East Aurora Unit District 131 superintendent to receive top heritage award

East Aurora Unit District 131 Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Norrell will be feted as the 2023 African American Leader of the Year during the City of Aurora's African American Heritage Advisory Board's 17th annual Heritage Scholarship Dinner in February.

She is the first woman to serve as superintendent of the state's first public school district and has led the charge that has resulted in significant positive changes in less than five years.

Commissioners of the African American Heritage Advisory Board (AAHAB) visited an East Aurora board meeting to announce Norrell's selection to receive the esteemed award presented annually to a community leader who has made an indelible mark on the community.

Since her historic appointment in 2018, Dr. Norrell has served as the central figure in supporting the district's 14,000 students, their families, the faculty and staff, and the East Aurora community.

Dr. Norrell has cultivated a culture of practice that allows students to build a sense of positive identity, belonging, healing, resilience, and academic success. In less than five years, the high school graduation rate has increased by 17% to an impressive 87% and improving.

The number of students taking early college courses and AP classes has also grown exponentially. And for the first time in history, all schools in East Aurora Unit District 131 have received the two highest Illinois State Board of Education ratings of Commendable or Exemplary.

In addition to honoring Dr. Norrell, AAHAB will present the annual Henry Cowherd Memorial Scholarship, named in honor of longtime East Aurora leader and the namesake of Cowherd Middle School, to college-bound high school seniors from local high schools.

The ceremony will also feature remarks from local leaders, a special performance by award-winning violinist Windy Indie, and presentations of the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Nia Awards.

Recipients of these awards will be publicly announced at the city's Martin Luther King Ceremony on Jan. 16.

Deemed the "Crowning Event of Black History Month," the 17th annual Heritage Scholarship Dinner will be held on Friday, Feb. 24, at Belle Salle Banquets, 1920 E. New York St. Social hour begins at 6 p.m. and the dinner and program at 7 p.m.

Individual seats are $60. Tickets can be purchased online at or via phone at (630) 256-3368.

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