MORRIS – Dave Raffel, principal of Morris Elementary School District 54 has been named the 2023 Illinois Principal Association Elementary School Principal of the Year for the Three Rivers Region, which covers school districts in Grundy, Will, Kendall and Kankakee counties.
Morris District 54 Superintendent Dr. Shannon Dudek said Raffel was chosen from 75-80 elementary principals within this region. The region nominates the principal and then they are required to complete an application process that includes their resume, four letters of recommendation and a description of their accomplishments.
The award recognizes elementary school principals whose commitment is clearly evident through programs designed to meet the academic and social needs of all students through firmly established community ties with parents and local business associations, according to the Illinois Principal Association website.
This is the second time Raffel received this award, the first in 2018.
Raffel said the award was “extra special” because it came from his peers and talked about the great work other principals were doing.
“I want to make things better for schools in general. So if I can help other teachers or other principals and other districts – do things that I know will benefit and be good for their kids I like to do that,” he said.
Raffel joined Morris District 54 6 years ago with more than 20 years of experience in education. His ability to see each student individually was immediately recognized by the staff, students and parents.
“We’re very thankful to have Mr. Raffel on our staff and he is one of the most supportive educators that I have ever worked with and his continued support for students and staff is unmatched,” Dudek said.
Raffel credits his first teaching job as a fourth grade teacher at a private school in Peoria with his ability to adapt to each individual student’s learning style and said he learned the importance of collaboration.
“There was a section of every grade, so whatever kids came to your class, you had to teach them. We didn’t do IEPs and all those different plans you have for kids, because we were in a private school setting. So, really from my first year teaching, it was kind of up to me to find the learning styles of the kids and make it work,” he said.
He believes it is important to maintain a connection with all of his students, to ensure they feel comfortable coming to him with any concerns. So, during the morning announcements, he tells students he needs decorations for his office. This month, it’s snowflakes.
“He’s nice and he has a good sense of humor. He has a cool office and he is amazing with the kids,” fourth grade student Bryer Hiller said.
Regional Superintendent Christopher Mechoko said Raffel has always been student-focused and advocates in the best interest of the students.
Raffel said he was excited about the direction Morris District 54 was heading and hopes the district continues to put its best foot forward.
“I feel like we have changed the culture and now I would like to see that translated into the test scores and the things that the public for better or worse puts a lot of stock in,” he said. “I would love it if some of those numbers started matching all the great things that I know are going on here with our staff.”
The statewide Principal of the Year will be selected from the region winners later this spring.