Alumni Achievement Awards

District 128 Foundation for Learning Alumni Achievement Awards, established in 2014, are presented annually to individuals who graduated from a District 128 high school at least five years prior to nomination, and who have made significant contributions, and demonstrated leadership and character in their field and to their community. Nominations are accepted on an ongoing basis and remain active for three years. The Foundation for Learning Board of Trustees comprise the selection committee.

Online Nomination Form

2021 Honorees

Foundation names Frank Fitzgerald and Kate Lee 8th Annual Alumni Achievement Award Recipients.

The District 128 Foundation for Learning is proud to announce this year's recipients of the Alumni Achievement Awards: Frank Fitzgerald, Libertyville High School Class of 1987 and Kate Lee, Vernon Hills High School Class of 2012.

Kate Lee is the Director of Choirs at Maine East High School in Park Ridge, Illinois. She directs the Treble Choir, Bass Choir, Concert Choir, Chamber Choir, and All In Choir. She also directs Audacity In Blue A Cappella, assistant directs the annual V-Show, and vocal directs the annual musical.

Kate has more than tripled the size of the choir program since she began her career at Maine East in 2018. She also started a new class called All In Choir: a choir for students of all physical, cognitive, and sensory ability levels. It is a class in which both special education and general education students come together to build connections and friendships through music.

She was named the Illinois State Board of Education's 2021 Outstanding Early Career Educator of the Year and is a Teach Plus Illinois ILSTOY Policy Fellow. For the past year, she has been working with her Teach Plus cohort on developing a Racial Harassment Policy for school districts across the state. She also serves on the District and Building Equity Leadership Teams at District 207. As a first-generation Korean-American immigrant, she is passionate about creating equitable and inclusive spaces for all students at Maine East. 

Kate graduated with a Bachelor of Music in Voice and Opera Performance, Music Education, and a minor in Sociology from Northwestern University. She is currently working towards a Masters of Music Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When she is not teaching, she maintains an active performing schedule with various professional choral ensembles in Chicago, including Bella Voce and Music of the Baroque.


Frank Fitzgerald was born in 1969 in Chicago. His family moved to Libertyville, Illinois when he was just a baby. He remembers his childhood fondly and his artwork today reflects a colorful response to his happy suburban childhood memories. School, however, was a different story for Frank. At times, it was even difficult, as he struggled to pay attention causing him to hate school. His teachers frequently commented that Frank needed to work on his self-confidence. He credits the Libertyville High School community for instilling in him the value of formal education and starting him on the path to becoming the art teacher he is today. Art class was always what made school tolerable. During Frank’s senior year, Ross Shellenberger’s portfolio class took students to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and other area colleges. This field trip allowed students to see firsthand how artists can find jobs that allow them to be both creative and contributing, productive members of society.

Frank attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he received a bachelor of science in Art in 1991. In 1994, he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree at Northwestern University. Frank studied and worked as a studio assistant for the Chicago Imagist painter Ed Paschke. While working with Ed, Frank taught his first class and found his passion for teaching. Frank believes that every child, not only “artists” or art majors, deserve artistic experiences. Professor Paschke taught Frank that teaching art can be another facet of the creative process of being an artist. In 1995 while teaching painting and design classes at Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Frank earned his art education certification for kindergarten through 12 th grade from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Frank has taught art for 25 years at Spaulding School in Gurnee, Illinois. Spaulding is a pre-kindergarten through second grade school. Each day students will tell Mr. Fitzy “When I grow up, I want to be an art teacher!” A large part of a teacher’s job is to help students learn to overcome school anxiety and practice their subjects so as to understand how to succeed in school and beyond. His classes introduce students to a range of artistic media and creative experiences from drawing and painting to sculptural materials such as clay. The children also manipulate kindergarten founder Fredrich Froebel’s original blocks to integrate mathematical concepts into art class. These kindergarten gifts and occupations develop the students’ higher-level thinking and creativity skills by allowing them to experience three-dimensional shapes using the tactile wood blocks.

In 2013, Frank started The Mr. Fitzy Painting Show, an all-ages instructional art program through Comcast cable access and YouTube. You can watch it on Comcast Cable channel 17 in northern Illinois on Fridays at 4 and anytime on his YouTube channel: Mr. Fitzy Painting Show. In 2017, Mr. Fitzgerald was humbled to be awarded the teacher of the year for Gurnee School District 56.

Frank’s surreal and cartoony paintings have been shown throughout Lake County and the Midwest including the Robert T. Wright Community Gallery at the College of Lake County and the Blue Moon Gallery in Grayslake. He was a founding member in 2011 of the artist cooperative, Dandelion Gallery, in Waukegan, Illinois. Frank continues to show his work each month during Artwauk openings. Frank has volunteered in the community teaching classes and workshops and by completing commissions and arts projects including murals. He continues to advocate on behalf of the value of arts education in students’ lives. He has taught art to children and adults in a great many venues in the Chicagoland area, including the Art Center of Highland Park and the art camp at the Adler Cultural Arts Center in Libertyville. Frank lives with his wife and two daughters in Lindenhurst, Illinois. Currently, he is still teaching art in Gurnee and is busy working on his first children’s book, an autobiography titled, How I Became an Artist and an Art Teacher.


2020 Honorees

Foundation names Jessica Lawdan and Tom Morello 7th Annual Alumni Achievement Award Recipients


The District 128 Foundation for Learning is proud to announce the 2020 Alumni Achievement Awards: Jessica Lawdan, Vernon Hills High School Class of 2011, and Tom Morello, Libertyville High School Class of 1982. 

Jessica Lawdan is an active music teacher in the public school and community arts education circles of Denver, Colorado. She attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN where she earned her Bachelor's of Music in Vocal Music Education for grades K-12. During her time at St. Olaf, she started the school's first co-ed a cappella group, The HillHarmonics, and sang with the St. Olaf Choir under Anton Armstrong. Since relocating to the Denver metro area, she has worked with the Colorado Music Festival + Center for Musical Arts, The Colorado Children's Chorale, 303 Choir/VoCoalition, Youth on Record, the Colorado Chorale, the Denver Choir League and many other musical organizations while serving as a full-time music teacher in Aurora, Glendale, and Green Valley Ranch. Her students have performed with local groups such as hip-hop duo The Reminders as well as recorded on records for national acts such as The Flobots (hear them on 2017's record "Neoenemies"!).

Jessica has designed multiple music programs from scratch at schools where arts education was lacking. Currently through grant writing, community engagement, and creative fundraising with PTO she is the Music Specialist for a fully functioning K-8 "Modern Band"-style general music program, where students learn the basics of singing, ukulele, guitar, drumkit, keyboard, and songwriting. Her efforts have been featured on Denver9News and Colorado Public Radio, and her school was recently chosen out of 200 other schools from across the country to be awarded the Guitar Center Music Foundation grant for even more funding. She hopes to use this grant to officially have enough instruments to support an extracurricular instrument-loan program and work towards her long-term goal of building an in-class recording studio to teach 21st century music production skills. 

Additionally, she is the Music Director for the Vintage Youth Theater's Summer Children's Spotlight, and has worked to build this program since its inception in 2016. The VYT Summer Spotlight provides access and training for 3rd-12th grade students to perform fully-staged musicals once a summer in a low-income area of Denver where arts education is sparse. Ms. Lawdan's passion lies in arts integration and innovative programming and is proud to use the knowledge and joy that began in her experience at D128 schools to provide music education that draws on each students' unique backgrounds and abilities to create personalized, meaningful artistic experiences.


Tom Morello is the multi-Grammy Award-winning guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, Prophets Of Rage, and The Nightwatchman. The incendiary rock guitarist and acoustic troubadour, known for his innovative guitar solos and thunderous chords, is a groundbreaking artist and lifelong activist who has sold over 30 million albums worldwide. Morello has also been recognized by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the “100 Greatest Guitar Players of All-Time (#26).” Morello has produced or collaborated with artists of diverse genres including Wu Tang Clan, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Page, John Fogerty, Gary Clark Jr., Public Enemy, Joe Strummer, Marcus Mumford, Crystal Method, Dave Mathews Band, Paul McCartney, Killer Mike, Travis Barker, and Pete Seeger. In addition, he joined Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band for six years on tour and is a featured lead guitarist on Springsteen’s Wrecking Ball and High Hopes albums. Morello was the first Libertyville High School graduate to attend Harvard University and graduated from there with an honors degree in political science in 1986. For his decades of public service and unrelenting commitment to workers’ rights and social justice, Morello has been the recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award For Human Rights, the Harry Belafonte Hillman Award, the Spirit Of Courage Award, the Reed Award, the Culture Of Liberation Award, the Ethical Culture Warrior Award, the WhyHunger Chapin Award, and the MTV award for most historic Occupy Wall Street performance. He is also a proud union member of Musician’s Local 47 in Los Angeles and The Industrial Workers Of The World, and an honorary member of the National Air Traffic Controllers Union and the Teamsters. Morello is the only musician to be named an ACLU ‘Smart Justice’ Ambassador and was dubbed “Most Valuable Musician” by The Nation magazine. He has written a graphic novel (“Orchid”) appeared in several films (Iron Man, Star Trek: Insurrection, Made) and scored countless others. This year he released a career retrospective photo memoir (“Whatever It Takes”), an Audible Original (“Speaking Truth To Power: Live At The Minetta Lane Theater”), and a signature “Soul Power” Fender Guitar. Morello has a regular show on Sirius XM Lithium entitled “One Man Revolution” which regularly features his 97-year-old mother, Mary Morello, a retired LHS history teacher. Morello resides in Los Angeles with his wife Denise and his sons Rhoads (11) and Roman (9). He has a daughter, Ruby, who lives in Boston. 


Read About the 2019 Honorees

Jessica Chiarella

Sarah Potempa

Read About the 2018 Honorees

Chris Bryant

Dr. Raghu Mirmira

Read About the 2017 Honorees

Steven Breitenfield

Brett Butler

Read About the 2016 Honorees

Y. Ralph Chu, M.D.

David Margules

Read About the 2015 Honorees

Allyson Bain

Gwynne Rowley Shotwell

Read About the 2014 Honorees

Dale Eggert 

Matt Nuernberger