Article written by Kevin Lyons
Like many longtime educators, Robert Hackbart wore many hats: Outstanding math teacher, inspirational coach and beloved principal. Even after his 2016 retirement, Hackbart left his legacy with schools known throughout Illinois as exceptional for their inclusion of students with special needs.
Hackbart’s 32-year career with Woodstock Community Unit School District 200 is being honored by the Woodstock District 200 Education Foundation on Feb. 8 with the 2020 Sue Palmore Award of Excellence at the Foundation’s 26th Annual Groundhog Day Dinner/Auction. Tickets for the event are available at https://e.givesmart.com/events/eMv/.
Natia Hong, special education teacher at Creekside Middle School, nominated Hackbart for the award because of his remarkable advocacy for Life Skills students with autism, Down syndrome, intellectual impairments and other challenges.
“The first week of school at Creekside, Mr. Hackbart introduced each Life Skills student to the entire student population. He wanted to send a positive message that students with special needs were not any different from anyone else,” Hong said.
Over his career, Hackbart was also principal at Northwood Middle School for eight years and became the first principal at Creekside when it opened in 2007. A former Wisconsin high school state champion and University of Wisconsin wrestler, Hackbart could be found coaching at either the middle or high school levels in wrestling, soccer and basketball.
“We’re so appreciative of all that Bob has done and continues to do to inspire excellence in our district,” said Jaci Krandel, co-president of the D 200 Education Foundation.
As a principal, Hackbart was known for always making time for struggling students and providing individual attention. “My philosophy is what’s best for the student. Every student is different.”
It was during Hackbart’s high school wrestling days that he developed his compassion for special needs children when he befriended one of his wrestling teammate’s sister who had Down syndrome.
At Creekside, Hackbart was a big supporter of the Best Buddies program — a peer mentoring program for students with special needs. Creekside’s program was named International Middle School Best Buddies Chapter of the Year in 2012 and recognized as the Illinois Chapter of the year in 2018.
He stays in touch and still plays Santa for the Best Buddies participants each year. Hackbart said he’s very proud of the program and the tradition and culture that staff and students have maintained at Creekside.
“I’m amazed that they keep taking it to the next level,” Hackbart said. “The number of students who want to be part of that program is amazing.”
District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan said Hackbart is an incredibly deserving honoree. Moan said he first met Hackbart at a teacher and middle school coach. “He has always served the students of District 200 as though each one was his own, taking time and energy to make sure every student felt supported and cared about. District 200 has been lucky to have Bob spend his career here.”
The D200 Educational Foundation award is named after Sue Palmore who exemplified service to her community in her roles as a District 200 Board of Education member and member of the D200 Education Foundation. The Education Foundation renamed the Award of Excellence honor after Palmore’s death in 2012 to continue her legacy.
Past recipients include: Bud Swartout (2011); Barb Banker (2012); Bill Schuette (2013); Jim Campion (2014); Miguel Rodriguez (2015); Joy Aavang (2016); John Van Fleet (2017); Ron Bendis (2018) and Rick Morozink (2019)