Democracy Schools Annual Convening Celebrates Participatory Citizenship

Illinois Democracy Schools are high schools recognized for school-wide commitment to promoting civic learning by all students, focusing on fostering participatory citizenship and emphasizing the fundamental ideals and principles of our constitutional democracy relating to essential questions facing our republic. Since 2006, over 90 schools have successfully completed a school-wide civic assessment and been recognized as an Illinois Democracy Schools. This important work is made possible by the generous and enthusiastic support of the DuPage Regional Office of Education and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation


The Illinois Democracy Schools Network held its Annual Convening on September 28, to welcome five new schools, recognize the recommitment of nine member schools, and honor the outstanding participation of two extraordinary leaders in civic learning. Jason Janczak, from Grayslake Central High School (Democracy School since 2014) was awarded the Carolyn Pereira Civic Leadership Award, and Dr. Darlene Ruscitti, recently retired superintendent of DuPage County Regional Office of Education, was the recipient of the Democracy Schools Network Civic Champion Award (henceforth known as the “Dr. Darlene Ruscitti Civic Champion Award”). The Carolyn Pereira Civic Leadership Award is annually given to one of the Democracy Schools Network members, who has “demonstrated an exemplary commitment to strengthening schoolwide civic engagement and learning; someone who exhibits initiative, creativity, persistence and integrity in modeling and promoting the elements of the Illinois Democracy Schools model”. Jason has served on the Democracy Schools’ Advisory Council for five years, has collaborated with several members of the organization on equity initiatives, has been a presenter and consultant on civic learning issues, and has been an advocate for expanding the reach of civics to all areas of the school. He has worked with several civic partners to bring greater visibility and voice to civic education in his district and beyond. 

The Democracy Schools Network Civic Champion Award recognizes someone who has channeled their ongoing support to the cause of expanding the scope and reach of civics. Dr. Ruscitti has been an exemplar with this support: as a participant in the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, she was instrumental in the creation of the Illinois Democracy Schools initiative, and nurtured the program in DuPage county as the Superintendent of Schools there. She further advocated that the Illinois Democracy School status be recognized on the Illinois Report card, and was a leader in garnering support for the legislation to make civics a required course at both the middle and high school. She continues to be a voice for the importance of civic learning in Illinois. 

The Illinois Democracy Schools Network extends their congratulations and gratitude to these two remarkable educators for their extraordinary efforts in promoting excellence in civic education.