2017 Award Winners
2017 Kansas Master Teachers
* Special Award, ** Black Endowed Chair Recipient
2017 Kansas Master Teacher Award Dinner Photos
2017 Class of Kansas Master Teachers Announced
February 28, 2017
Representing more than 140 years of classroom experience, members of the 2017 class of Kansas Master Teachers were announced today. The seven teachers chosen for this annual award are:
- John Butcher, art teacher at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland Park;
- Melinda Eitel, Kindergarten teacher at Grace E. Stewart Elementary School in Salina;
- Joan Hayden, physical education teacher at Fort Riley Middle School;
- Jennifer Hendrix, physics teacher at Dodge City High School;
- Kimberly Hett, fifth grade teacher for Andover eCademy;
- Brandy Lane, sixth grade teacher at Pauline South Intermediate School in Topeka; and
- Laura Schwinn, audio/video communications teacher at Emporia High School.
This year, thanks to the generosity of Bank of America, each recipient will receive a $1000 professional development stipend as part of the award.
The recipients were selected by a committee including representatives from Kansas Association of Elementary School Principals, Kansas Association of Secondary School Principals, Kansas Parent Teacher Association, Kansas National Education Association, Kansas State Board of Education, Kappa Delta Pi Student Chapter, and the 2015 Kansas Master Teacher class.
The 2017 Master Teachers will be honored on Master Teacher Day to be held April 5 at Emporia State University. On that day, the teachers will present a seminar at 2:30 p.m. in the W.S. and E.C. Jones Conference Center in Visser Hall. The teachers will then be honored during a social hour at 5:45 p.m. in Webb Hall Lobby of Emporia State’s Memorial Union followed by the dinner awards program at 6:30 p.m. in Webb Hall.
Tickets for the dinner cost $17, and reservations are required by Wednesday, March 30.
Emporia State established the Kansas Master Teacher awards in 1954. The awards are presented annually to teachers who have served the profession long and well and who also typify the outstanding qualities of earnest and conscientious teachers.
Since 1980, Bank of America has pledged more than $100,000 to permanently endow the Kansas Master Teacher awards. In 1984, the Black family of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, established an endowed chair for Kansas Master Teachers. The fund provides a stipend to bring two Master Teachers to Emporia State for part of a semester. During this time, the teachers present to classes of education students.
Seminar for Pre-Service Teachers
The 2017 Kansas Master Teachers held a seminar for education students in Visser Hall at Emporia State University, where future teachers had the opportunity to learn from the cream of the crop in the state. Among the topics addressed were meeting students’ individual needs, the dedication and commitment required as an educator, and continued professional development.
The 2017 Kansas Master Teachers were honored at a banquet in Emporia State University's Memorial Union. Tributes from colleagues, supervisors, former and current students were read before each of the 2019 Kansas Master Teacher addressed the audience, sharing anecdotes, philosophies, and their perspectives from serving in education.
Biographies below were included in the program for the year listed here and were current as of that time.
Blue Valley Northwest High School
USD 229 Blue Valley
“We need all sorts of people in this world and art helps make sense of everything going on around us,” states a student. “When I go into Mr. Butcher’s class, I become completely absorbed into what I am doing… I am doing art, not just for a grade, but for me.”
A former administrator of Butcher’s observes, “He has taught them to realize that they may not all have equal talents, but what they do have in common are ‘products’ that express their uniqueness and value as individuals.”
Butcher worked full-time through college, causing him to take eight years to finish his bachelor’s from Emporia State in 1981. In 1996, he earned his master’s from MidAmerica Nazarene University. He taught at Emporia High School from 1989 to 1994, and began at Blue Valley Northwest High School in 1994, where he still teaches today.
He is credited with starting the sculpture program in Blue Valley USD 229, co-developing the jewelry/metals program, and even helping coach the girls golf team. From art fundamentals class to photography and everything in between, he teaches specific content in a supportive, non-judgmental atmosphere where students can feel secure in expressing themselves both creatively and personally.
A colleague writes, “He is someone who can challenge students and encourage them at the same time. He also shows as much interest in a student who illustrates little art talent as one who shows significant talent. He is a master at what he does.”
A constant theme heard from Butcher’s supporters is that he has touched so many lives. Former students often return to visit and thank Butcher for broadening their horizons through art. Parents, who were reluctant and fearful of adult children living in their basement after college, have become supporters of their children pursuing careers in art and design. Current students share stories of how they learned to believe in themselves and their abilities. Colleagues are infected by his positive spirit. And one child broken by bullying was made whole again through creating in Butcher’s classroom.
“It is no coincidence that John used to be a stockbroker,” writes a former student. “He understood the power of investments. John took the time to invest in each and every student.” That former student became a teacher because of Butcher and now teaches alongside him.
Another former student states, “If I could only be half the teacher Mr. Butcher is, my students would receive an excellent education.”
Grace E. Stewart Elementary School
USD 305 Salina
When Melinda Eitel received her first teaching job just two weeks before school started, it was a class combining two grades. She was advised by colleagues to teach to the middle of both grade levels, or to the high end of the lower grade, and “everyone else will be fine.”
“Fine” was not good enough for Melinda Eitel’s students.
“In my heart I knew that was not the kind of teacher I was destined to become,” Eitel states. “It was during this year that I truly began to realize that each and every student is a unique individual with unique learning styles, preferences, and abilities.”
That philosophy has guided her practice for the last 25 years.
“She constantly assesses each child’s abilities to make sure that they are getting what they need,” writes a parent.
Eitel earned a bachelor’s in education from Fort Hays State University in 1991 and a master’s from Kansas State University in 2010. She began her career as a substitute teacher in 1991 for Salina USD 305 and built her career there, working in four different elementary schools in Kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms.
As an elementary teacher covering all content areas, Eitel brings volunteers into her classroom to aid individualized instruction. These volunteers are critical to student success as they ensure children are actively engaged, correctly practicing skills, and having fun learning.
Eitel also eagerly takes advantage of “in the moment” learning opportunities as they arise. Is it a foggy morning? Students will graph it on the classroom weather chart, then go outside to see what is visible (or not), feel the humidity, observe the moisture on the sidewalk, and discuss cloud formation.
But it is not what is taught, but how students are taught that Eitel stresses. “In my experience I have seen that children learn best in a nurturing classroom.”
“In the fast paced, over-tested classrooms that we now struggle to function in, it is even more important that I take the time to listen when one of my student wants to tell me about the tooth they lost the night before, [or] show me their newly mastered skill of tying their shoes,” Eitel says.
“I was scared to go to Kindergarten,” writes a former student – now in fourth grade – in a handwritten letter. “Mrs. Eitel gave us a special poem and magical confetti. She told us to put it under our pillow the night before school started. It helped us sleep better…Because of Mrs. Eitel, I really like school.”
Physical Education Teacher
Fort Riley Middle School
USD 475 Geary County
“A lot of students come to me with the pre-conceived notion that they cannot do a certain skill, sport, or activity because they have never done it before,” says Joan Hayden. She tells the students if they say they “can’t,” it has to be followed with the word “yet.”
Helping Hayden face medical issues as a child, her parents treated her no differently than her siblings. “This upbringing taught me to persevere,” says Hayden. “I purposefully set my mind to enter a health care profession so I could positively impact others. Through physical education, I can help others establish healthy habits for life.”
Hayden began teaching in 1988 after earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in physical education. She began her career teaching PE at Jefferson Elementary and Morris Hill Elementary Schools in Fort Riley. She has taught in Geary County USD 475 throughout her entire nearly 30-year career.
When asked what she teaches, Hayden responds, “I teach students through physical education” because within the PE curriculum she integrates math, social studies, science and life skills. Her students explore physical movement through less traditional activities like dance, water safety, Omnikin Ball (a sport favoring strategic thinking over skill), and pickleball in order to get students out of their comfort zones and level the playing field for less sports-minded students.
“When Joan comes to a meeting, everyone knows to wear comfy shoes because she won’t be just talking about fitness,” says a colleague.
Whether it is with her students, with other educators, or with community members, Hayden’s “commitment to fostering an interest in health and wellness is evident everywhere,” shares another colleague. Events she has coordinated and which evolved over time include a Dance Final, including DJ, guests, and judges; the spring wellness fair; and a canoe trip in May with more than 200 middle school students.
With nearly 100 percent of her students having parents or guardians in the United States Army facing deployments of up to a year at a time, Hayden’s ability to relate and connect with her students is remarkable. “Joanie does everything in her power to help them succeed,” attests a community member.
“Most gym teachers just make you run and don’t care about how you feel about yourself,” writes one current student. “I admire Mrs. Hayden because she shows all her students compassion. She always makes time for me and my peers. She is the type of teacher we feel safe to confide in.”
Dodge City High School
USD 443 Dodge City
Knowing her students will “shape the world beyond the walls of my room in powerful but unknown ways,” Jennifer Hendrix believes her greatest contribution as an educator is to “reveal the best qualities of my kids: their own curiosity, compassion and innovation.”
Hendrix strives to create a community of learners where complex critical thinking experiences are shared and skepticism and argumentation, tempered with respect, are welcome. Her physics classroom “is their space…which supports their study of the natural world and contains the tools they see fit to experiment with and argue the meaning of their results.”
Her use of standards-based grading gives all students, despite varying abilities, a flexible environment in which to move beyond their own boundaries.
One former student shared, “It was not possible to slouch low on your lab stool and fade into the background in her class.”
Hendrix chooses not to teach from a textbook. “She can provide better, more in-depth and up-to-date information and experiences for her students than a textbook,” a colleague states “[She] is not a teacher who teaches the same lesson semester after semester; as the science changes, her teaching changes.”
In her classroom, failure has value because in the scientific world – and elsewhere – learning occurs with failure.
The student-led teaching strategies adopted by Hendrix, such inquiry-based learning, collaborative problem-solving, and peer review sessions, challenge students to take risks and think creatively without fear of failure and interference. A student once encouraged her methods by exclaiming, “Hendrix, set kids up to fail more often. We learn so much more!”
A former student, now studying mechanical engineering in college, reported his college science courses were easier because “I had been taught the correct way of thinking by Hendrix so I could figure it out.”
Hendrix received her bachelor’s in biochemistry in 1999 from St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX, and a master’s in education from the University of Notre Dame in 2001. She began her career teaching science courses in Tennessee, then spent a year and a half in Santiago, Chile, as a fourth-grade ESL instructor. From 2003-2014, she taught a variety of science courses at Cimarron, Kansas, High School and in 2014, began teaching physics at Dodge City High School.
The number of students taking physics at DCHS has increased nearly 75 percent in the last few years, reports her principal, who continues, “She attracts students to her courses that other teachers are unable to. Students will work hard for a teacher who works just as hard, if not harder for them – and this is what Ms. Hendrix does for all of her students.”
5th Grade Teacher
USD 385 Andover
Imagine you are given the task of creating a school from scratch, incorporating technology, meaningful experiences, and significant support from families, the school district, and the community.
Kimberly Hett, along with her fellow instructional coaches, accomplished that task. They developed Andover eCademy.
“Through Kim’s can-do attitude, her extraordinary ability to bring people together for a common goal, and her tireless work ethic, a flourishing eCademy was built over time and thrives today,” an administrator states. “Kim is the ‘architect in chief’ for the school. It is a blended model, where in-house days, field trips, and live lessons help to set our virtual school apart from the others in our state.”
A virtual school necessitates close interaction with students’ parents as well as helping those parents improve as learning coaches – an area in which Hett excels, writes her principal. She encourages attendance and participation in Learning Coach workshops for eCademy’s staff, the parents, and their children. Her skill at adapting lessons for multiple environments, along with the differentiated needs of her students, is notable among parents.
“As a parent and a learning coach, I am grateful for Mrs. Hett’s creativity, teaching talents, and her ability to effectively interact with such diverse students,” states one parent.
“Not all students can be successful in a classroom of 27 of their peers,” Hett says. “Not all students have the physical or mental stamina to go to school for seven hours. These students – the more 'nontraditional' ones – have influenced my philosophy and its evolution over the years. This is where my passion for blended education has come from and continues to grow.”
In Hett’s classes, student growth occurs through technology-rich projects such as learning to code and Skyping with museums, national park rangers, and classrooms around the world. Guest speakers including community leaders, astronauts, multicultural singers and dancers are also brought in to show students different paths of life.
Hett earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Wichita State University in 1994 and a master’s in education from Baker University in 2009. She began her teaching career as a third-grade teacher in Andover USD 385 in 1994 and has been in the school district since then.
The appreciation of her students extends beyond just innovative class projects. “It is not her great lesson plans that she made that made her the best teacher I had growing up,” said a former student. “It was her heart. Her devoted, loving, caring, understanding, humbling, protecting, [no-nonsense] heart.”
6th Grade Teacher
Washburn Rural High School
USD 437 Auburn Washburn
Brandy Lane understands that a sixth-grade teacher “has the privilege of guiding students as they are beginning to choose who they are as individuals.”
“Mrs. Lane is extremely nice, but she will discipline us if we do something wrong,” writes one of her current students. “Think about it, if kids think they can do whatever they want and nobody will do anything about it then they will most likely grow up to be a person who makes a lot of bad choices in life.”
Lane’s goal is for every lesson to connect to her students’ lives and engage them in learning. Her top priority is “to introduce students to experiences they might not otherwise be afforded through curriculum or life circumstances,” such as trips to the Kansas Cosmosphere, the Topeka Symphony, or matinee performances by local theatre groups. Lane also works to inspire compassion in her students through civic engagement projects that teach them how to take action in their community.
As a teacher who “asks and acts,” says a colleague, Lane questions and considers all points of view. This is especially important as three out of four students she teaches live in poverty. Crucial among these questions is “What is the culture of this school from a parent’s perspective?”
“I know that every child is good and wholesome, and curious, and enthusiastic,” says Lane. “My students know that I am in their corner, fighting for them to realize the good and positive and amazing possibilities they possess all by themselves.”
“Mrs. Lane understands fair doesn’t mean every child gets the same thing. She ensures that every child that walks in her classroom gets what they need to be successful,” states a teaching colleague and parent of a child with Asperger’s syndrome.
Lane graduated in 2005 with a bachelor’s in education from Washburn University, earned her master’s in education from Baker University in 2009, and received an ESOL endorsement from the University of Kansas in 2016. She taught in Valley Falls for two years and has been at Pauline South since 2009.
As she grows through her work with students and with her professional community, Lane says, “I am beginning to realize the impact I can have on teachers in a multitude of areas, sharing my strengths, struggles and strategies, just as they have so graciously done for me.”
“I want students to see me as a person who has pride in my best qualities, but who is still journeying toward become the person I want to be, just like them.”
A/V Communications Teacher
Emporia High School
USD 253 Emporia
Is there any stronger endorsement of her success than two sisters requiring their younger sibling to take Schwinn’s classes? Admittedly, the student writes, “It has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my high school career.”
Laura Schwinn wants to connect with each individual student and equip them with skills they can use immediately in real world applications. The fact that students leave her classroom with a tangible product, such as a yearbook or a photography portfolio, helps them see the value of the content they are learning.
“I would walk into her classroom every day knowing three things would happen: I would learn something new, be appropriately challenged, and I’d have a ton of fun,” said a former student.
Schwinn earned a bachelor’s in education from Kansas State University in 2002 and an ESL endorsement from KSU in 2009. She began her career in 2002, teaching English/journalism at Marysville Jr/Sr High School. In 2003, she returned to her alma mater, Emporia High School, where currently she teaches A/V communications courses.
Schwinn has grown and evolved along with the digital media she guides students to explore. Stepping in to sponsor the yearbook and student newspaper, Schwinn shifted her teaching emphases from basic strategies and classroom management to enabling students to find real world connections to their work. She developed what was once a traditional print newspaper into a web-based platform involving photography and video production. The yearbook routinely wins awards, and while other schools have difficulty selling their yearbook, sales have increased under Schwinn’s guidance.
Outside of the classroom, Schwinn can be seen everywhere. “Her presence at all things school is standard practice, making students feel they are her top priority,” a colleague states. From her work as the assistant volleyball coach, to sponsoring student trips, to serving as the announcer at sporting events, as one student says, “She is always like the Energizer Bunny, always going. She is always going and it’s always for the good of somebody else.” Or, more succinctly, as a colleague states, “Laura Schwinn has a huge heart.”
“Life is all about connecting and communicating with each other, and I strive daily to help students accomplish this,” Schwinn states. “Each day, when I walk into my classroom, I am excited and ready for what the day will bring. Students find their passion and run with it, and I am proud to have a small part in that journey.”