News Release

News release for immediate release

2014 Horace Mann Educator and Administrator of the Year Announced 

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (May 12, 2014) - Dee Dee Duffy, an Early Start Pre-Kindergarten teacher at the Early Learning Center, has been named the 2014 Horace Mann Educator of the Year. Also, Nichole Heyen, principal of Lincoln Magnet Middle School, was named Horace Mann’s Administrator of the Year. Both recipients were recognized at a May 12 luncheon sponsored by Springfield Public Schools and Horace Mann Educators Corporation (NYSE: HMN).  

Duffy, who has been teaching in District 186 for 25 years, is an Early Start Pre-Kindergarten teacher at the Early Learning Center. “[Mrs. Duffy] has a unique combination of compassion, structure and devotion,” wrote one of her nominators.  “I have seen her turn around behaviors in children that some would have considered too big a challenge. I have seen writing and creativity come from children that were not even sure what to do with a crayon or pencil when she first got them, and children learning to work together towards a common goal.” 

Springfield Schools Superintendent Jennifer Gill and Horace Mann President and CEO Marita Zuraitis presented Duffy with a crystal owl and a $1,000 cash prize.  

Nichole Heyen, Lincoln Magnet School Principal, has been in District 186 for 14 years.  “(Mrs. Heyen) is a caring, dedicated principal who holds herself and her students to high standards,” wrote one of her nominators. Another nominator said, “(Mrs. Heyen) has many qualities that make her stand out from all other administrators; her passion for a child’s learning, relationship with the children and accessibility to parents are some that make my family feel especially blessed to have her as our principal.”  Heyen was presented with $500 and a plaque. 

“It is an honor to recognize those who serve our students with the highest level of professionalism,” Gill said. “I also want to thank Horace Mann for its commitment to Springfield Public Schools and giving us this annual tradition to celebrate excellence in District 186.”  

Finalists for 2014 Educator of the Year included Claire Benoit, Owen Marsh Elementary; Leslie Poppenhouse, Owen Marsh Elementary; Mary Tennant, Black Hawk Elementary and Harvard Park Elementary; and Barbara Thompson, Iles Elementary. Each finalist received a crystal apple award and $250.  

Administrator of the Year finalists were Jill Grove, principal of the Early Learning Center; and Jason Wind, principal of Southeast High School.  Grove and Wind each received $250.

The Rising Star award was given to two promising teachers who have been with the district four years or less. The 2014 Rising Star recipients are: Lauren Harmon of Harvard Park Elementary School and Darien Orr of Lindsay Elementary School.  Harmon and Orr each received $250 and a plaque.  

Horace Mann has sponsored the Educator of the Year program since its inception in 1988. An independent panel of Springfield-area community leaders selects the Educator of the Year, Administrator of the Year, and the Rising Stars.  

Horace Mann — the largest national multiline insurance company focusing on educators' financial needs — provides auto and homeowners insurance, retirement annuities, life insurance and other financial solutions. Founded by educators for educators® in 1945, the company is headquartered in Springfield, Illinois. For more information visit

For more information about Springfield Public Schools, visit


Paul Wappel, Director of Community Relations, The Horace Mann Companies, 217-788-5373,

Nalo Mitchell, Community Relations, Springfield Public Schools, 217-525-3047,





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