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South Washington County Schools

District 833 Education All-Stars honored at annual banquet

Education All Stars are district employees that have been nominated by their peers, with final selection by a subcommittee of the CAPE Committee. They were recognized on May 8 as outstanding representatives of District 833’s quality educators.


Susan Berg-Williams, Music Teacher, Cottage Grove Middle School - Susan excites her students year after year with the opportunities she provides them through music, her desire to support music and the arts, and her passion for supporting their many interests. She is part of the sixth grade WEB program (Where Everyone Belongs) and spends countless hours planning for and teaching the seventh and eighth graders to become leaders. She also leads fellow staff members in a positive way by modeling professionalism through a variety of situations. Her high standards with a “can do attitude” and commitment to her middle school students and staff make Susan an education all-star!


Megan Gemmell, Fifth Grade Teacher, Pullman Elementary - Megan’s positive attitude is contagious which displays itself in everything she does. Megan creates a true learning community by having her students create signs and decorations for her classroom. She also encourages her students to achieve the goals they set throughout the year. Megan also provides opportunities for families to be involved in a unique Pancake and Publishing party, in which parents come in and work with their children on publishing a piece of writing. Megan’s own family serves breakfast to the many families that attend. Megan also mentors young girls as part of the Girls on the Run program, an afterschool fitness/self-esteem builder. She is also involved in Student Council, Writer’s Showcase, Japanese Pen-Pals and hallway art projects.


Amy Kestner, Third Grade Teacher, Newport Elementary - Amy is described as the kind of teacher parents hope their children have every year. Amy brings her humble personality to her work, coupled with a fierce attitude each day. Amy has influenced many staff members to implement standards based checklists and grading in a way that makes it easy for teachers to quickly accomplish. Amy has also greatly helped staff with her knowledge of the Learning A-Z online digital resource. Amy creates lessons to make learning come alive for her students. In teaching her students about ancient cultures, she created a lesson in which students “flew” out of the country. She simulated what it would be like to be on a plane for her many students who have never had that experience.


Celeste Koester, Paraprofessional, Grey Cloud Elementary - Celeste is an invaluable and highly dedicated team member. She comes to school every day with the purpose of helping others. She assists in many areas, including supporting staff shortages, helping keep the school organized, and contributing to the success of the behavioral support system by providing proactive opportunities that meet student needs. Celeste works closely with the school social worker to create student goals and support stu-dents with their plans. She is highly skilled, compassionate and empathetic in helping students feel heard and cared for. Celeste also spends countless hours at home supporting an academic and cultural environment for her students. She often has to be told not to take work home with her as she consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty.


Elizabeth Kopacek, Eighth Grade Social Studies Teacher, Woodbury Middle School - Elizabeth is consistently looking for the next best way to teach her students and other staff members. In her classroom, she has created a personalized learning environment where every student has a voice. Her classroom culture is amazing for learning which is apparent by the many students who come back to visit her. She is a leader at her school and has done staff development around brain development, gifted education and social capital. She also helped create a human capital/staff connectedness curriculum for the teams at WMS. For several years, she also has coordinated the WMS Washington D.C. trip for eighth grade students. She often attends students’ extra-curricular activities and volunteers at District 833’s Gifted Education HUB nights. She also can be found at the senior high school all night party handing out “letters to our future selves” students wrote in eighth grade.


Judy Laabs-Foss, School Psychologist, Middleton Elementary - Judy is a dedicated professional who continually goes above and beyond to support students, families and staff. She is innovative, creative, caring and listens with compassion. Judy has had very courageous conversations with families regarding student needs and does so in a very caring, kind and meaningful way. She is always willing to meet with team members to encourage them, answer questions and talk through struggles that they encounter. She is an invaluable leader with her strong organizational skills and work ethic. Judy has also volunteered her time on the CAPE committee for many, many years! She puts in countless hours outside of the school day to make sure the committee continues to plan and organize events that Create A Positive Environment for all District 833 employees.


Ben Lower, Sixth Grade Teacher, Oltman Middle School - Ben is a vital Oltman Middle School family member. He is described as caring, supportive, consistent, full of love and someone with a big “hallway personality.” He is consistently in the hallway giving high-fives, sharing kind words and connecting with students. He also holds the door each day for the sixth graders heading to lunch and high-fives as many students as he can before they leave for the day. Every student knows and enjoys visiting with Mr. Lower, even if they have never been in his class. Ben is an active member of the AVID site team and models the embedding of AVID strategies, especially those that increase student engagement. He runs an afterschool Movie Critics Club and spends countless hours in the science lab giving extra help or helping students with homework. He runs the Fear Factor portion of Math and Science Night, works many Culver’s nights, helps run the AVID Family Night and has helped organize a science field trip to Florida.


Amy Lucas, Eighth Grade Math Teacher, Cottage Grove Middle School - Amy’s colleagues describe her as someone who embodies the belief that every student is important and can be successful. She tracks down any student who needs extra time and instruction to complete assignments or retests. Amy and her teaching partner have spent countless hours before and after school creating lesson videos for each math lesson for the entire school year. Each day, they discuss the outcomes of their lessons and assessments with a constant focus on improvement based on student needs. Amy is a leader and coach of many different clubs and activities and also participates in Culver’s Nights, Cougar Confidence nights and many other student/family events. She makes her students feel supported and valued by showing up at their extra-curricular activities, and cares deeply about what’s best for each and every child she interacts with.


Mary Michaels, Special Education Teacher, Red Rock Elementary - Mary is described as a highly dedicated professional with a great sense of humor and a light-hearted approach. This approach is valued and respected by parents and teachers, as conversations related to special needs can be difficult. She is a keen listener and accomplished problem solver. She has developed a strong, positive rapport with students, who respond well to her in difficult moments. She has the ability to connect with students while setting boundaries and develops relationships that promote sharing and questioning, and discussions which are grounded in best practices. She researches and seeks approval for innovative ways to move children with special needs forward academically while providing real world experiences. Mary is also the founder of the District 833 5K run/walk, which not only encourages people to stay active, but helps staff members build positive relationships.


Christine Nelson, Eighth Grade Math Teacher, Cottage Grove Middle School -  Teamwork is a character trait Christine’s peers say sets her apart from everyone else. Christine contributes knowledge and energy in IEP meetings and team discussions and is described as a role model for educators. Christine and her teaching partner have spent numerous hours creating lesson videos for every math lesson, meet daily to discuss the lesson outcomes and make changes based on student needs. Her lessons include movement, culturally relevant teaching methods and AVID strategies that the school has been focusing on. Christine knows the value of real student and family relationship building in and out of school. Some of her leadership roles outside the classroom include, math team, dance team coach, track coach, writing the advisory curriculum used by the entire staff, after school homework club, SITE team and house leader. She also attends her students’ extra-curricular activities to support and encourage them.


Lloyd Ness, Tech Ed Teacher, Park High School – Lloyd makes sure his classroom is run in a precise, efficient and safe manner. Over the years, Lloyd has helped out with prom by making backdrops for the grand march, assisted with the theatre department build sets, taught his high achieving students to create canvas stretchers so students can stretch their own canvas and has helped repair and weld school furniture around the building. Additionally, he often stays late and opens his shop up on Saturday mornings for students. Lloyd is also partnering with the math department to develop and deliver math relevant instruction in his tech ed. classes. Through this class, students who are in challenging situations are feeling success in math for the first time. Lloyd is also actively involved with creating a STEM program for PHS, which has moved from a simple vision to the planning stage. By the time the program is implemented in 2019, he will be retired. His focus on future opportunities is amazing!


Kery Reardon, Lead Teacher, Reading Recovery – Kery’s peers say she has taken on her new leader-ship role with grace and positivity, making the transition into teacher leader seamless. From her willingness to drop everything and respond to a situation, or visit with a teacher who has questions about a child they are teaching, to giving district presentations that inform administrators and central office staff, Kery is able to do it all. Her knowledge and expertise is deeply respected and valued by reading recovery teachers district-wide. As a leader, she is encouraging, patient, knowledgeable and considerate. She has sacrificed her own personal time to learn for her colleagues. The classes, teaching and learning she has participated in over the last year will impact the entire reading recovery group in a positive way. As a result, the students of District 833 will have a better and brighter future!


Mary Twight, Early Childhood Screening Coordinator - Mary is said to bring passion and enthusiasm to her job that makes every family feel important. She is self-directed and able to execute processes and procedures that are needed in supporting various initiatives, and administrators and staff routinely seek her out for her expertise. Mary sets high expectations for herself and has volunteered to take on the challenge of scheduling all meetings for potential ECSE families. She also advocated for a designated screening area and has created an environment that is welcoming to all children. Mary works tirelessly with both ECSE and ECFE staff to ensure all students have a great “first school” experience. Mary is highly respected among her peers and a very dedicated employee of South Washington County Schools.