Local teachers honored during annual Excellence in Education awards

Monday, April 1, 2019 - 11:46
  • From left to right, 2019 Excellence in Education award winners Gary Kleca, Sheri Gillespie, Josephine Schultz, Amy Harmon, Clinton Holloway, Shellie Barker, Lisa Bunag, Jacqueline Welge, Renae Lance, Marie Pelton, Jennifer Cottle and Christopher Lubken pose for a photo during the 2019 awards ceremony March 26 at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center. (Photo courtesy Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce)

A dozen local educators were singled out for their service during a ceremony March 26 at the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center.

The annual Excellence in Education Awards are presented each year by the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Eagle River Area Rotary, the Chugiak-Eagle River Foundation, Enstar and BP Alaska. This year’s 16th annual awards were selected by school principals at each of the 12 area public schools to honor outstanding teachers in the community.

“You are the folks who commit your lives to educate our next generation and our future leaders of Alaska,” chamber president Kelsie Sullivan said during the event, which was attended by ASD superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop.

This year’s honorees were Lisa Bunag (Alpenglow Elementary), Shellie Barker (Birchwood ABC Elementary), Jacquelyn Welge (Chugiak Elementary), Josi Schultz (Chugiak High), Marie Pelton (Eagle Academy Charter), Renae Lance (Eagle River Elementary), Clinton Holloway (Eagle River High), Sheri Gillespie (Fire Lake Elementary), Christopher Lubken (Gruening Middle), Gary Klecka (Homestead Elementary), Amy Harmon (Mirror Lake Middle) and Jennifer Cottle (Ravenwood Elementary).

During the event, each teacher was singled out for recognition, with notes about their accomplishments from their school principals. Here’s a sample of each:

Renae Lance:

Renae handles crisis like no other. She steps up when any student or teacher needs help. She takes on extra parent pick-up and bus duty every day. She is amazing working with difficult students and families in crisis. Most importantly, she is a passionate educator who meets her kids where they are and moves them forward.

When she was a new teacher long ago, she was an amazing sponge as well as a contributor to the craft. Renae has taken on a lot of extra responsibilities this year in helping our long-term sub manage her class, create lesson plans, and even input grades when the sub did not have access to Q.

She has always gone out of her way to assist those who need it with a smile on her face. With the loss of most of her teaching supplies due to the earthquake, she has made the best of a bad situation and still managed to help others along the way. She is amazing on all fronts and we are proud to have her represent our school for this prestigious honor.

Jennifer Cottle:

Jennifer Cottle, our school nurse, is one of the most caring, patient, empathetic and compassionate people we know. She is well known in her community because of the many groups and activities she participates in, such as hockey, nurses’ groups and other non-profit organizations. Her door is always open and students, parents and staff are always greeted with a smile and a warm heart.

Kids are constantly revolving in and out of her office asking for an ice bag, a band-aid, Vaseline or complaining of a tummy ache. Her infectious and bubbly personality emotes love, acceptance, and immediate cures. She is a devoted and knowledgeable person who knows how to soothe nerves during flu vaccinations, vision and hearing screenings and is quick on her feel diagnosing and problem solving.

She not only organizes our Student Support Team meetings, but she conducts the best trainings. “I’ll never forget her Blood Born Pathogens or Infectious Disease training where she rapped and danced better than Nicki Minaj or Pitbull,” says principal, Kim Bautista.

She is the hub of Ravenwood. We love and admire her and that’s why she is our 2019 Excellence in Education recipient.

Amy Harmon:

Amy Harmon is an excellent PE teacher who has been a member or the Mirror Lake Middle School family and the Chugiak/ Eagle River community since 2003. Despite her many years as an educator she remains intellectually curious and professionally vital both inside and outside the classroom.

She has an enviable passion for children and the learning process. Mrs. Harmon always expects great effort and accomplishments from her students, regardless of their fitness level. She is constantly working toward reaching the goals students set for themselves at the beginning of the semester, holding them accountable on their journey towards success.

Amy is one of those teachers who will remain vivid in her students’ memories forever because of her creativity, sense of fun, compassion, and ability to challenge students to grow and constantly improve.

Gary Klecka:

Homestead Elementary School is proud to recognize fourth grade teacher Mr. Gary Klecka as the Chugiak Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Excellence in Education Award recipient. Mr. Klecka is a seasoned teacher working on his 17th year with the district. He has served the Homestead community for 11 years beginning his career as a kindergarten teacher before moving to the fourth grade.

Mr. Klecka’s classroom reflects an environment of respect where building positive relationships is the honored practice. His interactions with students and parents are positive and encouraging. A hallmark of his classroom is for students to feel safe and valued. However, his approach to building and nurturing positive relationships does not stop at the classroom door but extends to his peers and particularly to his grade-level cohorts.

2018-19 has been a challenging year for Homestead as well as many schools in the Eagle River area. Our school year began with the absence of another fourth grade teacher. This required a series of three substitute teachers and in each case Mr. Klecka embraced and supported the change. With each new substitute teacher, Mr. Klecka helped set up or organize the classroom, and shared materials and ideas on how to help students succeed. Regardless of the investment of time, he goes out of his way to be helpful; he cares about how the other students are doing.

Recognition for this exceptional educator includes his support and concern shown to the Homestead staff and students during the November 30th earthquake. Mr. Klecka has long served on the school’s safety team and only a week prior to the earthquake, had inventoried the school’s emergency kits. Immediately following the earthquake, Mr. Klecka jumped into action by distributing safety equipment and checking the building’s structural integrity both inside and out. He remained focused throughout the day ensuring that everyone was safe and comfortable. During the period of readying our building for eight classrooms of teachers and students displaced from Eagle River Elementary, Mr. Klecka worked tirelessly to help clear and clean the receiving classrooms. When truckloads of pallets containing the displaced staff’s instructional materials and furniture was delivered to Homestead, Mr. Klecka remained calm, organized and continued to work for the good of the community. As shared by a coworker, “Mr. Klecka never takes the easy way out. He makes the right decision even when it costs him time and energy.”

During a year of the most unusual and unexpected circumstances, Mr. Gary Klecka has demonstrated strength, character and compassion. He has selflessly served the Homestead community and deserves to be recognized as the Chugiak Eagle River Chamber of Commerce Excellence in Education recipient.

Christopher Lubken:

The music department at Gruening Middle School is alive, thriving, and continues to grow in popularity with our students! This year’s recipient for the Excellence in Education Award is Christopher Lubken, the band teacher at Gruening. In his two short years at Gruening, Mr. Lubken’s band program has grown to become one of the premier band programs in the entire Anchorage School District.

Gruening’s Jazz Band is one of the most admired Jazz Bands at area middle school festivals. This year Mr. Lubken has started a Percussion class for Gruening aspiring percussionists, giving our students another possibility to explore unique music curriculum.

Mr. Lubken is a master at seeking and acquiring outside funding sources to help pay for instruments and other curricular material he needs to continue to fund his growing program. For example, last year he received over $32,000 from DonorsChoose.org to pay for new instruments and support materials needed for a top notched band program. Additionally, for the past two years, Mr. Lubken has received grants from the Anchorage Schools Foundation. Our community’s own Chugiak Eagle River Foundation awarded Mr. Lubken’s band program a grant this school year to help purchase much needed French Horns for his young musicians.

A strong electives education, including music education, is critical to the overall education of a middle school student, which is important academically, culturally and developmentally. Christopher Lubken has created an outstanding opportunity for Gruening Middle School students with the band program at our school. It is with great honor that Gruening Middle School has chosen Christopher Lubken to be the 2019 recipient of the Excellence in Education Award. Mr. Lubken, thank you for the wonderful enthusiasm you bring to your band program and for the exemplary educational opportunity you provide for our young musicians.

Sheri Gillespie:

Sheri Gillespie is a Special Education Teacher Assistant at Firelake Elementary. The following comments are from Sheri’s coworkers.

Sheri is always willing to go out of her way to help anybody with whatever they need at anytime. She truly cares for the students and always has their best interest in mind.

Sheri is a wonderful colleague who is always willing to help. Each day I see her she has a smile on her face. Her interaction with students are positive and thoughtful. On many occasions, I have seen her go out of her way to make connections with students. Sheri truly is a wonderful part of our FireLake community.

Sheri is always willing to go above and beyond. She works with compassion and care. Sheri is also a great team member that can always be counted on, especially in a tough situation. Sheri has a motivated and consistent work ethic. She is a real treasure to Fire Lake students, families, and coworkers.

Sheri is a fabulous asset to Fire Lake! She works hard to connect with students and is dedicated to their progress. We are very lucky to have her!

I feel fortunate to work with Sheri. She is a hard worker and I can count on her when I need assistance. She works tirelessly for her students. She keeps her composure and is calm. She welcomes students each day with a fresh start. Fire Lake is lucky to call her a school family member!

Clinton Holloway:

Mr. Clinton Holloway exemplifies the type of teacher most deserving for the Excellence In Education Award. He is hardworking, dependable, ethical, and develops a natural bond with his students and colleagues.

Mr. Holloway has been an educator for 17 years and spent the last 14 years at Eagle River High School as a founding member of the English Department. He is on the leadership team that helps provide critical input to making important decisions. His hard work and dedication to his department shows academically in both state and national test scores.

Last year, Mr. Holloway took on the task of developing an academic model that would place all incoming freshman in a traditional English I class for six weeks. Using the current Multi-Tiered Structured System, Mr. Holloway and his team placed students in Honors English, English I or English Support after a structured six-week evaluation. Upon completion, students were placed in their appropriate classes. This never-before-tried approach worked without any noticeable issues. To date Mr. Holloway has seen 50 percent achievement growth among students who are below proficient. This is truly the result of hard work and dedication to his profession.

One of the great attributes that led me to choose Mr. Holloway is his devotion to his students. On the 10-year anniversary of Eagle River High School, Mr. Holloway participated in the time capsule that was buried on campus. He is the teacher in charge of Poetry Out Loud Competition for our school. His door is always open for students who need help academically or just someone to talk to. He can also been seen at a number of other student events showing his support for sports, academics and fine arts.

Overall, Mr. Holloway is a well-rounded educator who is well respected by his students and colleagues. As a first-year principal I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Mr. Holloway and recognize his contributions to Eagle River High School. It is with great honor that I recommend Mr. Clinton Holloway for Excellence In Education Award.

Josi Schultz:

Josi’s passion for her students and for inclusive education is impressive and has made a dramatic impact on all students at CHS. She is a true champion for students and an inspiration to us all. Here are some of the wonderful things said about Josi from her co-workers.

“Josi has a heart for kids that she does not hesitate to share. The professionals around her know this, and the kids she interacts with never have to wonder if she has their best interest in mind.” Kalia Rabe, Occupational Therapist

“As someone who has worked with Josie at several schools, I have observed her to be a relentless advocate and consistent source of positivity and encouragement for her students. There is no question in my mind as to whether she deserves such recognition. She is a joy to work with as a colleague and a great addition to every school community in which she works.” Doug Hopper, School Psychologist

“I have had the opportunity to work with Josi as a colleague, as a parent of one of her athletes, and as a friend. I can tell you Josi has an incredible amount of energy and passion that is infectious to be around. You can’t help but be excited when Josi is excited about something and Josi is especially excited for kids! She is a champion for students with disabilities and has a particular strength in bringing out the best in everyone!” Nicole Smith, Special Ed DC

“Ms. Josi is an amazing educator, leader and coach. The energy and passion she brings to our Unified Recreational Games class is unmatched. She sets the standard high for student inclusion and compassion. Her ability to connect with students of all abilities is a true asset to our Chugiak community. Sonia Grasse, Life Skills Teacher

From Ms. Schultz’s students:

Ms. Josi is nice - Chris

Ms. Josi is fun to be around - Caitlynn

Ms. Josi helps me with basketball - Oz

Ms. Josi is always helpful - Michael

Ms. Josi is a good teacher - Henry

I like Ms. Josi because she teaches us so many games - Michael

Ms. Josi pushes me to my limits and encourages me to try to do my best. - Izaha (Isaiah)

Physical Education Teacher, Brie Busey, sums it all up by saying “Josi is a wonderful teacher, coworker, and friend. She challenges her students to broaden their perspective of inclusiveness and brightens everyone’s day with her energy and approachability. Josi inspires me to be a better educator and promote a world where everyone is valued.”

Marie Pelton:

Marie is the Teacher Assistant in the fifth grade classroom. She was nominated by the staff of Eagle Academy. The staff said this about Marie…

Marie Pelton is a gem. She has positive energy and shares her enthusiasm for life with students and staff. Marie brings home baked goodies quite often for the staff to enjoy. Marie shares her sign language skills with our third grade students. She spearheaded our Christmas Card Campaign and the cards from Eagle Academy were gorgeous. Mrs. Pelton makes Eagle Academy a better place each and every day.

Marie is kind, compassionate and willing to listen to all points of view.

Mrs. Pelton always brings joy to whatever she does. She has brought so much to the school & always goes above & beyond.

Marie always thinks of others, and she spreads positive energy around the workplace. EACS would not be the same without her!

I think Marie is always thoughtful to the needs of those around her. When someone is going through a hard time, she jumps to make a card, gift, or meal for them. I think she does many things behind the scenes that we may never know about. Marie always has a kind word, even when faced with tough situations. She is quick to smile at others. Plus she provides yummy snacks for the staff often.

Marie is a kind soul. She has a positive attitude and tries hard to bring the staff together for the betterment of the school.

Shellie Barker:

Mrs. Barker is an excellent classroom teacher and a dedicated education professional. She supports our student, staff and families in several ways. She helps us maintain a safe and positive school environment. Mrs. Barker is a contributing member of our safety and leadership teams. She is a teacher in charge, a student council advisor, and a recycling coordinator. She is also a member of our interview team. Her commitment to Birchwood ABC has a positive effect on our entire school community!

During the day of the earthquake she took a lead role in monitoring students as we kept them on busses as they arrived. She helped organize communication between the office and the busses and she made the students feel safe and remain calm. The damage to Eagle River Elementary School resulted in 214 students from that school joining Birchwood. All of our staff welcomed the Eagle River students, staff and family.

Mrs. Barker is a leader in fostering that positive atmosphere and helps us address any concerns that arise. Her leadership and commitment to all students and families in our school is evident and here commitment also makes the Chugiak/Eagle River community a better place in which to live! Thank You Shellie for all that you do!

Lisa Bunag:

Lisa Bunag is an integral part of our community and Alpenglow staff. Lisa seamlessly made the transition from high school English teacher to elementary school librarian. She brings an infectious love of reading to all library classes and the entire school community.

Lisa has integrated technology into the curriculum and also has held numerous tech tip classes for our staff. The bulletin boards she makes engage a curiosity for reading within our students. She uses the library to support learning in the classroom, coaches Battle of the Books, is our school “Teacher in Charge”, volunteers for committees and numerous school functions, is highly esteemed by all and provides comic relief that has us all in stitches! Lisa’s professionalism and dedication to the success of all students is apparent in her interactions and in her teaching.

Jackie Welge:

Jackie Welge exemplifies excellence through her rigorous content instruction in the library, her expertise with technology, and in developing students’ social and emotional skills through the activities she leads and as our Teacher In Charge. The kind, compassionate, thoughtful, and thorough approach she brings to all of her different roles and responsibilities, partnered with her focus on educating students and families about literacy and technology make Jackie stand out as an outstanding librarian and educator. Jackie’s positivity is contagious and her expertise in the library sciences field is remarkable.

Jackie sees over 500 students in the library each week. In addition to strategically teaching the library standards, she also tailors every lesson to meet each individual class’ needs, and also infused computer literacy and technology skills into her lessons. Jackie allows students to come in at all times when she is not directly teaching to find books and regularly has in-depth conversations about their interests, preference in genres, and more. As a result of these interactions, students across all grade levels have broadened their literary interests and have stretched their thinking. Many times a week, students will leave Jackie a post-it note at the check-out counter that says, “Thank you, Mrs. Welge for helping me find the perfect book!” or something similar. Students are excited to spend time in the library and it really is a buzzing hub in our school.

On top of being our librarian and technology coordinator, Jackie is our Teacher In Charge. She excels at problem solving with students, managing emergency situations (like a 7.0 earthquake!!!), assisting with standardized testing, and connecting with families.

When asked about Jackie, one staff member said, “Jackie seems to think outside the box for our kiddos. She teaches good old-fashioned dictionary skills to the latest technology on the chromebooks. Jackie is often the one we go to for a bit of advice and a shoulder to cry on. Jackie even cares about the staffs’ health and hosts yoga classes after school!! I just love Jackie and I know she’s loved by others as well.”

Another staff member sums up Jackie’s excellence in education perfectly: “Jackie wears many hats throughout the course of the year—librarian, tech guru, teacher in charge, coach, keeper of school pets, and friend. She has made the library a place that is engaging to all students. She simply makes Chugiak Elementary a better place!”

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