South Milwaukee educators Hallie Schmeling and Joanna Rizzotto are Channel 12 Top Teachers

Two great active WEAC Region 7 members in South Milwaukee – Hallie Schmeling and Joanna Rizzotto – were honored with Channel 12 News’ Top Teacher award. Both teach at the REAL Academy, South Milwaukee’s educator-designed, in-house alternative education high school. The Channel 12 News story is full of insights and inspiration applicable to every educational setting.

At the REAL Academy, Joanna says, “the focus is on the whole child and relationships.” She says her approach to teaching is “to be open, to respond and not react, to guide.”

“The unique thing,” Hallie says, “is that we really come from the space that instead of me being the teacher that is putting information into kids, we’re more about they have it in them, they have their passions, they have strengths, they have things that just need to be drawn out of them.”

Thanks to WEAC Region 7 for sharing this story in its newsletter:

Watch the Channel 12 video:

September’s Top Teachers: Hallie Schmeling, Joanna Rizzotto; Real Academy

The Real Academy is South Milwaukee High School’s in-house alternative education high school. Not every student learns the same way. Our top teachers, Hallie Schmeling and Joanna Rizzotto, connect with their students on a personal level.

Madison’s Michael Jones is latest winner of the WEAC-UW Badger Red for Public Ed honor

Congratulations to Madison teacher Michael Jones, the latest winner of WEAC’s 2018 WEAC-UW Badger Red for Public Ed honor! The honor goes to WEAC members in appreciation for their dedication to students. Recipients are treated to a UW Badger athletic event. Michael will be honored at the UW Volleyball game October 21 at the UW Fieldhouse.

Michael, a WEAC and Madison Teachers Inc. member, is a Special Education teacher, entering his 10th year in the profession.

“I’ve been a proud union member for each of those years and am currently with the 8th graders at Black Hawk Middle School  in Madison,” Michael says. “I love what I do, I love the students and families I get to work with, and definitely I love my colleagues, all of whom I consider friends. I’m very lucky to be where I am and with the people I get to work with.”

Madison teacher Kerry Motoviloff nominated Michael, saying “He is a leader for ALL students lifting them at their toughest moments with grace and care.”

Visit to nominate yourself or another deserving educator for a chance to win a drawing for Wisconsin athletic events throughout the school year.

Brad Laufenberg of New London is latest winner of WEAC’s Badger Red for Public Ed promotion

Brad Laufenberg with his 4th grade teaching partners at Parkview Elementary School, Erin Besaw (left) and Julie Cherf.

Congratulations to New London teacher Brad Laufenberg, the latest winner of WEAC’s Badger Red for Public Ed promotion! Brad wins tickets to the October 6 UW Football game against Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium. The honor goes to WEAC members in appreciation for their dedication to students.

Brad, a 4th grade teacher at Parkview Elementary School in New London, has been a member of the local association’s Building Leadership Team, a Student Council advisor, a Fitness Center supervisor, and a tutor. In addition, he is a member of the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team, a “news anchor” for the monthly PBIS videos, a member of the Building Safety Committee, and a cooperating teacher for a high school student interested in pursuing a degree in the education field.

Brad’s wife Toni is a high school special education teacher in the School District of New London, and they have a 4-year-old son Asher and a 2-year-old son Callen.

“I am very fortunate to have an amazing family, wonderful colleagues, and great friends,” Brad said. “My mother taught me how to be a teacher, and my father taught me how to be a painter. Both jobs require prep work, patience, and skill. More importantly, both jobs allow me an opportunity to be a part of a transformation process that helps people and places realize their potential.”

Visit to nominate yourself or another deserving educator for a chance to win a drawing for Wisconsin athletic events throughout the school year.

‘Each student is treated with the ultimate respect’

Michael Wilson

The Department of Public Education ConnectEd newsletter this week features Wisconsin’s Teachers of the Year, including Michael Wilson, a school counselor at St. Croix Falls High School, a member of WEAC Region 1, and Wisconsin’s 2019 Special Services Teacher of the Year.

In a column describing his approach to teaching, which boils down to treating each student with the ultimate respect, Wilson writes:

All students All of the Time: Michael Wilson

Throughout my years in education, I have seen a strong transformation from what used to be a cookie-cutter approach with students to more individualized focus and attention. It is clear that our students have more individual needs and our teachers are working to meet those needs.

As a school counselor and dean of students in a small school in a rural town in northwest Wisconsin, I have the unique opportunity to know every single one of our high school students. Each fall I make a point to interview our freshmen, one by one. I want to get to know them, their families, their hobbies and interests, and their needs. I also want them to know who I am and explain that I am their personal assistant in high school.

In education, the word equity can be interpreted as very complicated for some. My vision of equity in schools is a simple definition: All students, all of the time. As I work day to day with my students, I keep the thought process simple. It doesn’t matter who they are, what they look like, or where they came from, each student is treated with the ultimate respect and offered opportunities they need so they can reach their highest potential, goals, and dreams. The kid in cowboy boots who milks cows in the morning before school needs the same attention and guidance offered as the kid wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts, whose parents are both doctors.

Intentional conversations create intentional relationships. Talking with students and asking about their day, their weekend, or quite simply asking them how they are doing naturally creates positive, mutual, respectful relationships. Asking the right questions opens up many social and emotional doors. Educators not only can but should ask personal questions and build strong bonds with their students.

A two-way trusting relationship creates a safe environment for learning and growing. I have had conversations with students on topics ranging from hunting to fishing to horseback riding to reading. I ask students about things like their most recent athletic contest or what their parents do or about their new car. Students love to know we care. As educators, we hold a powerful position in influencing our students and a trust-based, two-way teacher-student relationship is essential. All students deserve this level of care and concern all of the time.

My advice to teachers, veterans or rookies, is to speak with every kid with an open and honest approach. Students who are struggling need to be asked if they are struggling. Students who are not doing well need to be asked why. Students who have great successes should be celebrated. Students with depression or suicidal thoughts need to be asked directly about them. Our kids need to know that we genuinely care and are there for them, as a whole child.

Ask questions, share stories, and let these kids know you are not only a teacher but a human being. Imagine being a student in a school where you know your teachers genuinely care about you as a person. Imagine how motivated you might be to learn. Imagine how strong you would feel about not letting these caring, trusted adults down. All students deserve our honest and natural attention, all of the time.

WEAC members are finalists for Presidential Teaching Awards

Two WEAC members are among state finalists for the 2018 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), considered the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government for mathematics and science teachers.

Alicia Korth, first-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School in the New London School District; and Rebecca Saeman, mathematics and reading intervention teacher at Sauk Trail Elementary School in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District received the recognition.

WEAC members: Resources to elevate your professional practices

“WEAC is proud to advance the teaching profession and provide high-quality supports to help all Wisconsin educators achieve their full potential,” said WEAC President Ron Martin, an eighth grade social studies teacher. “Wisconsin educators teach and inspire their students every day, earning the respect they deserve for a job well done.”

“These teachers demonstrate their care and love of students and the teaching profession,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “Their passion helps to inspire our future inventors, doctors, and software developers who will certainly impact our ever-changing world. I wish our finalists well in the next stage of the Presidential Teaching Awards process.”

Established by Congress in 1983, the PAEMST program recognizes teachers who develop and implement a high-quality instructional program that is informed by content knowledge and enhances student learning. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of STEM education, the abbreviation for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which includes computer science.

Other finalists from Wisconsin of the 2018 awards, which recognize educators who teach in grades kindergarten through six, are Michelle Butturini of Reedsville Elementary/Middle School and Michelle Howe of Lodi Middle School.

Sun Prairie’s Sandra Kowalczyk is national Middle Level Educator of the Year

Sandra Kowalczyk

Sandra Kowalczyk, a reading specialist at Patrick Marsh Middle School in Sun Prairie and a member of WEAC Region 6, will be awarded the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE) 2018 Educator of the Year Award. The award, supported by the AMLE Foundation Fund, recognizes outstanding practitioners in middle level education — those who have made a significant impact on the lives of young adolescents through exemplary leadership, vision, and advocacy. The award will be presented in October 2018 at the 45th Annual Conference for Middle Level Education in Orlando, Florida.

“As a middle school teacher myself, I understand how important qualified and caring educators are to students at this stage of their lives,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “Our entire WEAC family – representing teachers and support staff across Wisconsin – congratulates Sandra on her well-deserved accomplishment.”

Kowalczyk has been a middle school literacy educator for 27 years, teaching intervention classes for high-needs students reading below grade level. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who has been a Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year (2009), National Council of Teachers of English Outstanding Middle Level Educator (2015), and was a Global Teacher Prize Top 50 Finalist (2015) among other awards.

Kowalczyk co-designed integrated reading/language arts curricula integrating music, dance, and drama as part of a K-12 project selected by NASA as one of eight projects aboard the 1998 STDS Discovery Space Shuttle Mission, Astronaut John Glenn’s historic return to space. Her reading program was selected in 1999 as winner of the International Reading Association Exemplary Reading Program Award. She regularly presents at state, regional, national, and international education events. Kowalczyk was awarded a Global Diversity Grant by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison, she was a Top 50 Finalist for the Varkey Global Teacher Prize in 2015, and she wrote and implemented five competitive grants awarded by the Sun Prairie Education Foundation.

Kowalczyk’s inclusion of international experiences in her teaching excites and engages students while promoting global literacy. She was the recipient of U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays summer travel awards in Peru (2016), China (2014), Morocco (2007), and India (2003); a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar in Istanbul, Turkey, (2015) and Oaxaca, Mexico, (2010); the Hilton Teacher Trek Award in Malaysia and Singapore (2014); and U.S.-Eurasia Teaching Excellence Award in Uzbekistan (2005) where she initiated and implemented a Culture Bag Exchange among multiple middle schools in Wisconsin and Bukhara, Uzbekistan.

Rebecca Murray, a former colleague at Patrick Marsh Middle School, said, “Sandy immerses our students not only in literacy, but in social justice and cultural experiences as well. We are fortunate and privileged to have such a dedicated and creative educator and middle level advocate in our midst.”

According to Patrick Marsh Middle School Principal Corey Shefchik, “I can attest to her passion, leadership, vision, and advocacy for middle level education. Sandra clearly values this age group with whom she has worked for 27 years. She thrives on challenges and continually seeks to update her own and others’ knowledge.”

“I owe my accomplishments to both the inspiring teachers I have had, as well as the talented teachers I’ve had the opportunity to work with as peers. Our world is a better place because of passionate and dedicated teachers everywhere and those who acknowledge and reward them,” said Kowalczyk.

From the Association for Middle Level Education

Genoa City’s Mary Ellen Kanthack wins Award for Teaching Excellence

Genoa City teacher Mary Ellen Kanthack is the winner of a prestigious California Casualty Award for Teaching Excellence, the NEA Foundation has announced. The awardees are nominated by their peers for their dedication to the profession, community engagement, professional development, attention to diversity, and advocacy for fellow educators. Kanthack, who was nominated by WEAC President Ron Martin, will receive the award at the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala next February in Washington, D.C.

The Awards for Teaching Excellence program recognizes educators from around the country who shine in their schools, their communities, and their own learning. These educators advocate for each other, the profession, and students, and they embrace the diversity of their communities and the wider world.

Kanthack, who is the 2018 Wisconsin Elementary School Teacher of the Year, has implemented a wide variety of innovative approaches to education and has worked through her local union, WEAC Region 7, WEAC and the NEA not only to access resources but to give back to colleagues by providing valuable professional development leadership.

In nominating Kanthack, WEAC President Ron Martin said in part:

“Mary Ellen inspires her students every day with an empathetic ear and high expectations. From aquaponics in her classroom to directing the school musical to starting a forensics program, she is a key teacher who keeps things running smoothly in her a small rural school. Mary Ellen is a strong union member, engaging in new ways to introduce the association to new educators, school leaders, and her community. The union she describes with passion – the one that supports educators professionally and personally – opens the eyes and builds understanding for our critical role in the education setting.” Read the entire letter of recommendation.

“I am passionate about promoting NEA,” Kanthack said. “I proudly tell my story, hand out NEA resources, post opportunities both on the school bulletin board, and online. I have shared my work with my colleagues, parents, administration and school board. I post my work with NEA on social media and reach out to aspiring educators about how they can grow through NEA. It is my passion!”

Read more about Mary Ellen:

Genoa City’s Mary Ellen Kanthack named Wisconsin Elementary School Teacher of the Year

WEAC Aspiring Educator Allison Erck wins award for future educators

Allison Erck accepts the Jack Kinnaman Award from the NEA’s retired chapter. Presenting the award are Ginny Bosse, left, and Dianne Lang, both members of the WEAC Region 10/Retired.

Allison Erck, who is entering her senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and is a member of WEAC Region 9/Aspiring Educators, has been awarded the Jack Kinnaman Award for Future Educators. The $2,500 award was presented at the NEA annual meeting earlier this summer.

Erck, a 2015 graduate of Omro High School, is the daughter of John Erck and Terri Tobias. She is studying Elementary Education with minors in English Creative Writing and Special Education.

“My goal is to teach middle school English language arts, with a classroom that is fully inclusive to all students,” said Erck, who was awarded the scholarship by the retired chapter of the National Education Association. “I have had a lot of amazing teachers, starting with my daycare teacher Geraldine Schlindewein, who is now deceased. One of my favorite teachers who solidified my dream to become a teacher was Chrissy Makurat, my fourth grade teacher, who is still teaching 4th grade at Omro Elementary.”

Sun Prairie’s Jay Garvey Shah is winner of Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching

Jay Garvey Shah

WEAC Region 6 member Jay Garvey Shah, a fifth grade teacher at Creekside Elementary School in Sun Prairie, has been awarded a 2018 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Shah, who has been teaching for 15 years, will be teaching sixth grade mathematics and science at the International Community School of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia next year. He has taught in the U.S. and abroad, including at the American International School of Kuwait, and as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal.

“The Presidential Award represents part of an amazing journey I have had and hope to continue,” Shah said. “It honors the help and dedication of colleagues, friends, family, and students who have supported and challenged me to learn, create, inspire, and push myself as an educator. The field of education is constantly changing, but it will always be about people. This award celebrates the critical work of science and engineering educators in supporting students in understanding and helping our global society.”

Shah was a National Science Foundation GK-12 Teaching Fellow with the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory. He is a chemical engineer and received an Environmental Protection Agency grant for small-scale water filter research.

Passionate about bringing these experiences to the classroom, Shah inspires students to see science and engineering as ways to help the world. He received an Outstanding Educator Award from the 100 Black Men organization and is a recipient of the Franklin H. Williams’ Returned Peace Corps Volunteers award for commitment to community service.

Shah has led education workshops, published lessons, and served on the Wisconsin State Science Standards Writing Committee. He earned a B.S. in chemical engineering and a M.S. in civil/environmental engineering, both from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He also holds a M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from George Mason University and is certified to teach first through eighth grade.

Each PAEMST presidential awardee received a $10,000 award from National Science Foundation. Recipients also were honored during recognition events in Washington, D.C., that included an award ceremony, professional development opportunities, and discussions with policymakers on how to improve STEM education.