Woodstock High School choral director is Illinois Teacher of the Year finalist

Woodstock teacher Paul Rausch has been nominated for the Illinois Teacher of the Year.
Woodstock teacher Paul Rausch has been nominated for the Illinois Teacher of the Year.

WOODSTOCK – When Woodstock School District 200 officials were tasked with selecting a nominee for one of the state’s highest teaching honors, the discussion didn’t take very long, Superintendent Mike Moan said.

That’s how 53-year-old Paul Rausch, who has spent his entire 32-year teaching career as choral director at Woodstock High School, became the district’s nominee for Illinois Teacher of the Year, awarded by the Illinois State Board of Education through a program called “Those Who Excel.”

Once districts nominated a candidate for the recognition, 10 finalists were selected throughout the state, and Rausch is one of them. The winner will be announced in October during a banquet in Normal.

“[His] was the first name that came to mind,” Moan said. “He just embodies what you want an educator to be. He’s passionate about everything he does, and he really makes connections with our students.”

Humbled by the nomination, Rausch said he looks at the opportunity as a way to become a representative for the teaching profession. As a finalist, Rausch recently had the chance to join the other nine candidates in Springfield to speak with officials about education.

The veteran teacher, who also serves as the school’s fine arts division chair, is credited with building up the high school’s choir program into something “outstanding” and “nationally renowned,” Moan said.

Rausch said he developed the program to offer more singing options than what is typical in high school, so there are eight different choir opportunities for students, including a capella groups.

Woodstock High School senior Emma Browne, 17, has been involved in choir all four years of high school.

Rausch, she said, is one of the most influential teachers she’s ever had.

“Personally, for me, he’s been a guiding light in my career path,” Browne said. “I always loved music, but I didn’t know I actually wanted to make a profession out of it until he came into my life.”

She was asked to write a recommendation for Rausch, which was included in the docket reviewed by the finalist selection committee. Browne said she noted a specific element that sets Rausch apart from other teachers – the connections he forms with his students.

That also happens to be Rausch’s favorite part of the job, he said.

“It’s the contact with the students and the energy and excitement,” Rausch said. “Especially in high school, you have young boys and girls coming in, and then they leave as adults. ... What other job can you do where you can show somebody the tremendous value they have?”

That’s what he did with Browne, who now has lofty aspirations in musical theater.

“He’s made me the singer I am today, the performer I am today, and also the person I am today,” she said. “He’s the teacher who will stick with me for the rest of my life – I know that already.”

In addition to Rausch’s nomination, other District 200 employees also will be recognized by ISBE as part of Those Who Excel.

Principal’s Secretary Maribeth Dhom from Dean Street Elementary is being honored in the Educational Service Personnel category; kindergarten teacher Kelly Edge from Verda Dierzen is being recognized in the Early Career Educator category; Greenwood Elementary School nurse Denise Clark is being recognized in Student Support Personnel; and the Team category recipients will be the district’s co-advisers for the Special Olympics program, Jen Moskowitz and Cory Knopik.

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