AIRSS Welcomes Four New Board Members and Transitions to New President

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Macomb, IL – December 14, 2022

In AIRSS board action in September and December, new AIRSS board members were named including a new president, two board members, and two advocacy board members, a new role to the organization. Please join us in welcoming these outstanding individuals, who will each serve a two-year term beginning January 1, 2023.

After serving the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools (AIRSS) for over a decade, we are pleased to introduce Dr. Jennifer Garrison as the new board President.

A staunch advocate for rural and small schools, Dr. Garrison served as a Principal for Ramsey C.U.S.D. #204 and was an elementary teacher for Highland C.U.S.D. #5, where she also achieved her National Board Certification. She is the current Superintendent of the Vandalia Community Unit School District #203, and is in her fourteenth year as an Illinois Superintendent. She is a 1995 graduate of Vandalia Schools and has come home to proudly serve and represent her community.

Dr. Garrison is a proud veteran, serving nine years in the IL Army National Guard and achieving the rank of Sergeant.

Garrison is also greatly involved in policy and advocacy work at the state level. She is currently serving her first term on the IL Board of Higher Education. Having the rural voice reflected in the IBHE Strategic Plan is of great significance for our rural communities as we expand college and career pathways including dual credit and Career and Technical Education. Dr. Garrison was a leader of the Funding Illinois’ Future Coalition and the Fix the Formula Campaign advocating for a new equitable school funding formula which led to the passage of the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act. She has been a committee member for IASA’s Vision 20/20 since its inception in 2013 working on the IL Balanced Accountability Model which was the blueprint for the Every Student Succeeds Act for Illinois.

“Dr. Jennifer Garrison is very experienced in rural school systems. She is a lifelong rural educator and dedicated advocate for our rural and small schools and our students. We are grateful for her dedication, and excited to see the new energy she brings as the President of AIRSS,” reflects David Ardrey, AIRSS Executive Director.

The Association is also pleased to welcome Mr. Larry Lovel as a new board member.

Mr. Lovel attended both John A. Logan and SIUC before becoming an educator in the Trico and Marion School Districts. Mr. Lovel has sixteen years of administrative experience as a Pre-K -12 Principal in the Elverado, Red Bud, and Murphysboro School Districts. Mr. Lovel is currently in his seventh year as Superintendent at Trico.

Mr. Lovel also received the District 2022 Illinois Leadership Council for Agricultural Education (ILCAE) Agricultural Education Advocacy Award. According to the folks who nominated him for the award: “Mr. Lovel has provided the utmost support for CTE education at Trico by continually supporting each teacher in whatever endeavor we choose. Providing funding for the programs and talking to parents and students the importance of the agriculture industry. He provides the platforms for the support for everyone in CTE programs at Trico with updated equipment, approval of all field trips and supplies that are needed. Mr. Lovel allows the use of ag in the classroom for k-5 students, implementation of a farm to plate garden by the horticulture and ag science classes, just whatever we need he allows up to put to use.”

“It is Mr. Lovel’s stated goal is to provide the children of the Trico community with a model system of rural education that supports each child to reach their full and unique potential. His knowledge, experience and personal drive will serve him well as he supports all rural schools in Illinois,” says David Ardrey, Executive Director of AIRSS.

Another welcome to Mr. Chris Janssen as a new board member.

Mr. Janssen has had a variety of experiences in education with some experience in technology, grants, curriculum, coaching and student organizations. He began his teaching career in 1993 as an Agriculture Science teacher. He was given the opportunity to move into the position of technology/grant coordinator at Avon, which he accepted. He then spent nine years as the principal at Spoon River Valley Junior/Senior High and has since moved into the Superintendent position at Spoon River Valley.

“Agriculture teachers bring a unique and positive perspective to a rural school and community. I look forward to working with Mr. Janssen and tapping into his experiences and background to support all Illinois Rural and Small Schools,” commented David Ardrey, Executive Director of AIRSS.

The Association is excited to introduce Ms. Jessica Ramos as one of our new Advocacy Board Members. Advocacy Board Members are specifically chosen for our board because of their involvement in policy making at the state level.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Jessica majored in broadcast journalism with specializations in political science and Latina/o studies. She is currently engaged in graduate studies at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Before starting her work with Advance Illinois, she taught language arts and multicultural studies.

Jessica was previously the Director at Advance Illinois, and continues to be involved in several ways with community engagement teams, coalitions, and the Educator Advisory Council, which she restructured. This council joins amazing, diverse educators across Illinois to make sure that DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging) is baked into the recruitment, onboarding, and cohort experience.

“It has been an honor to work with Jessica on a number of committees and her work with Advance Illinois. I have enjoyed our deep conversations around equity and inclusion and find her willingness to learn about rural schools and the challenges they face to be deeply engaging, sincere and caring. I am grateful to have Jessica alongside me in this rural journey,” shared David Ardrey, Executive Director of AIRSS.

In addition, please welcome Dr. Ernesto Matias as another of our new Advocacy Board Members.

Dr. Matias is dedicated to student success and remains at the forefront in instructional and cultural conversations. He began teaching in 1990 and continued to do so in Montana, Indiana, and Illinois until 2002, when he became the assistant principal of Kanoon Magnet Elementary School. During these years, Dr. Matias was recognized as a District Teacher of the Year, as a Golden Apple Teacher of the Year, with the Associated Colleges of Illinois Shining Example of Liberal Arts for Leadership award, and with the Arne Duncan Award for Educational Equity.

From 2008 to 2013, Dr. Matias was the principal of Wells Community Academy where he greatly improved school culture through professional development and mentorship. He served as the deputy chief of schools for the CPS Office of Strategic School Support Services until 2014, when he became the chief of Network 4. Three years later, he became academic chief of the CPS Office of Language and Cultural Education, where he supported over 70,000 English Learners. He was in the 2018 Cohort of the McCormick Foundation Executive Fellows program and the Inaugural Chicago City Council Latino Caucus Leadership Class Fellows. Most recently, he served as the Education Officer for the Illinois State Board of Education.

“Dr. Matias willingness to learn about Illinois rural schools, his support of AIRSS and the work around better policy for rural schools and his personal and professional belief we have to heal wounds that exist at all levels of the education process makes his appointment critical to support the AIRSS mission to be a voice all all rural schools,” shared David Ardrey, Executive Director of AIRSS.

We are excited to continue building an organization that focuses on advocacy for rural and small schools at the state level, and we are grateful for these new board members for joining us on this long road ahead.

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