A math teacher from Grant Middle School was named the top educator in Springfield Public School District 186 on Thursday.

Jill Borah, who taught with the district and GMS for 18 years, was named Horace Mann Educator of the Year 2021-22.

Borah was surprised by family, friends, other staff and students in the school gymnasium. The longtime math teacher could barely speak of pure joy and shock after receiving one of the district’s most prestigious awards.

“As many of you know, Ms. Borah likes to be prepared,” Borah said. “I love to see each of you grow, improve and shine. Remember (that) the glass is always half full. Be positive and be kind.”

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Borah received a cash prize of $1,400, along with a crystal owl as a trophy. She beat four others – David Curry, a special education teacher at Butler Elementary School; Abbey Dirksen, family and consumer science teacher at Southeast High School; Kari Lutchka, librarian at Addams Elementary School; and Missy Netznik, third grade teacher at Wilcox Elementary School – for the top prize. The other four finalists received $250 each.

Jill Borah, a teacher at Grant Middle School, walks into the gym for a festive greeting as she finds out she is the winner of the Horace Mann Teacher of the Year Award on Thursday. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

A lifelong Springfield resident, Borah had identified math as something she wanted to teach from a young age. She felt great pride in growing up in the district – being a GMS graduate – and looked back to the many teachers who put her on the path to being an educator.

“I had amazing teachers in the district,” Borah said. “(Because of) the rigor, the expectations (and) the compassion the teachers had for their students, I wanted to come home.”

Superintendent Jennifer Gill said Borah is someone who is willing to try new things in order to further the education of students. She had been an early adopter of the kind of technology that proved useful for the district during the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote learning was needed in its early days.

“We had no idea how important this learning and technology was,” Gill said. “The lessons we learned from you that helped guide the work we did with others during the pandemic.”

As the pandemic dragged on, Borah supplemented her tech skills with videos designed to teach her students key areas of study. All of this helped keep students on track and on the same page.

“When students were out for COVID — either in quarantine or whatever — (we) just tried (to) make sure they were kept informed,” Borah said. “I made a lot of videos to help with that, so they would hear the lesson from me.”

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Rob Schurman, the school’s principal, said Borah is the kind of teacher who sets an example for budding young educators. He said he’s known her since before his teaching days — Schurman was Borah’s golf coach at Springfield High School.

“(She’s) selfless — that describes her perfectly,” Schurman said. “She’s a team player (and) a leader – she leads by example. She goes out of her way to make accommodations to differentiate instruction – to make learning as fun as possible, because math can be challenging for many students.”

The district also selected three other teachers as rising stars: Lindsey Dunbar, fifth-grade teacher at Iles School; Marcy Hale, of the Lee School; and Dalton McGhiey, science teacher and esports coach at Lanphier High School. All three received their own crystal trophy, plus $250.

The district administrator of the year award will be presented on Friday.

For Borah, Thursday was something that needed time to process. As her family, friends, fellow teachers and administrators praised her, she struggled to find the words that could describe how she felt after years of hard work.

“(I) just try to process (and) understand everything,” Borah said. “Obviously my students, my (colleagues) staff members (and) my family mean the world to me. The fact that they all came out to support me means a lot.

Contact Zach Roth: (217) 899-4338; [email protected]; @ZacharyRoth13