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. 

Use intrinsic motivation, not gimmicks or rewards, to inspire students, Wisconsin’s 2017 Teacher of the Year writes

Chris Gleason

Using gimmicks or rewards to get students to study or perform tasks can backfire by damaging their “innate intrinsic motivation,” Sun Prairie music teacher Chris Gleason writes in a new Teacher Leader Voices blog posted this week at EdWeek.org.

“I believe that we need to ‘work with’ kids and not ‘do things to’ them. We need to fan the flames of curiosity in every child and foster their love of learning,” writes the 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year, who is a member of WEAC Region 6. “Educators, let us use research, not gimmicks, to inspire our students. Inspire students using autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”

Read the entire blog post on EdWeek.org:

Don’t Use Gimmicks to Motivate Students

My son Miles hopped up on his bed with six of his favorite short stories that he wanted to read before bedtime. He had a voracious appetite for reading and loved asking “what if” questions about the characters in the stories. On this night, however, something changed.

Greendale High School teacher Ben Hubing is Wisconsin’s James Madison Fellow

Ben Hubing

Greendale High School (GHS) social studies teacher, Ben Hubing, a member of WEAC Region 7, has been selected as the James Madison Memorial Fellow for the state of Wisconsin. Hubing, a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), is in his tenth year at Greendale High School. He teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History and Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics to juniors and seniors. Hubing is also the school’s Model United Nations Advisor and a Co-advisor of the student council.

“I am truly humbled to have been awarded this fellowship,” Hubing said. “Studying history has always been a passion of mine, and to be able to pursue a Master’s degree is an amazing opportunity that will have such a positive impact on my classroom instruction.”

“We are excited that Ben has received this recognition as a James Madison Memorial Fellow,” said Dr. Gary Kiltz, superintendent of Greendale Schools. “Through this program, he will have additional experiences as a scholar, which will provide deeper insights and opportunities for our Greendale High School students in the courses Ben teaches and in his collaboration with the social studies team.”

As part of the James Madison Memorial Fellow program, Hubing will spend four weeks in an upcoming summer studying the U.S. Constitution, founding fathers, and other documents significant to American Government and U.S. History at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Established by Congress in 1986, the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Program focuses on improving teaching about the United States Constitution in secondary schools. The Foundation is an independent agency of the Executive Branch of the federal government and is funded by Congress with contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations.

Hubing earned his Bachelor’s degree in history, political science, and a certificate in European studies from UW-Madison and a Masters in teaching from Cardinal Stritch University. He resides in Shorewood with his wife and two sons.

Three WEAC members recognized for ‘helping students see differently’

Three WEAC members are being recognized by the Department of Public Instruction for having “a colossal impact” by helping students “see school in different and important ways.” Teacher Frank Juarez of Sheboygan (WEAC Region 3), Joanna Rizzotto of South Milwaukee (WEAC Region 7) and Mark Nepper of Madison (Madison Teachers Inc.) are among teachers featured in a special issue of the ConnectEd newsletter. Here are their stories:

FRANK JUAREZ

Frank Juarez is a high school art teacher for Sheboygan North High School; however, he is quick to establish the importance of varied artistic contexts and connections to help students see school in a different way. “As educators,” Juarez says, “we work to help students with self-discovery through a variety of opportunities — school, community, and across the state, to create in multiple ways, to make their art relate to how they see their world.”

Juarez believes that sharing the many facets of his professional life with students through his art gallery, and providing access to artists in the Midwest is key.

Frank Juarez
Frank Juarez

Whether or not they pursue art after high school, students must be able to navigate adult-like scenarios, including working with others, accepting criticism without taking it personally, and being comfortable with who they are. This requires implementing a strong art curriculum and getting to know kids in their element.

“I can have 30+ kids in a class, and each student is unique. I don’t know what they’re thinking or feeling unless they are vocal about it,” Juarez says. This realization informed his research into how to increase literacy in art classes. Instead of defining successful artists as people outside of their community, he started thinking about what he could do to make art relevant in students’ lives today.

Juarez and a few friends traveled to four states in the Midwest to survey artists. They compiled videos, interviews, photos, and websites. Juarez uses this information as another way to expose students to contemporary art. Now, he says, “students know how to navigate digital resources, how to ask questions to do artist research, how to talk to strangers and feel confident.” Exposing students to art in this way shows them that art is not just something that lives in galleries in big cities. Art lives everywhere– in notebooks, basements, laptops, and sketchbooks.

Students working
 Students working in the art classroom

Juarez admits that being a teacher today is extremely difficult. He also admits that he remains committed to doing the extra work it takes to connect his artistic interests and experiences outside of school to his classroom, in hopes of making an impact.

Getting to know all of his students, promoting their work, advocating for them, and exposing them to many different experiences is what sends a message to students that he cares about them. “That’s the power of education, especially in art, to get to know students’ likes and dislikes, and for them get to know each other. It’s also a testament to the relationships that are fostered at North High School, keeping an open channel of communication.”

JOANNA RIZZOTTO

Joanna Rizzotto has never cared much for labeling students. As a REAL Academy teacher for the South Milwaukee High School alternative learning community, she aims to offer an asset-based philosophy and program. “I don’t view my students as a bunch of weaknesses,” Rizzotto says.

“My students see school in a different and important way because I see them in a different and important way.”

The REAL Academy is a student-based program that focuses on healthy adolescent development. Their vision as an alternative program is to provide students equal access to education by addressing barriers to success through a personalized educational program. Rizzotto is trained in trauma-informed care and uses this background to teach students about how their minds and bodies work together. Through an inquiry-based learning model, students explore self-identified areas of interest related to adolescence or their own personal development.

Joanna Rizzotto
Joanna Rizzotto in the REAL Academy classroom

Rizzotto and her co-teacher, Hallie Schmeling (also a WEAC 7 member), emphasize productive-worker traits, open communication, and relationship-building. “We tell the kids it’s a 24-hour commitment — what they do in the program and outside of school.” Outside of the REAL Academy, parents report that their children seem happier, more productive, and enjoy going to school.

Their work goes beyond individual research and volunteer placements. Self-assessment and reflection are also major components of the work students do. They have their own entrance, check themselves in, put their phones away, order food, and participate in their community circle each day. They work on being healthy and developing an awareness of their thoughts and patterns in order to better hear and see others.

Rizzotto is proud of the fact that REAL Academy was designed within the current system using existing resources. More than 30 educators at South Milwaukee High School participate in a student-needs network, where Rizzotto and Schmeling rely on them as resources to present REAL Academy as a positive option for students.

In this intentional design and space, students reveal how disengaged they were. Some were issued truancy citations, and now have perfect attendance for the school year. Rizzotto states, “they bring their whole selves, and do very brave work that many adults would find very challenging because it’s about getting honest with yourself.”

Outside of the REAL Academy, Rizzotto’ students are happy and productive. “It’s hard for people to know what it was like for them when they weren’t in REAL,” she says. Part of the success is having two team teachers so that students are not getting bounced among the principal, counselors, and teachers. This makes school accessible for students and their parents because it’s a one-stop shop.

Some students stay with REAL Academy all the way, while for others, it is a brief leg of their journey. However long they choose to participate, educators like Rizzotto support kids with a unique approach to re-engage in school.

MARK NEPPER

Mark Nepper, a high school English teacher at West High School in Madison, believes we are better when we get to know each other. In an attempt to see more of their school, Nepper and co-advisor, Lindsey Tyser (also an MTI and WEAC member), work with students in the Diversity Alliance Club. The club, made up of about 25 students, works to recognize the diversity at West and what that diversity brings to the school.

When the club formed in 2003, they raised money to purchase flags that represented all students’ ethnicities. “Once we had the flags, we had to explain why the flags were here. Then, the program evolved to All Nations Day,” Nepper says. All year, Diversity Alliance Club students work to produce an All Nations Day performance, where student populations at West are celebrated.

Mark Nepper
Mark Nepper

“We hear from teachers that it’s their favorite day of the school year because it shines a spotlight on how broad our diversity is. Students love it because they get to see different student groups in different ways,” Nepper says. The performance culminates with a parade of the flags, where students cheer and whistle as their flags are represented.

The Diversity Alliance Club also has a broader mission, beyond the walls of West High School. Each year, participating seniors establish a focus for the club, leading the way on something they want to try, like raising money to send books, food, and other needed items to schools in different countries. The club enjoys having a partnership with a middle school in Honduras, and sends them postcards and videos from the All Nations Day performance.

Irish Dancers
 Student Irish dancers from left to right, Juliana Cranley, Mattie Kantor, and Katherine Walsh

To Nepper, the work of the Diversity Alliance Club shines a light on the “hidden gems” at West, helping students experience a more extensive view of their school, outside of isolated friend groups.

“It is work I find valuable,” he says. “As we focus on the idea of celebrating diversity, it makes us stronger as a school. We look at the beauty and strength that students bring, and it makes our school a better place.”

Memoninee Indian educator – and WEAC member – Benjamin Grignon is state’s 2019 High School Teacher of the Year

Benjamin Grignon stands by a traditional basket.

From the Department of Public Instruction

Benjamin Grignon

In a surprise ceremony at his school, Benjamin Grignon, teacher of traditional Menominee crafts at Menominee Indian High School in Keshena and a member of WEAC Region 3, was named a Wisconsin 2019 High School Teacher of the Year.

State Superintendent Tony Evers made the announcement during an all-school assembly. As part of the Teacher of the Year honor, Grignon will receive $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation.

“Our teachers wear many hats, yet their dedication to children is constant,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “From the classroom to the conference room to the community, they focus on our kids and their education. It is an honor to recognize educators who do so much for Wisconsin’s students and our public schools.”

Herb Kohl, philanthropist, businessman, and co-sponsor of the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program through his educational foundation, said he supports the program because “I want to help teachers pursue their unrealized goals for their classroom, their school, or their professional development.”

As a teacher of traditional arts, specifically Menominee arts, Grignon is unique in the world. “I work with students not only on the art forms of our people, but the language and cultural practices that go along with these arts,” he said. He works with science teachers to incorporate plant and mushroom identification and the chemistry of mordants and plants for dying weaving and basketry projects. Students learn geometry formulas as they design loom beadwork based on the geometric forms that are part of ancient Menominee aesthetics. “I am constantly finding opportunities to use our culture to reinforce other subjects in our school,” he said.

Grignon shows deep respect for the elder teachers, saying he strives to pass the knowledge on to the next generation of Menominee youth. “My students are taught about menacehaew (respect) for themselves, each other, and for the knowledge passed on to us from the elders.” He incorporates language learning into everyday tasks. Many of the expressions Grignon uses become a part of students’ everyday conversations, and students depend on the classroom community for help when they forget the Menominee language term for something.

“Within Menominee culture, we have a belief that you should never create something if your mind is troubled,” Grignon related. He uses classroom meditation to help students center themselves and offers alternatives for those who feel they cannot make art that day. These actions are part of his effort to create a safe place for students to learn and support programming to address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are prevalent in the high-poverty district. Grignon notes that through traditional art and symbolism, students reflect Menominee history in their creations, but also their present and future. He says that the elements in students’ work, the symbols and colors they use, allow them to share something about themselves, the struggles they face, and the accomplishments they have achieved.

Grignon serves as vice chairman of the Menominee Language and Culture Commission. The panel oversees immersion efforts at the Menominee Tribal Daycare, which is using a program based on the Language Nest idea developed by the Maori of New Zealand. As co-founder of the Mawaw Ceseniyah Center for Language, Culture, and the Arts, Grignon helps lead traditional experiences such as maple tree tapping, wild rice gathering, and storytelling activities that unite the school and community. By working with the University of Wisconsin Extension, Grignon was able to establish a Menominee Immersion Club at the high school that uses language to cook healthy foods. His principal notes that Grignon’s positive effect on the student body afterschool is so great that he’s had to request special busing so students can get home. Principal Jim Reif also commends Grignon as a resource for non-Menominee educators, calling Grignon “an irreplaceable embodiment of what it means to be a revered Menominee leader and teacher.”

In addition to working at Menominee Indian High School, Grignon teaches community art workshops at East-West University and the College of Menominee Nation. He previously worked at the Menominee Tribal School in Neopit, teaching kindergarten through eighth-grade Menominee Language classes. He earned an associate’s degree in fine art from the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, N.M. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fine art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s of fine art from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Grignon earned his teaching certification through Concordia University’s Appleton campus.

Other educators named 2019 Teachers of the Year are:

Special Services Teacher of the Year
Michael Wilson, a school counselor at St. Croix Falls High School and a member of WEAC Region 1
Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Liz Gulden, a kindergarten teacher at Willson Elementary School in Baraboo
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Maggie McHugh of Sparta, a sixth-grade teacher and adviser at the La Crosse Design Institute
High School Teacher of the Year (two this year)
Sarahi Monterrey, an English Learner teacher at Waukesha North High School