Johnny Owens nominated for RISE award

Owens appreciated for 18 years of service



Johnny Owens, beloved by students and staff, received his nomination for the RISE award on Nov. 30

Typically security guards represent the more heavy, miserable portion of school life. In TV shows and movies, the security guard is usually the one to disrupt the fun of the students. However, at New Trier, this isn’t the case.

Security guard Johnny Owens goes out of his way to interact with students on a daily basis, and is someone students feel comfortable talking to. Owens oversees Night League, the African-American club, and the Foster Reading & Tutoring Club. 

Johnny truly goes above and beyond every day to connect with students and staff and to build a warm, welcoming culture at New Trier

— Paul Sally

In recognition for his efforts, he has been nominated for the RISE awards, an award sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education which celebrates school support staff nationally. It was established in 2019 by Congress. The nomination was announced by the Illinois State Board of Ed and by Governor Pritzker on Nov. 30. 

Students and staff describe Owens, who has been at New Trier since 2005, as a welcoming, kind-hearted soul.  Students wrote a letter to the Illinois State Board of Education, highlighting his ability to create deep connections with those around him. He was later chosen by the Illinois State Board to receive the Excellence Award and to represent Illinois for the RISE Awards. 

These connections contribute to a growing culture at New Trier, where staff members and students feel more comfortable around each other. Superintendent Paul Sally credited Owens for contributing to that culture.

“Johnny truly goes above and beyond every day to connect with students and staff and to build a warm, welcoming culture at New Trier,” said Sally. 

Students echo this sentiment as well. 

“He pays attention whenever you talk to him. He cares about whatever you are talking about,” said senior Ward Wilson.

Owens says his care and attitude stem from two things: His childhood and his time in the Navy. He describes himself when he was younger as shy, and not really talkative. Owens, who was born in Evanston, was a much different person when he was younger. He sees his younger self in some students, which motivates to try and reach out. 

“The reason why I try to engage with the students– especially the ones that don’t really talk a lot–is because I want to break them out of their shell.”

After graduating from ETHS, Owens enlisted into the Navy, which is what allowed him to really come into his own. But it’s not only his past experiences that allow him to do what he does. Owens said that the New Trier environment is special as well. He credits the staff members, teachers, and students for creating an incredible environment at school. 

“I’m just proud of the community I work for– the kids are receptive and kind, and I am honored to be able to mentor many students,” he said.

When asked about how he feels about his nomination, Owens described two prominent emotions. 

“I felt blessed, you know? I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have been provided with. But I also felt proud, I got recognized for the efforts I put in.”