball by playing in Clyde Park, I got to know the area and I love working here in Cicero."

Tina Riedl has worked in District 99 for more than 20 years, and as one of the secretaries specifically hired to help reopen Warren Park when the school was rebuilt, Riedl has been instrumental in ensuring the school's families are assisted in the best ways possible and ensuring daily office tasks run as smoothly as possible.

Darrel Cousineau

"He's an outstanding employee. He goes above and beyond every day I need him to go above and beyond. He's a very hard worker." -Joe Strzelczyk

Darrel Cousineau has worked in District 99 as a custodian for 12 years, and according to his supervisor, he is a standout employee for his professional demeanor and can-do attitude — always ready to work hard and take on extra responsibilities at the drop of a hat.

Brad Randmark

"The community has an extraordinary history, everyone's super friendly and supportive... I really enjoy working with all the students here. They're motivated, they want to learn, they're excited about their future, and it's fun to talk to them and see what they're planning to become."

Brad Randmark has worked in District 99 since the turn of the millennium, but his familiarity with the District came years before; he often accompanied his mother — a longtime District teacher — to her classrooms over the years in the '80s and '90s. 

For his steadfast leadership, enthusiasm for helping the community and solid friendships fostered over the years,

Jesica Avila

"She is probably one of the sweetest, most caring, and honestly, one of the best friends anyone could have. She creates relationships with people who are around her that are meaningful and everlasting." -Alicia Austin, pre-K teacher at Sherlock

Jesica Avila has been a program assistant in District 99 for over a decade, faithfully teaching dozens of Cicero's youngest students with kindness and care. Her positive demeanor and dedication to her students was acknowledged as she was honored one of D99's Very Own.

James Feulner

"The colleagues at every building have been amazing. I've had mentors at each building that have helped me move forward in my career in education. From everyone that I've worked with, I've learned something, and I love to share that knowledge with others."

Prior to beginning his career in education, instructional coach James Feulner did a few different things — working in retail management and diesel mechanics, among others. But when he began thinking about how important the field of education was, he switched gears, going back to school and jumping into a new career as a teacher.

Mary Ellen Patterson

“I have fallen in love with being with the kids again — and with the staff. I make myself available to them; always with them in the lunchroom, out on the playground, so I have relationships now with them — and they rely on me.”

Mary Ellen Patterson retired from Cicero District 99 back in 2010 after 35 years serving as bilingual resource teacher, assistant principal and principal. She came back almost immediately to launch a district-wide Teacher Mentoring Program. This year, she has stepped up even more to serve as an interim assistant principal at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School.

Danielle Lange

“I am originally from Cicero — I grew up here from the time I was born up until third grade. I really love the area. When I did my student teaching, I requested Cicero and ended up student-teaching a first-grade class at Liberty School. That really led me to the passion of reading because there’s so many different abilities at that grade level.”

Danielle Lange is now a reading specialist at Columbus East Elementary School. She also stands out in her dedication to give back to her community by organizing an out-of-school tutoring program with the Bobby Hull Community Ice Rink in Cicero where students have the opportunity to ice skate after they complete their reading work.

Magdalena Diaz De Leon

“Ten years ago when my children were attending Goodwin, the secretary at the time started screaming out the window asking me if I wanted a phone caller position. She said, 'You’re always volunteering and your kids are here,' so I applied for it and I got the position.”

Magdalena Diaz De Leon has been at Goodwin Elementary School ever since. Quickly moving up the ranks in the clerical department, she now serves as the school’s secretary.

Dan Romanelli

“When I was in sixth grade, I started working with my school’s social worker at Columbus Merrillville Hospital. Every week, I got to work with abused and neglected children to help them learn to read and write. I had gained a fond passion for wanting to work with children.”

Dan Romanelli has played many roles in Cicero District 99; PE teacher, digital literacy teacher, permanent substitute teacher. He also spends his time after school coaching wrestling and intramurals.

Brian Dominick

“I don’t think he can say no if it’s for the benefit of our kids, our teachers, and our community. He will go above and beyond to make sure everything gets done and it’s to the highest standard.” -Rita Tarullo, assistant superintendent of Business Affairs 

Executive Director of Buildings and Grounds Brian Dominick not only grew up in Cicero and attended D99 schools; every day, he works hard to ensure the District's facilities are clean and safe to ensure the best-possible working and learning conditions for students and staff.

Sofia Ceballos

“I think a lot of people don’t think of the business aspect of a school district. When you think ‘school district,’ you think ‘school, teaching, curriculum, teachers.’ Nobody thinks about the behind-the-scenes. So, when I talk a little bit about my work, people are like, ‘Oh yeah, really? We didn’t think about that!’ I’m like, ‘How do you think the buildings get repaired, who do you think is behind all that? There’s a whole team!’”
Sofia Ceballos likes the work she does with the business office in District 99 and interacting with her colleagues, but one of her favorite things to do? 
Talk with people about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on in the District to help things run smoothly day in and day out. 

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