Illinois’s Mario Diaz Albarran Receives 2024 Recognition as Inspiring School Employee (RISE) Honoree

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona revealed today that Mario Diaz Albarran, the head custodian at Lincoln Elementary School in Palatine, Illinois, has been selected as the 2024 Recognizing Inspiring School Employees (RISE) honoree.

This recognition, initiated by Congress in 2019, highlights the exceptional contributions of classified school employees to the quality of PreK-12 education in the United States. Classified school employees encompass various roles such as paraprofessionals, clerical staff, transportation and security services, among others, all of whom play a critical part in ensuring student welfare and success.

“Our school professionals nationwide are true education heroes, meeting the essential needs of students and facilitating their learning and growth,” expressed U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “I am delighted to announce Mr. Mario Diaz Albarran as this year’s RISE awardee. Through his efforts, Mr. Diaz Albarran not only maintains a safe and healthy environment at Lincoln Elementary School but also establishes meaningful connections with students that have a lasting impact. It’s a privilege for me to recognize Mr. Diaz Albarran with this prestigious award.”

“Mr. Diaz Albarran has fostered a dynamic and empowering atmosphere for students and educators at Lincoln Elementary School,” remarked Governor JB Pritzker. “His influence through art and mentorship is transforming lives, and I am excited to congratulate him on this extraordinary honor.”

“We take immense pride in Mario Diaz Albarran, the Illinois’ RISE Award nominee, being selected for this esteemed national recognition,” stated Illinois State Superintendent Dr. Tony Sanders. “He exemplifies the exceptional dedication and excellence displayed by school professionals across Illinois, who ensure seamless operations from the moment students board the bus until the school day concludes. Our heartfelt gratitude to Mario and all classified employees in the state for their invaluable contributions in creating a safe and supportive learning environment for our students daily.”

“We are enormously proud of Mario Diaz Albarran for this truly exceptional achievement. Mario’s unwavering commitment, diligent work, and dedication to the students and staff at Lincoln School embody the values we uphold as a school community,” expressed Superintendent Dr. Laurie Heinz, Community Consolidated School District 15. “Mario’s personal experiences have enabled him to connect with students, serve as a role model, and embody our shared belief in every student’s potential. We are fortunate to have such an inspirational figure within our school and district. Congratulations, Mario, your rising star status is now recognized nationwide.”

As the Head Custodian, Diaz Albarran is acclaimed for his commitment, meticulous approach, and relationships with students and staff at Lincoln Elementary in Palatine’s Community Consolidated School District 15. His impact is evident across the campus, where he has adorned the walls with school colors and murals reflecting schoolwide objectives. Additionally, he ensures the school remains immaculate and equips teachers with the necessary resources for each school year and day.

During his time as a student in District 15, Diaz Albarran grappled with social and peer pressures, feeling compelled to join groups that did not align with his best interests. Presently, he oversees a group of “student helpers” who volunteer to assist him with daily maintenance tasks. Students from Lincoln’s STAR program eagerly participate as “helpers” as a reward for positive behavior. These interactions allow Diaz Albarran to check-in on the students, provide guidance, and establish connections. Seventh grader Daniel Aguierre, one of the helpers, shared the impact of his relationship with Mr. Diaz Albarran, emphasizing the lessons learned and the mentorship received.

Diaz Albarran embodies the belief that “It takes a village to raise a child.” He sets a high standard for classified employees, encouraging them to exceed expectations beyond school walls by fostering students’ character development and emotional preparedness for the future, drawing from his experiences as an example.

Today, we honor Diaz Albarran for his dedicated efforts that go above and beyond his call of duty, positively impacting every individual he encounters within his district on a daily basis.

The selection process, similar to Mario Diaz Albarran’s recognition, commenced in April 2019 when Congress enacted the Recognizing Achievement in Classified School Employees Act. This legislature mandates the Secretary to choose a classified school employee for the Recognizing Inspiring School Employees Award annually. For the fourth iteration of the competition, 27 nominations from 15 states were received by the Education Department. Each nomination underwent peer review, with five finalists subsequently presented to the Secretary for consideration.

The selection of up to two nominees from each state was determined by the Governors’ offices. For the 2024-2025 school year, nominations, highlighting excellence in various areas, must be submitted by Nov. 1, including work performance, school and community engagement, leadership, local commendations, and enhancement of the image of classified school employees in the community and schools.

Individuals interested in nominating for the upcoming school year should reach out to their Governor’s office for details on the specific nomination process. Governors and state education agency program administrators can contact RISE@ed.gov for inquiries and to indicate their state’s participation in the upcoming cycle.

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