Extraordinary. Thoughtful. Personable.

Those were the words Anne McDonnell used to describe Casey Godfrey, principal of Lincoln Elementary in River Forest. McDonnell, who has two of her three children attending Lincoln, 511 Park Ave., said Godfrey is the kind of person who remembers his students by name. In the mornings, before school starts, Godfrey is often waiting by the entrance, ready to personally greet his students.

“It’s not like, ‘Hey buddy! How are you?’” McDonnell told Wednesday Journal. “It’s, ‘Hi, Colin! Hi, Kyle! Hi, Sally!’ – which is such a basic thing – but when you stop and think about it, what a difference it makes when somebody remembers your name. ”

And that’s only part of the reason why McDonnell and Roshni Ricchetti, whose children previously attended Lincoln, nominated Godfrey for a Those Who Excel award, an award that recognizes various elementary and high school educators every year for their contributions. Godfrey, who has been the principal at Lincoln since 2015 and was recently named a 2022 recipient, was listed as one of more than 20 people honored for their meritorious service. The award’s other categories include Award of Excellence and Award of Recognition.

“As an adult, if you think back on your education, lots of people can recall influential teachers, really important professors, people in those leadership, pedagogical roles,” Ricchetti told the Journal. “But I imagine very few people look back and think of an administrator as someone who is truly special. And Casey is a stark exception to that.

“He is part of the fabric of what makes D90 a phenomenal district.”

Early on in the pandemic, when schools went into lockdown, Ricchetti recalled Godfrey’s virtual morning announcements, a popular highlight for her children. She remembered how her children used to race for the iPad just to watch recordings of Godfrey. McDonnell, whose sons also adored those announcements, said the Lincoln principal was quickly known for his goofy dances or playing popular songs on his violin, his dog often popping up in the background.

“That’s one thing he did to make it special,” McDonnell said.

Ricchetti told the Journal she and McDonnell began the nomination process last summer. The two, who admired Godfrey’s work with students, said they reached out to Superintendent Ed Condon, gathering recommendation letters and completing the paperwork. Ricchetti said she and McDonnell believed Godfrey embodied the meaning of the award and deserved to be celebrated. 

Godfrey said he was humbled by the nomination and being named an awardee.

“I feel very fortunate to work at such a wonderful place and to be acknowledged for such a prestigious honor,” he said. “I’m just very humbled by that and the opportunity to continue to serve Lincoln. It’s a great school.”

More excellent educators

Several Oak Park District 97 staff members have also been named recipients of the 2022 Those Who Excel award by the Illinois State Board of Education.

  • Three individuals – Irving Elementary School Principal John Hodge; Irving parent volunteer Melissa De Jesus-Vasquez; and Lincoln Elementary  School administrative assistant Lee-Ann Roskopf – were honored with a Those Who Excel Award of Excellence. Irving is at 1125 S. Cuyler.
  • Nicole Grant and Natalie Campbell, who co-teach kindergarten at Whittier Elementary School, received a Those Who Excel award for their meritorious service. Whittier is at 715 N. Harvey.
  • Elyse Smith and Nicole Pines, who co-teach kindergarten at Mann Elementary School, were also named recipients of a Those Who Excel award for their meritorious service. Mann is at 921 N. Kenilworth.
  • Ashley Kannan, a humanities teacher at Percy Julian Middle School, was named 2022 Regional Teacher of the Year for Cook County and a finalist for 2022 Illinois Teacher of the Year. Percy Julian is at 416 S. Ridgeland.

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