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RSD17 Announces 2022 Teachers & Staff of the Year

Submitted by Shawna Goldfarb, BOE

(June 10, 2022)— Regional School District 17 would like to recognize the following Teachers of the Year, and Staff of the Year, at each of our schools.

Teachers of the Year L to R: Ryan Kish, Leanne Honious, Heather Barse, Donna Jones, Rebecca Harkin

Teachers of the Year

Becky Harkin has been a teacher at Burr since 2001.   She taught first grade, third grade, and has been a second grade teacher for the past 15 years and is well deserving of the recognition of Teacher of the Year this year.  Historically, the second grade team at Burr has seen lots of changes in staffing over the years and Becky has been the one constant.  This year, the team included a long-term substitute and two teachers new to our district and Becky demonstrated unflagging leadership skills throughout the year.  Becky stepped up as a mentor for all three new team members.  She came in over the summer as each new teacher arrived to welcome them to the team and assist with setting up classrooms and getting to know curriculum materials.  Becky became fondly referred to as “the mom of the grade level,” always looking out for everyone and making sure they had what they needed to be successful.  She recognizes the importance of collegiality, trust and support in developing a cohesive grade level team.  Students have reaped the benefits from the tight, mutually supportive team that Becky has helped to develop.  Similarly, Becky regularly seeks feedback and input from our instructional coaches to ensure she is providing her students with the best possible educational experience.

As a teacher, Becky is organized, structured and well-planned.  Students thrive in her classroom as a result of her consistency and routines.  They feel safe, respected and know they can trust Becky to be supportive and fair.  Becky has high expectations for her students and knows just what they need academically, socially, and emotionally in order to achieve their fullest potential.  Whether that is a quick hug, a listening ear or extra academic support to help a student understand a concept, Becky is right there providing exactly what each student needs throughout the day.

Haddam Killingworth Intermediate School’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year is Heather Barse.  Heather is a math, science and social studies teacher in the 4th grade.  I can say without reservation that she is one of the most skilled math teachers I’ve worked with in more than 25 years in education.  I could talk at length about her instruction, but I’ll use the words of her nominator.

This year, Heather did a phenomenal job supporting the 4th grade math team.  Her strong knowledge of the I-ready program, along with her strength of data interpretation, helped guide many instructional planning meetings along with providing her math colleagues with valuable strategies to help strengthen their instruction as well.  She showed us various reports the program provides and how she used that information to help group her students.  In addition, she used data to create small groups and provided those students with interactive lessons to reinforce skills they needed help on. Heather’s excellent collaboration and planning skills also helped ensure the math team was kept on track.  She voluntarily mapped out each unit and provided the math team with a calendar of what lessons were to be taught on which days.  She also communicated this information with our math support team as well.

Aside from curriculum, Heather works hard every day to maintain positive relationships with her students.  Even with having a challenging class, Heather comes in each day smiling and greets her students with that same smile.  She ensures that each student who comes into her room feels safe and comfortable and she takes the time to connect with them.

The HKIS community is very lucky to have Heather Barse as part of it.  Her willingness to collaborate, her high standards for her students, and her knowledge of the curriculum make her an integral part of our HKIS community.  “I feel very fortunate to work with her.” I couldn’t say it any better than her colleague and I also feel very fortunate to work with her.  Congratulations, Heather!

It is my honor to introduce Donna Jones as the Killingworth Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

When I pause for a moment and reflect upon what makes a great teacher, I begin to think about relationships and how it is for someone to feel safe and cared for.  And then I think about why Donna is such a special teacher and it becomes really clear.  She has an incredible rapport with her students.  She is extremely positive and supportive and her students trust her.

Donna knows her students so well, she knows whether they need a quick movement break to get some wiggles out, or whether they just need a minute to tell her about their weekend.  She connects to her learners and always has a kind smile on her face.

Donna maintains high expectations and is a master at making educational decisions that are grounded in data.  This has been especially important this year as she has worked tirelessly to fill in the gaps that may have been left in some of our students due to COVID shutdowns.

Donna is also a lifelong learner.  Weekly, in the early hours of the morning, you will find her in the library with a group of colleagues studying and learning more about the science of reading and early literacy acquisition strategies.  Her colleagues and students benefit from her dedication to improving herself.  In fact, Donna often presents to the staff during our in-service workshops as a way to share her expertise with the rest of us.

One of her nominating colleagues recently said that “Donna is always eager to collaborate and work to provide purposeful instruction, utilizing a variety of tools and ideas, always with a warm, welcoming smile.”  “Donna’s calm, steady demeanor is a grounding force for us all during our busy and stressful school days,” wrote another colleague.

Donna also recognizes the value of building a positive school culture and celebrating student success.  She has been an invaluable member of our school improvement team and has led our initiatives in developing “the KES Way.”   It is my pleasure to congratulate Donna Jones as the KES Teacher of the Year.

Though she has been working in District 17 for about fifteen years, Leanne Honious joined the staff at HK Middle School just this year. Upon her arrival she was tasked with reinvigorating our library media center – making it the hub of learning for our school – collaborating with teachers to get students researching across all disciplines – and most of all, making the library a place where all students could feel at home and develop their love of reading. Just this year, Leanne has done all of this and more.

In addition to her traditional duties as the LMS, Leanne facilitates the train club and co-facilitates Aspiring Writers and Student Equity Council during flex.  She helps students plan and broadcast the morning news every day. She has transformed the look and feel of the library and updated the library website. Recently, she added light up trees to the library and plans to use them as “poet-trees,” with student poetry as the leaves.  In March, she held a book tasting to introduce newly purchased books and the March Madness bracket titles.  Students came to the “restaurant” and sampled menus and books to vote on which were their favorites.  Back in October, she rallied some staff members to dress as contestants from Double Dare on Halloween.  Her colleagues thought she was crazy, but it was a hit with students and staff alike.  Leanne participates in every single school spirit day and her ongoing efforts strengthen our school climate and encourage all students and staff members to thrive.

Leanne brings the same passion to working with her colleagues as she does with her students.   She collaborates with social studies, ELA, science and math teachers in both buildings.  She has helped to launch interdisciplinary units in ELA and History, and is teaching essential research skills at every grade level.  On district PD days, Leanne provides teachers with professional development to address district and professional needs.  She collaborated with others to plan Read Across America events and March Madness brackets for both buildings.  She has also partnered with the PTO for book fairs and to coordinate assemblies such as a poetry slam for 7th graders.  Leanne is also currently working on rewriting district library standards and curriculum and has collaborated with teachers to write social studies curriculum.  She has helped pave the way for diversifying our read-alouds, book club titles and independent titles in the district.  Leanne constantly reflects on her practice in an effort to improve her instruction, collaboration and, ultimately, student achievement.

We are so lucky to have Leanne Honious on our team at the Middle School and I am so pleased to be able to congratulate her as the 2022 HKMS Teacher of the Year.

HKHS and RSD 17 District Teacher of the Year 2021-22: Ryan Kish is a product of RSD17, having grown up here, graduated from HKHS and followed in the footsteps of his father, Mike Kish, who was a long-time teacher and coach at HK. He is actually the epitome of the classic HK “kid”:  a great human with strong character, loyal to family and friends, hardworking and positive, while not making a lot of noise.  He is a 16-year veteran of HK, teaching in and leading the Technology Education department. Under his leadership, our  PLTW program is easily one of the strongest in the state. He has accomplished this despite several staffing challenges over the years as they just don’t “make enough” tech ed teachers anymore.  On many occasions, Ryan has stepped up and taught extra classes just to keep the program afloat and ensure that students could get the courses they needed.

Colleague and fellow department leader Marcy Webster says of Ryan, “Ryan cares about his students and strives each day to reach, teach, retain, mentor and support them.” He teaches to reach both the traditional and non-traditional students, giving them all a path to succeed as well as knowledge that they will use for the rest of their lives.  “Ryan is the teacher these students will tell their children about, the one who taught them the tricks and tips they use each day to be successful.”  Ryan is intensely student-centered, often volunteering to seek out struggling students to invite them into his room and whatever project is underway at the time so that they have a fun and safe home during lunch activity.  He cares about the whole child and, when the need arose in our building, Ryan joined a small group of students and staff to design a program that more directly connected students in need with the resource required.  He created a QR code poster, displayed around the school, that students can simply scan with their cell phone, which then sends a message to resource staff who are immediately deployed to support the student. A master carpenter, Ryan’s skills have often supported co-curricular programs, especially drama this year when a friend really needed his support.  Lastly, Kish is one of those “last to fall” guys – and never has in all the years I have known him.  Even when surrounded by challenges, of which there have been plenty, his colleague writes of Kish, “He leads by example, gently urging us all to keep moving forward while looking back to ensure that no one is left behind.”

It is my great honor to know, work with and to count as a friend, HKHS Teacher of the Year, Ryan Kish.

Staff of the Year

Staff of the Year L to R: Pam Quinley, Megan Jenkins, Carolyn Armstrong, Terrie Shimoda and Jean Nolet (retiree).

Pam Quinley joined the Burr Elementary School family as a special education paraprofessional in October of 2020 and is well deserving of recognition as Staff Member of the Year.  From the moment she joined our team, it was apparent that she would do whatever it took to help students succeed.  Pam is patient, dedicated and creative in support of students.  Regardless of the situation, Pam is always able to keep her cool and think logically and creatively to problem-solve.  She always seems to know just what a student needs in the moment in order to move through frustration, persevere with a task or remain focused on instruction.  In addition to the specific students that Pam supports, she makes the extra effort to get to know all of the students in the kindergarten class and develops a relationship with each one of them.  Students feel comfortable around Pam and she strikes a perfect balance between providing help and support while also promoting independence.  Pam’s colleagues have consistently described her as “grace under pressure.”  Her quiet, calm demeanor is beneficial to students and staff alike.

I am honored to introduce Megan Jenkins as the Killingworth Elementary School Staff Member of the Year. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe Megan in a variety of settings, and I am constantly in awe of the talent and professionalism I get to see in  Megan’s work supporting students.  She has a calm and nurturing demeanor that children respond positively to, and she is viewed by everyone as a highly skilled instructor, communicator and self-starter.

Throughout the course of a typical day, you may see Megan working 1 to 1 with a student, leading small group instruction, teaching a large group of students, or helping a child who is having difficulty, either behaviorally or academically.  She does this with such success because she puts in the time and effort it takes to get to know each student as an individual.  Megan has the flexibility and willingness to take on whatever challenges the school day brings, and that is an inspiration to the staff at KES.

A colleague of hers stated it best in a nomination letter: “A perfect combination of kindness and expectation of respect makes her perfect to work with this special population of students.  She always builds strong relationships with every teacher and staff member she interacts with.  Everyone always knows they can count on Megan.”  Another colleague said, “She has a soft, sensitive touch with those students who sometimes need a little extra caring on any given day.  She’s a superstar at always finding the good in each and every student.”

Haddam Killingworth Intermediate School is proud to name Carrie Armstrong as our Staff Member of the Year.  Carrie is a paraprofessional who largely works in our fifth grade classrooms.  She is utterly dedicated to the students.  She reads each group’s book-club books to better help the students.  She organizes those she needs to, encourages the ones who need it, and gently corrects behavior when that becomes necessary.

I have had many discussions with Carrie this year and what stands out is how important she sees each relationship she has with the students.  She says, “They follow my directions because they know that I care about each of them.”  I have a special assignment for Mrs. Armstrong:  she watches the tag football game at every recess.  Anyone who knows elementary recess knows that it is this game that usually has the most difficulty.  So much so, that many elementary schools don’t even allow it.  However, with the boundaries that she sets, the kids not only can play, but have a great time doing it.

The family of one of our teachers has been hit several times this year with COVID quarantines, creating a large number of absences.  It happens to be the class that Carrie spends most of her time in.  Mrs. Armstrong has stepped up and helped keep the class running almost as if the teacher were in the room. It has been a tough year, but our staff like Mrs. Armstrong have made everything more manageable.  Thank you, Carrie, for all that you have done and continue to do for the students and staff of HKIS.

It is my pleasure to introduce Terrie Shimoda as the 2022 HKMS Staff Member of the Year. Terrie is our Library Media Coordinator and as described in her nominations, she is a student and staff magnet and has devoted followers from all grades.

It has been noted that students purposefully make an effort to reach out to Mrs. Shimoda, not just when they want to check out a book or have a Chromebook question.  Simply put, Terrie makes everyone she interacts with feel good and greets all with her infectious smile and hearty laugh.  Students feel noticed, comfortable, and safe in her company.  As one 8th grade boy said, “Mrs. Shimoda will always talk with you and point you in the right direction. She’s straightforward, but always kind.  I trust her and can talk to her about anything.”

In addition to having an excellent rapport with students, staff members check in regularly with Terrie as well.  She’s quite the problem solver.  If a student or teacher needs book recommendations for a particular genre or topic, she is there to help – often with numerous ideas ready to go. If there is a technology problem, Terrie often is the first line of assistance and can help students troubleshoot tech-related difficulties, which then lessens the Chromebook pile-up on the IT desk.  And, if the copier is not operating properly, Terrie somehow manages to fix it, putting time-pressed teachers at ease and running off to their next class with copies in hand.

Finally, in addition to all she does during her work day, Terrie is a skilled seamstress who provided homemade masks to students and staff throughout the pandemic, and always gives her time to alter prom and wedding dresses. In short, Terrie makes every day brighter in our school.

Laura Wade joined the HKHS team this summer through what can only be divine intervention. Given the nursing shortage across the country, a great school nurse is hard to find and we actually hired Laura through a video interview from her Madison, Wisconsin home. It was our good fortune that she was moving east and managed to find little HK’s job posting. When you first meet Laura, it is obvious that Laura is a rock star; half because of personality, and half because of Covid, she instantly became part of the core problem-solver circle of the high school.  She is incredibly knowledgeable and skilled, and worked shoulder to shoulder with the administrative team to handle, respond to, and prevent Covid in our school. She works very closely with all of our student athletes, especially due to the absence of an athletic trainer for most of this year. Laura is skilled at difficult conversations, and brings a much needed sense of humor during this very difficult year. We simply could not have gotten through this year without her. In addition to handling a pandemic, Laura shines while teaching our young people about health and wellness.  This year has brought some rather unusual health crises for both students and staff and her depth of knowledge prevented more than one tragic outcome. Laura is funny, personable, sets her own fashion trends and has recently taken heat for becoming my travel advisor.

Denis Recchia has worked for Regional School District 17 for 13 years. In that time, the District has gone a very long way with implementing new technologies district-wide and providing ever-increasing access to technology for students and staff. Just some of Denis’s duties for the district include managing the wired and wireless networks for the schools, configuring PowerSchool for student reporting, school scheduling, yearly rollovers, and many other functions. Along with Denis’s work with the district’s technology, Denis was also Haddam Killingworth High School’s Varsity Soccer Coach for a few years. Please join me in congratulating Denis Recchia as RSD17’s 2021-22 District Staff Member of the Year.

Photos by Shawna Goldfarb

Editor’s Note: The Principal of each school introduced their Staff or Teacher of the Year with the words above at a recent Board of Education meeting.

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