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Teachers from Free State, Pinckney, Lawrence High earn district awards for engaging and supporting students

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Paraeducator, building and grounds team lead earn Class Act awards

Two Lawrence teachers earned recognition and a cash award on Friday for their dedication to students and education.

Monica Dutcher, a fifth grade teacher at Pinckney Elementary School, was presented the Lawrence Elementary Teacher of the Year Award along with a check for $1,000.

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Free State High School social studies teacher Jeff Haas earned the Lawrence Master Teacher Award, as well as a check for $2,500.

And earlier this month, Zach Saltz, Lawrence High School career and technical education teacher, earned the Secondary Teacher of the Year Award and a check for $1,000.

Superintendent Anthony Lewis gave Haas and Dutcher their awards during assemblies at each school Friday morning. After the presentation at Free State, Haas said that although accolades have never been a focus, the award was a nice surprise.

“I want to thank all of you,” Haas said to a gymnasium filled with juniors and seniors. “You give me a lot of purpose when I get up in the morning. I didn’t get into this to win awards and get checks and stuff like that, but this is really neat. I appreciate you very much.”

Jeff Haas, center, holds a check, standing with Superintendent Anthony Lewis and a representative from Truity Credit Union. (Contributed / USD 497)

Haas, who has been in the district for eight years, teaches U.S. Government and AP Government and Politics.

Lewis presented the award quoting from a letter submitted with Haas’ nomination, calling him a true professional who creates positive learning relationships and engages students to a level that “all teachers should aspire.”

In a statement from the school district, FSHS Principal Myron Graber said Haas’ classes are regularly among students’ favorites.

“Mr. Haas is an amazing teacher that connects well with students,” Graber said. “He connects the content to real-world situations and provides opportunities for students to explore content through critical thinking and problem-solving.”

Dutcher was surprised during the school’s morning opener on Friday not only by the superintendent, but also by family members from out of state. Dutcher began her career at Pinckney 12 years ago as a student teacher while earning her degree from the University of Kansas.

Monica Dutcher holding flowers, surrounded by family members (Contributed / USD 497)

During Friday’s award presentation, Lewis quoted from the nomination made by Pinckney’s learning coach, Carol Reuman.

“Monica is an incredibly hard-working teacher who participates in all aspects of the school,” Reuman wrote. “She knows all the fifth graders and their different needs, and reaches out to everyone at the school to ensure students get the support they need.”

Recently retired Title math teacher Sherry Tamerius called Dutcher “passionate about teaching” and said Dutcher’s acts of kindness make her a role model for others.

“She is beautiful inside and out,” Tamerius said. “Her sense of humor and smile make her a ray of sunshine.”

Dutcher said the kind words and award were nearly bringing her to tears.

“Pinckney is the only place I want to be,” she said. “I love being with all of you. I love coming to work every day and being here for you guys. This school means a lot to me.”

Saltz teaches video and digital media classes, and he has been at LHS for six years.

Zach Saltz, at right, holds a check, with Superintendent Anthony Lewis and a representative of Truity Credit Union. (Screenshot / USD 497 video)

Lewis said Saltz had expanded the video and digital media program at LHS, giving students the opportunity to learn practical skills that would be useful after high school.

One of the programs, Room 308 Productions, creates weekly video announcements for LHS, news and sports broadcasting, music videos, documentaries, and animation. Students recently earned recognition during the eMagine Media Festival, and some films were chosen for screening at the International Youth Silent Film Festival.

Nominator Kimberly Hawks, LHS business instructor and CTE department chairperson, said the work produced by Saltz’s students was evidence of his dedication, professionalism and creativity. Saltz gave all the credit to his students.

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“I’m just so lucky to do a job that I really enjoy,” Saltz said. “It’s not work when you’re working with students who are as passionate and creative as the ones I’m fortunate to have.”

This fall, USD 497 will nominate Dutcher and Saltz for elementary and secondary Kansas Teachers of the Year. Haas will be nominated for the Kansas Master Teacher program sponsored by Emporia State University’s Teachers College.

Class Act awards

The district presents Class Act awards during the fall and spring semesters to classified staff members who provide day-to-day operations support that makes education possible within the school district, including paraeducators, administrative support, custodians, maintenance and groundskeepers, food service workers, and school nurses.

Contributed Photo Justin Deaver holds a check, surrounded by staff and a representative of Truity Credit Union.

Free State High special education paraeducator Justin Deaver received a Class Act award in April for the relationships he builds with students, how he modifies support to meet individual needs, and how he both advocates for students while also teaching them to advocate for themselves.

FSHS Associate Principal Amy McAnarney cited Deaver’s positive attitude and willingness to help.

“Justin’s level of commitment and pride in Free State is unparalleled,” McAnarney said. “Justin has become our ‘go-to’ and ‘right-hand man,’ regardless of whether we are hosting an event on or off campus.” 

In December, LHS building and grounds team lead Travis McPherson earned a Class Act award for what Lewis called “his phenomenal support of LHS staff, strong work ethic and can-do attitude, and exceptional job at keeping LHS in its best shape.”

Contributed Photo Travis McPherson holds a check, surrounded by staff, family, and a Truity Credit Union representative.

During the presentation McPherson said he considered LHS more than just a workplace.

“I consider all of you more than colleagues,” he said. “You’re my family, and I’m just happy to take care of everybody.”

Both Deaver and McPherson received $500 with their awards.

The Lawrence Schools Foundation will present the $10,000 Dedication to Education “Bobs” Award during the last week of school. Elementary and secondary principals will be recognized in June when the district announces Principal of the Year awards.

The school district’s staff recognition program is supported by Truity Credit Union.

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