2009-10 Celebration of Excellence Award Winners

 

Beth Bernacki - Teacher, Skyline High School - Awarded March 10, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Katie LaCroix

I would like to nominate Mrs. Beth Bernacki for the Celebration of Excellence Award. While Beth happens to be my sister and best friend, I am nominating her because of her diligence and dedication to her work.  Beth teaches history at Skyline High School, and there is no limit to the amount of time that she puts into her role as a teacher.  

I have witnessed, firsthand, how committed Beth is to her work.  She spent this past summer planning for her upcoming year, to ensure that her students would be both engaged and challenged to their utmost potential.  Beth is an inspiration to her students.  As a 4th grade teacher at Logan, many of my students from years ago are now in Beth's classes. These same students have come to tell me how much they appreciate having Beth as their teacher.  Those students' parents have expressed the same.

I know that some may call it a “conflict of interest” that I am nominating my sister for this award. However, it makes perfect sense to me.  I have had the opportunity to witness how much time and thought Beth puts into her work.  Beth is the epitome of a teacher that goes “above and beyond” her calling.  She is very deserving of this recognition.

Donnetta Brown - Secretary, Huron High School - Awarded February 3, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Sharon Brown

Ms. Brown provided support to a peer who was suffering from a serious illness, treating her as if she were her own family.  She has been a source of comfort and assistance that has gone above and beyond the "outstanding customer service" category.  She has truly earned distinction as a loving hero."


 

Pat Butler - Custodian, Northside Elementary School - Awarded May 26, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Sharon Brown

Pat Butler is one of our custodians at Northside Elementary School. Pat has one of the best work ethics of anyone we know. She greets everyone, staff, student and parents alike with a friendly Hi! when they enter our building. Pat also has a friendly and caring demeanor with the students. Pat seldom has to be asked to do anything because it has been done way before she is asked! Pat's sense of duty is demonstrated through her integrity and high level of energy and commitment to detail. Listed below are some staff and student thoughts on how much we love and value Pat Butler.

“I've worked with Pat for over ten years and she is such an asset to Northside School. Her work ethic is above reproach. Pat always has a good attitude and a happy thought to share with others. Always always a kind word for others.”

“Wow! Say a few things about Pat? How can I limit them? One of my favorite things about Pat is that she always has a smile and a kind word for others.”

“Pat Butler is by far one of my favorite people. She always asks how my family is and how my day has been.”

“Pat always treats our building as if it is her home. Her work ethic is amazing and her cheerfulness while doing her duties is never missed.”

“My classroom is one of Ms. Butler's areas. I never have to ask her to do something because it is usually done before I even noticed it. I can't think of a more deserving person than Pat for this award.”

“I appreciate everything Pat Butler has done for me personally and even more importantly our school building. She treats it as if it a personal mission and her job is always done with a smile a hello and a smiling face. I don't think I have ever seen her without a smile and have never heard her utter anything but a kind word or do a nice deed for others”

Students say...
“I love Ms. Butler.”
“Ms. Butler helps our school stay clean and neat.”
“I like it when Ms. Butler says “hello cutie “to me.”

As you can see many people at Northside love and respect Ms. Pat Butler. We can think of no one who deserves the celebration of excellence award more than Pat!


Molly Crankshaw - Teacher, Burns Park - Awarded April 14, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Elizabeth DeRose

I would like to nominate Molly Crankshaw, 3rd grade teacher at Burns Park, for a Customer Service Award for Excellence.  I have had the pleasure of having two children go through her class; my daughter is now in 5th grade, and my son is currently in her class.  Both children showed/have shown tremendous growth, both academically and emotionally, and just really blossomed as individuals under her guidance.  She exemplifies excellent customer service by continually exceeding expectations, and her passion and dedication shine through in all that she does.

There are many examples of how she excels in her role as a teacher, starting with the letter that she sends each student before the first day of school. In it she describes how she has wanted to be a teacher since she was a child, and how she is so excited to have them in her class to share all of the exciting things they will do throughout the year.  I think this helps to set such an important tone for the students before they even enter her classroom, and shows them that she is ready and excited to teach them.

In her classroom, Molly sets very clear and reasonable expectations for the students to be successful and learn; it is a structured, yet still fun, environment.  She uses a warning system with clothes pins that students must move themselves if they step ”out of bounds”, and it really does work to keep the classroom operating at a level where students can concentrate and learn.  I volunteer frequently in her classroom, and am always pleasantly surprised to find the students working or listening respectfully.

She works so hard to identify the individual needs of each student, whether it’s extra help in math or reading or spelling, and finds the best way to motivate each student to achieve their best work.  For example, my daughter was really struggling in math, and was starting to both not like it and think that she wasn’t good at it.  Molly challenged her to do extra math problems each day on the back of her home links and rewarded her by giving her a sticker each time in her planner.  She even went the extra mile to find stickers that she knew my daughter would like, and it worked like a charm! By the end of 3rd grade, my daughter was at grade level, which was a huge accomplishment from where she started.  This is just one example of the many students Molly has worked with to provide the extra help and support needed for them to succeed.

She is constantly striving to make the students’ experiences at school positive, and works hard to make everyone feel comfortable and included.  She recently instituted a new tradition for birthdays:  instead of having students bring in a birthday treat (which frequently excluded students with allergies), she provides the birthday boy or girl with a t-shirt that she decorates with ”Happy Birthday” and has each student in the class sign.  The student gets to wear the t-shirt all day, as well as having some specials jobs and privileges in the classroom.  It has been a huge success, and is another example of how Molly is going above and beyond what is expected for her students.

She also has provided excellent customer service to the parents by sending frequent emails and letters explaining upcoming events, homework or things happening in the classroom.  Her impressive communication skills were particularly helpful when she provided a separate step-by-step explanation of the Fall report card, which could be a bit confusing for some people. And, an especially nice surprise for families was that she had the students make a wonderful calendar as a gift for the holidays.

Finally, Molly does all the above in such a pleasant and caring manner-- she has a wonderful sense of humor and makes the students feel that she truly cares about them and wants them to succeed.  Students who may have been struggling or not enjoying school when they enter her classroom, leave with improvements in all areas-- but most importantly, in their self-confidence.

For all of these reasons, I feel that Molly is very deserving of an Award for Excellence in Customer Service.  She truly exemplifies the spirit of the award.


Courtney Crowley - Teacher, Clague Middle School - Awarded April 28, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Gundy Sweet

By way of introduction, my name is Gundy Sweet and I am the mother of Aaron Sweet, an 8th grader at Clague Middle School. In our years with the Ann Arbor Public School system we have had the opportunity to interface with many people, perhaps more than the average family. You see, Aaron is autistic and has received support services for special education since he was 20 months old. While many of the people we have worked with have been very good, few have truly stood out as outstanding educators and advocates for our son. I am writing you today because we are blessed this year with working with one of these truly unique and special people. Her name is Courtney Crowley and she is the teacher consultant and case manager for the autistic kids at Clague School. While Courtney is not new to the district, she is new to Clague this year.

When I met Courtney for the first time I was immediately struck by her warm smile, welcoming manner, and enthusiasm for what she does. In working with her now for the past 7 months those first impressions have held true, but I have also seen her limitless patience, terrific sense of humor, easy going style, high expectations of the students, creative thinking, and dedicated work ethic. Courtney shows a true commitment to her career and genuine caring for the kids with whom she works. She maintains regular and thorough communication with me so that I can provide the necessary support to Aaron at home to facilitate his education. I have seen her become a key member of the team at Clague. She is able to share her creative ideas with others and teach them different ways of doing things in a respectful, kind and effective manner. I have seen her colleagues appreciate her knowledge and willingness to teach them.

Perhaps most importantly though, as a mother of a child who works so hard to make it through every day, I have been most touched by the compassion and empathy that Courtney has consistently shown Aaron.  She really tries (and is often able) to see the world through his eyes when he acts out or refuses to participate in an activity. This allows her to reach him in ways that most others are unable to do. She holds Aaron accountable for his actions and helps him achieve her high standards by meeting him where he is at. She is wonderful to work with because she truly listens to and tries to understand the underlying problem, and then works with the team to implement solutions. She has shown a willingness to try new approaches to teaching and has modified work for Aaron 'on the fly' countless times. Courtney has shown creative thinking and wonderful problem solving skills in issues related to education and behavior. Her collective skills and genuine empathy are unique gifts that are not often seen in our society in general.

In closing, I believe Courtney to be a phenomenal teacher, a true team player, and an absolute advocate for the kids. While we will be sorry to leave her next year as Aaron moves on to Huron High, we are thankful that our paths crossed for this year. Please let me know if the District has a recognition program for outstanding teachers as I would be very interested in nominating Courtney for consideration.

 


 

Patrick Dombrowski - Paraeducator, Forsythe Middle School - Awarded March 10, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Danielle Bowles, Barbara Hunt, Richard King, Kelli Bert, Karen Sanderson

Pat Dombrowski has worked with me since I started working in AAPS in 2005 and has moved with our self-contained program twice since then.  He has been an invaluable part of my team and I would not have been able to make it through many tough times without him.  He works with the students in our self-contained classroom and also in general education to support inclusion experiences.  Pat easily makes adaptations/modifications to help our students participate and interact with general education peers.  In the process of including our students, he forms relationships with the peers.

Pat gives all of his energy and heart to his job as a paraeducator.  He is dedicated to students with disabilities and outside of AAPS, he works with adults with disabilities.  He always seeks to help students achieve their potential and pushes them to be independent. Often people underestimate these students, but Pat helps hold them to high expectations.  He is encouraging and builds up the students’ self-esteem and self-worth.  Many of these students have had negative experiences and do not feel capable and Pat helps change this.   His personality and approach is very calm and quiet. Pat is easily can calm students with behavioral needs, build relationships with hard to reach students, and touches the life of every student, with whom he supports.  In the community, we always see previous students; these students are excited to see “Mr. D.” and always have a story to share of how he has helped them or about a positive (usually amusing) school experience.  I have yet to encounter a student that has not felt that Mr. D. made a difference in their lives.

Other teachers have shared:  
Pat always was there to support students in an above average way. (Karen Sanderson, Clague)
I have enjoyed having Pat as a para pro in my adaptive PE/peer mentoring class this year!  Pat is so easy-going, caring, compassionate, and energetic!  He actively participates, works well with the peer mentors and does great job facilitating their expectations.  He truly cares about the students he works with.  My interactions with Pat are always rewarding. (Kelli Bert, Scarlett)

Mr. D., as he was affectionately known by me and all the students in my classes, always displayed the highest level of dedication and concern for all students.  Pat would supervise the students in his care but look out for the well being of the rest of the students in my class.  Pat would help monitor his and other students as they would take Digital Pictures for class projects.  His monitoring allowed the student groups to be smaller and more manageable.  Pat’s students often needed a little help from the other students in my class he would invite students to help and show them genuine appreciation.  The students respected Mr. D for the caring, interest and appreciation  he gave each of them.  Pat Dombrowski is an example of the Perfect Para-Professional dedicated, caring and professional to all that come in contact with him.  It has been my pleasure to have worked with him his presence in my classroom is sadly missed this year. 


John Fisher - Teacher, Angell/Pattengill Elementary Schools - Awarded May 12, 2010

Nominated for innovation by Martine Perreault

JOHN FISHER, Wrestler: 4X All-American, Big Ten Champ, #1 on the All-Time win list for U of M, Freestyle National Open Champ, Freestyle World Cup Champ, 2X Olympic Team Alternate, U of M Assistant Coach 10 years.

Is that ”our” Mr. Fisher?  You bet!

John Fisher is the Phys Ed teacher at Angell Elementary School, and I have been hearing about his classes for over 10 years as my three children have made their way through Angell. I only recently learned of his Olympic heritage. He is perennially positive and smiling, and helps us all smile everyday! We now share him with Pattengill School, and his smile is still just as bright.

Mr. Fisher places an emphasis on personal fitness, including exercise in one's everyday routine, establishing a lifetime habit of health and wellness. He teaches non-competitive, cooperative games in his classes, (such as the Volcano game or Paradise), and includes stretching and building strength and stamina. He reinforces counting and math skills within the context of personal fitness, having the students count their repetitions of exercises in grade-appropriate ways.

Every student entering his class knows where to sit for attendance, knows to get ready to listen, and knows to get ready to have fun. A glance around his gym reveals posters of Michigan sports teams, not posters commanding students to be quite, respect others, and follow directions. It reveals charts of hands forming sign language, charts of muscle groups, and bones in the human body. U.S. Presidents. Elements of the Periodic Table. Positive messages surround you, encourage you!

I was delighted to learn of each of innovative inclusions to the Phys Ed curriculum, over the course of time, in excited stories told to me by my children. I was even more impressed to learn that these are not standard AAPS curriculum; they are John's innovations. In his quite way, without drawing much attention to himself, Mr. Fisher has turned Phys Ed class from a dreaded hour to an enjoyable respite in the school day.

John Fisher leads by example. He inspires and encourages everyone, of any ability to achieve their personal best, to set and reach for their own personal goals. To enter the gym, you must pass a sign that reads, “Always do your best. Always.”  There is another one just like it on the way out.

Additional testimony:
Amy Shepherd, parent
    “Mr. Fisher has made every effort to ensure that Austin is able to fully participate in P.E.  He was very willing, early on, to talk with me about adaptations for Austin’s visual impairment”

Students are happy every year when at the beginning of the year they learn, “we have Mr. Fisher again!” As evidenced by the stream of visitors he receives, climbing the stairs to the gym in the late hours of the elementary school day, he makes a big impression on his students, and always greats those visiting alumni with his huge smile, and by name!

All of the qualities he brings to his classes every day will benefit every student over their lifetime, not just while attending an elementary Phys Ed class. For that we are grateful, for that we are in awe, for the gift he gives every day, we'd like for him to be recognized with a Celebration of Excellence award.

 


 

Robert Kokoszka - Teacher, Huron High School - Awarded April 14, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Linda Jeffries, Diane Rosenblum

As long term members of the special education department at Huron High School, we would like to take this opportunity to nominate our friend and colleague, Bob Kokoszka, for the Celebration of Excellence award.  

Bob has been a teacher consultant at Huron High School for 29 years and the department chair since 1990.  He is an outstanding educator and a remarkable man, a teacher whose students come back to see him year after year, long after they have graduated.  Bob is the person his colleagues seek out when they need a wise perspective, professional advice, compassion and support.

He is always ready to listen, no matter what he is doing.  He is a mentor to teachers, administrators, counselors, secretaries, and assistants.
 
For all of his good works with the adults in the building however, Bob has truly made his mark with the students.  He has been their mentor, their teacher, their confidant and friend.  His warmth and compassion make every student feel special.  When students feel hopeless, Bob helps them find hope.  He makes them feel safe and he reassures them that they can succeed.  Bob is always in their corner and they know it.  In 2005 Bob received an email from a student who had been gone for decades.  In it the student said “It took me 35 years to reach a point in my life where I believed your faith was not a fool’s errand.  I still do not know why you had faith in me but I thank God you did.  A little faith can not only move mountains, it can help boys become men.”

Dr. Bob Kokoszka is a remarkable man, a profoundly decent human being who acts with humor, integrity, sensitivity and compassion.  For all of his years of service to Huron High School and the Ann Arbor community we wish to honor him and thank him.

 


 

Jan Mackenzie - Counselor, Slauson Middle School - Awarded November 18, 2009

Nominated for outstanding customer service by Toni Burton, Janae Townsend

As employees we all experience challenges and loss in our personal and professional lives. For Jan Mackenzie offering the support and love that her students and colleagues need always comes first. For this reason Jan Mackenzie is being nominated for recognition of the outstanding customer service she offers to her school community.

Her work touches both students and adults in her building. It is not unusual to find Jan's appointment clipboard filled with the names of both students and staff in need of her sympathetic ear.  She is never too busy to listen, smile, or cry with anyone who comes to her door.

Jan's wisdom comes through, as she knows exactly when to insert a reflective question, witty observation, or supportive comment. Jan has witnessed many tough situations in her years with the district and has demonstrated her care in a time of crisis.

This past summer a Slauson family was faced with the unthinkable as they cared for their terminally ill daughter. In the early stages of Emma's battle with leukemia there were times when she could not make it to school. Jan organized a lunch group to allow Emma's friends to share lunch with her via Skype. Jan also facilitated other gatherings outside of school with Emma's friends. For the eighth grade trip, Jan made sure Emma was a part of the annual trek to Chicago, using Skype as the medium for communication.

Jan made sure to keep all of Emma's extended school family up to date on her condition as she battled leukemia. Jan served as a strong support for Emma's parents throughout this difficult time. She was by their side as the family said goodbye. With grace and poise beyond her years Jan presided over an overflowing room as many gathered to remember a sweet, smart, student, daughter, and friend.

Even now she continues to extend her support as they cope with their loss. Eighth grade is the busiest time for a counselor as they prepare for one group to leave and another group to enter. Jan maintained her yearly duties while caring for this Slauson family with her ever-present wit and humor.  

Emma's passing was a profound loss for the Slauson and Rubenstein family. Despite the toll that caring for a loved one battling cancer can take on the mind, body, and spirit of the caregivers Jan continues to demonstrate an extraordinary level of enthusiasm and care to the sixth grade class. For this and so many more reasons Jan Mackenzie, counselor extraordinaire, epitomizes the word love.

 


Sandra Machonochie - Teacher, Tappan Middle School - Awarded May 26, 2010

Nominated for outstanding customer service and innovation by Fred Smith

I just found out that my esteemed music colleague and veteran teacher is about to retire after sharing over 32 years of experience in our district.  She started out teaching in just about every elementary school but maybe 3 in the district and still she now holds probably the longest Band Directorships, over 26 years, at one of our oldest junior high / middle schools, Tappan.  She has had one of very few middle school Jazz Band programs in the city.  With her innovative approaches her jazz groups have worked with the likes of world music educator and leading trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis, the Lincoln Center Orchestra of New York, played for the Dexter Ann Arbor Run many years, and the first Middle School Jazz Band to be invited and play at the University of Michigan's Jazz Festival with high honors (which was mainly established for High School and College groups).  

 

Though she is an accomplished formal Concert Band director with groups always receiving top category ratings for both MSBOA District Band Festivals and Solo and Ensemble Festivals, her love and passion lies with her Jazz Bands.  Her groups have also been the first and longest, now over 21 years, participants of the Paul Keller Orchestra's Jazz Student Outreach Program Series, sharing their stage at a professional jazz club with our students, and now shared by many. There are several parents who would like to speak to her customer service and innovative approaches for middle school students but unfortunately with the deadline of April 1st just passing and not knowing she would be retiring till now we may only get to scratch the surface to honor her long service to the Ann Arbor Public Schools and it's surrounding community properly.

 

She has been a beacon on a hill for our students and schools.  She's always up for a challenge and usually says, " What the heck, You can always ask, they may say YES!" or "Let's keep in mind what's good for the students", and like Wynton, many times they said yes.  From her humble beginnings as an AAPS school bus driver to her teaching accomplishments and honors she’s a class act, most notably for those who have had her and worked with her.  It has been a pleasure to work along side of her for over 24 years. (Maybe the longest running cooperative teaching pair in the district.)

 

Comments and Quotes like below give you a sense of her dedication and innovative approaches to giving students experiences to build life on: 

 

Former Student: Ingrid Racine  U of  M Graduate

Playing in Ms Maconochie's band programs at Tappan Middle School absolutely laid the foundation for my future as a professional musician.  She may have been strict in class sometimes-- but it was always the kind of tough love that could only help us all grow as musicians.  Ms. Maconochie went the extra mile, by making sure that Tappan always had one of the only middle school jazz bands in the district, introducing us to other local musicians and encouraging us to check out diverse kinds of music.  When I was in eighth grade, she helped a few of us form our own jazz combo...we would hang around the band room just about every day at lunch!  Okay, we were band geeks...but the positive community we built and the nurturing environment really encouraged me to stick with music.

 

Personally, she pushed me to believe in myself when I lacked self-confidence- whether I was afraid to take a solo, or didn't want to audition for a summer camp.  She was also cool to hang out with- there were a few of us 7th graders playing in 8th grade band one year (filling out a small trumpet section)...when the 8th graders took their year end trip to Washington DC, Ms. Maconochie took us on a field trip to Blimpie Burger for lunch!  Good times...

 

I now have a BFA in Jazz Studies and a Masters of Music in Improvisation-- I teach trumpet, I've gigged all over the US and Europe...and I still play in a band with other Tappan Band Alumni, believe it or not.  The Ann Arbor Public Schools are definitely losing a great teacher-- I hope it means more time to jam out for Sandy Maconochie though with her drum kit skills being pretty mean...

 

Subject: Paul Keller Orchestra/Firefly Club Jazz Student Outreach Program (as of 12/8/08)

fyi ... What cool thing the Tappan community helped to get started, some 20+ years ago, huh?

 

Other comments on customer service have been shared with our Superintendent at different times such as:

 

Dear Dr. Roberts;

I would like to briefly tell you about two outstanding teachers at Tappan Middle School. Both my daughter Kathryn and son David have participated in the band program at Tappan. Kathryn did not have a love for music but decided to participate in band for all three years, because she was inspired by Ms. Sandra Maconochie and Mr. Smith. On the other side of the spectrum is my son David. …The constant in keeping David participating and achieving at Tappan is due largely to what happens when he walks into the band room.  …Ms. Maconochie have inspired David to get up every morning and get to school. It has taken three years for David to make it to school on a consistently timely basis and feel like he has a home at school. They go above and beyond any teaching team we have experienced for our son. Mr. Smith and Ms. Maconochie have a practice club after school once a week; it’s one of the highlights of David’s week. Jazz band is the highlight of David’s day. He is able to express himself in a creative and healthy way with incredible support from two adults.

…but please know how much our family appreciates Tappan Middle School and the great things that come out of its outstanding music program.

Sincerely,

Jayne Gissiner


 

Dear Dr. Roberts,

This letter is both a thank you to Ann Arbor Public Schools music teachers and an illustration of the impact a great music education program offered by a community of caring teachers can make on students’ lives.

On February 2, I checked my husband’s email account because he was no longer able to do so on his own and found a message from Tappan Band Director Sandy Maconochie who had forwarded your announcement of the four Presidential Scholar candidates to my husband because our son Spencer Johnson was one of the nominees.  …In reply, Sandy shared her memories of Dave attending and recording all of the jazz band performances the year Spencer was a member of Tappan’s jazz band, allowing her to make end of the year CDs for all the band members. 

However, that wasn’t my last communication with Sandy. On February 16, not only Sandy, but all four Tappan instrumental music teachers, David Leach and Nancy Waring from Pioneer, and Jack Wagoner from Community jazz attended Dave’s memorial service. Additionally, many students from Pioneer, Community and Tappan music ensembles came to support my two sons. Due to our involvement in the schools, I expected to see some faculty members--Gary Court who knew Dave from the Tappan SIT team attended along with our sons’ fifth grade teacher Tom Yaeger--but the outpouring of support stemmed primarily from Ann Arbor Public Schools music faculty and was greatly appreciated by me and my children…

 

In conclusion, I want to thank the outstanding music faculty for their work, which has enriched our children’s lives from their early elementary years.  Thank you for allotting funds thus far for music education. Please continue to support these programs. While this letter has primarily revolved around Spencer’s experiences, my hope is that my younger son Ross and other students in years to come will be able to write the same letter to college admissions officers about the positive experiences music education in the Ann Arbor Public Schools made on their lives.

Sincerely,

Jodi Johnson

 

From Joseph DeMarsh, Orchestra Director-Tappan:

Sandy is one of the most dedicated teachers I have ever met.  We have worked together daily for the past twenty years and I am constantly amazed and impressed by her patience, dedication, and insight at the difficult middle school age level.  I have learned an immense amount about teaching, planning and adolescents from her.  Regardless of the issue, she always sees an angle that I have overlooked.  She announced her retirement and to say she will be sorely missed is a gross understatement.  I'd like to give you my strongest endorsement of this master teacher for the Celebration of Excellence Award, a small way the AAPS can recognize her for dedicating her life to our students.