2021 Third General Session

Tough Conversations and Leadership Awards Close Out the Final General Session of Conference 

With the clock ticking down on the 2021 Joint Annual Conference, Gail Tolstoi-Miller delivered a frank and open conversation on unconscious bias and the impacts to education to the Third General Session audience.  

Tolstoi-Miller is an award-winning speaker, author, and career coach who doesn’t hold back and often refers to herself as being “100%, totally real.” Her thoughts on unconscious bias are backed by various scientific studies and statistics, and she makes clear that everyone, even herself, has some unconscious bias.  


Running through various education topics that touch on race, gender, teachers, curriculum, and disabilities, Tolstoi-Miller showed how unconscious bias in each of these subjects can impact students.  

“We don’t always see things as they are, but through how we are,” said Tolstoi-Miller, reiterating that belief systems of individuals are established early in life and based on past experiences.  

While acknowledging the presence of unconscious bias, she provided solutions to “do the best we can to combat it.” Among the suggestions were to use stereotype replacement (firewoman instead of fireman), create a system of checks and balances, inclusive communication, a growth mindset, diversity of staff, and having systems in place with accountability. 

Tolstoi-Miller closed with advice to “listen and empathize.” 

Two awards showcasing the leadership of school officials were presented at the final session. 

The Illinois Association of School Administrators named Steve Webb of Goreville CUSD 1 as the 2022 Illinois Superintendent of the Year. The criteria for the award included pandemic response, academic achievement, preparing students for the future, social-emotional support, teaching and instruction, equity strategies, and leadership. 

“I am truly a product of a tremendous community and a family I love very deeply, who weathers the storm of public duty with me,” said Webb, who has served as superintendent of Goreville CUSD 1 for 19 years. “I will forever cherish this award and will continue to love and nurture the kids in our care and hopefully make a difference one child at a time.”  

Following the superintendent of the year award, the Illinois State Board of Education presented Phil Pritzker of Wheeling CCSD 21 with the 2021 Thomas Lay Burroughs Award for Outstanding School Board President.  


Pritzker has served on the Wheeling CCSD21 board of education for 30 years. He has also held the positions of President and Past President for the Illinois Association of School Boards.  

“It is up to us to make sure the students achieve and become the best they can be. There is no greater honor than to work for the betterment of children,” said Pritzker upon receiving the award.