Wednesday, October 31, 2007

2007 Excellence in Education Awards Banquet

On Monday evening, October 29th, Iowans from around the state gathered at HyVee Hall to say thanks--thanks to the countless teachers who each and every day make a difference and touch lives of their students.
ISEA was proud to once again be able to work with our partners on the Excellence in Education Awards program --WHO Radio, KDSM Fox 17... and the Iowa Farm Bureau who so graciously provided a lovely dinner along with the free tours of the Iowa Hall of Pride. Pictured (at left) is Craig Lang, President of the Iowa Farm Bureau. This was our ninth year to honor Iowa teachers with the Excellence in Education Award.

The keynote speaker this year was Judy Jeffrey, Director of the Iowa Department of Education. Judy was appointed director of the Iowa Department of Education in November 2004. In this role, she provides leadership and supervision for an educational system that includes 520,000 students in public and private accredited K-12 schools; 115,000 credit students in 15 community colleges; and 3,500 employees in 11 area education agencies.

Before serving as director, Judy had been the state's Early Childhood, Elementary & Secondary Division administrator since 1996. Before that, she served 24 years in the Council Bluffs Community School district in various administrative and classroom teaching positions. Judy has also been an instructor at Creighton University, and she taught in other Iowa districts including Cedar Falls and Goldfield, where she began her teaching career.

At the banquet, we honored the 2007 Excellence in Education Award winner as well as the four runners up.

The first runner up to be recognized was Rhonda Baker (at left), a special education teacher at Scranton Elementary School. She was nominated by Sonya Wills whose three autistic children have benefited from Rhonda’s caring and expertise. Sonya wrote, "Rhonda just has this ‘knack’ and is creative in implementing teaching methods,” she said.

Next we honored Laura Craft, a second-grade teacher at Central Decatur school in Leon. She was nominated for the honor by Tonya Lindsey whose daughter, Mary, flourished in Laura’s second-grade classroom last year. Tonya, who herself was once one of Laura’s students, says that a thousand-word essay cannot begin to explain how much of a positive influence Laura has had on her family. In fact, she has inspired Tonya to consider going back to college for an elementary education degree.

Our next honoree was Duane Hahn, a long-time science and computer teacher at South Hardin High School in Eldora. Duane was nominated for the honor by several students and co-workers. Their stories reveal a dedicated teacher who routinely goes above and beyond in order to help all students succeed. Always among the first to arrive and school and the last to leave, Duane won’t give up on anyone -- whether it means taking a late-night phone call or tutoring a student one-on-one.

Our final runner up is David Lillie, a fifth-grade teacher at Irving Elementary School in Sioux City. A beloved teacher at Irving for more than 17 years, David is known for his ability to connect with students -- particularly those who are in need. He was nominated for the honor by Jamie Myers whose five children have all been students in David’s classroom. “He has a real heart for our kids and goes over and above what is required in his teaching contract,” Jamie wrote.

This year’s winner of the Excellence in Education Award -- Blake Hammond, a sixth grade science teacher extraordinaire at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines. Known for his boundless energy and enthusiasm, Blake’s work on behalf of his students extends well beyond the typical classroom and school day.

Last year, for example, he spearheaded an effort to create a new computer lab in the Merrill library. He not only helped raise funds, but he set up the entire computer lab himself. Then he worked with local businesses to get them to donate library furniture. Here are just a few of the many other projects he’s championed:

A sixth-grade orientation process which gives both students and parents a smooth transition into middle school; a youth Ambassador program, which helps students plan school pride activities; and a “School Store,” which helps students and parents purchase discounted school supplies.

Blake is just as concerned about his students’ physical well-being as he is with their academic achievement -- because they two go hand-in-hand. He collaborates with the physical education department and team teaches units on the importance of healthy eating and living habits.

He actually creates an “obstacle course heart” in the gymnasium and the students scoot through the obstacle course the same way blood flows through a heart!

Congratulations again to Blake Hammond and our four runners up as well to all the great teachers that were nominated!

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