Learning from the best

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 19:00
12 teachers honored for excellence
From left, local educators Jerry Sather, Christy McLean, Debbie Quiroz, Theresa Taylor, Wendy Banner, Mary Sheets, Brian Mason, Shelley Szipszky, Loi Lutes, Luke Almon, Kim Girard and Johanna Bushue pose for a picture following the annual “Excellence in Education” awards presented March 6. The annual awards are given to recipients from all 12 area public schools by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber, the Chugiak-Eagle River Foundation and the Eagle River Area Rotary Club.

A dozen of Chugiak-Eagle River’s finest teachers were honored March 6 for their efforts in education during the annual “Excellence in Education” awards banquet at the Bear Mountain Grill in Eagle River.

The awards — given annually by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce, Chugiak-Eagle River Community Foundation and the Eagle River Area Rotary Club — were presented to winners from each of the community’s 12 public schools. Winners were selected by the individual schools’ staff and Parent Teacher Associations.

Winning this year’s awards were Christie McLean (Alpenglow Elementary), Wendy Banner (Birchwood Elementary), Kim Girard (Chugiak Elementary), Johanna Bushue (Eagle River Elementary), Shelley Szipszky (Fire Lake Elementary), Mary Sheets (Homestead Elementary), Debbie Quiroz (Ravenwood Elementary), Loi Lutes (Gruening Middle School), Jerry Sather (Mirror Lake Middle School), Brian Mason (Chugiak High), Luke Almon (Eagle River High) and Theresa Taylor (Eagle Academy Charter School).

Chamber special events director Merry Braham said she was pleased to honor the teachers for their work “shaping our next generation of citizens.”


Here’s a look at each of this year’s winners:


Wendy Banner — Birchwood ABC principal Tim Godfrey said Banner, a kindergarten teacher, is a “master of monitoring student progress and adjusting instructional delivery to meet the variety of student needs in her classroom.”

One of Banner’s creative methods of teaching, wrote Godfrey, is her strategy of having her pet dog “Bella,” grade student papers.

“Her students love this and get excited about seeing Bella’s ‘handiwork’ on their graded papers,” Godfrey wrote.


Luke Almon — ERHS principal Marty Lang, a former Language and Composition teacher at the school, said Almon has taken Lang’s former class to new heights.

“Five years later, the course being taught at our school is hardly recognizable, and vastly superior,” Lang wrote.

Lang said Almon — the English Department chair — is one of the hardest workers in the school.

“He arrives early every day, teaches with gusto, stays late, and puts in untold hours ensuring that his students receive wonderfully prepared lessons coupled with immediate, personalized feedback on their writing. As a result, his students succeed.”


Shelley Szipszky — Fire Lake principal Lindsay Henry said Szipszky has a personal touch that goes above and beyond. In her nomination letter, Henry wrote about a time when one of Szipszky’s students brought in a new Kindle e-reader. Not only did Szipszky show the student how to set up the device, she also bought him several books once he developed a newfound passion for reading.

“Needless to say, she really created a digital reader who can’t get enough books downloaded to read,” Henry wrote.


Johanna Bushue — A teacher willing to take on many challenges, Bushue juggles third- and fourth-grade students and a multi-age class in her school’s Open Optional Program. This means she has four different math groups and five for reading.

“I would have to write a book to name all the ways she is wonderful,” wrote the Eagle River Elementary counselor. “She is an amazing teacher, co-worker and friend who works tirelessly to be the best of all of them!”


Jerry Sather — A physical education teacher who has been at Mirror Lake since the school opened in 1997, Sather is an invaluable part of the school’s athletic and after-school programs, wrote principal Sherry Ellers.

“He encourages growth and participation in a variety of activities and he supports students in all of their endeavors,” Ellers wrote.

Ellers said Sather strives to ensure all MLMS students have a solid physical education.

“He has touched the lives of almost every student who has gone through Mirror Lake Middle School.”


Kim Girard — As Chugiak Elementary librarian, Girard is the school’s “gift to parents, teachers and most especially children,” wrote principal Susan Hindman.

Hindman said Girard keeps up with educational trends and has the skill to address different learning styles and ability levels with ease.

“Mrs. Girard works hard to ensure that our 450 students will become lifelong learners and lifelong readers who are confident in their abilities and will go forth into society with empathy and wisdom,” Hindman wrote.


Christie McLean — Alpenglow special education teacher Christie McLean works “each and every day to find the very particular keys that will unlock the limitless potential of her students,” wrote principal Patrick Garrity.

McLean was chosen for her unique resolve and unwavering faith in her students.

“She exemplifies the ideal that education, as a profession, is intimately intertwined with hope,” Garrity wrote.


Loi Lutes — Lutes, who teaches science and family and consumer science, makes lasting connections with her students, wrote Gruening principal Bobby Jefts.

“She creates opportunities where her students are active and engaged in their learning,” Jefts wrote.

Also a coach at the school, Lutes has spearheaded such initiatives as a “Pink Day” for breast cancer awareness and staff breakfasts before school.

“We are privileged to have her as an integral part of the Gruening community,” Jefts wrote.


Theresa Taylor — A “passionate educator who strives to help each student become a successful leader,” Taylor was recognized for her wide-ranging skill set, according to Eagle Academy principal Kitty Logan.

Taylor serves as the school’s Geography Bee coordinator, secretary for the Policy Board and has previously been nominated as a BP Teacher of Excellence. She is trained in a variety of teaching methods and known for her solid communication with parents.

“Parents have confidence in Mrs. Taylor’s ability to teach their children, and they know that she will bring out the best in them, academically as well as personally,” Logan wrote.


Debbie Quiroz — A 10-year teacher at Ravenwood, Quiroz is “a master teacher in every sense of the word,” wrote principal Audrey Chapman.

Chapman said Quiroz has the unique ability to manage large groups of six-year-olds — a skill that leaves other teachers in awe — and keep her students well-behaved and on task.

“It’s never with harsh words or serious consequences, but rather because it’s practiced, the purpose has been established, and they want to show their teacher they can rise to the challenge of making good choices and doing a great job!”


Brian Mason — CHS biology and forensic science teacher Brian Mason is able to bring out the best in his students, wrote principal Sam Spinella.

“Mr. Mason’s students regularly demonstrate enthusiasm for learning,” Spinella wrote.

Mason’s classes are “riddled with various teaching strategies which are stimulating and foster much student involvement,” wrote Spinella.


Mary Sheets — A third grade teacher who sees the unique needs of each child, Sheets also serves as Homestead’s tech contact. She helped the school transition to the district’s Zangle information system and integrates technology into her classroom wherever she can, wrote principal Barbara Nagengast.

“All of these commitments demonstrate a willingness to look beyond her classroom and show a strong commitment to the teaching profession,” Nagengast wrote.

Sheets’ dedication to her community was proven when her husband retired from the military and the family decided to stay in Eagle River.

“The Homestead community is proud to honor Mrs. Sheets,” Nagengast wrote.


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