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Board Accolades

Kevin Lupton Kevin Lupton, Technology Education Teacher at Wood River High School

I am nominating Kevin Lupton for 2017 teacher of the year. Mr. Lupton is widely regarded as the father of VEX Robotics in Idaho. He has worked very hard to bring success to Idaho robotics, taking five teams to go to VEX Worlds in the past eight years. This success is not why I am nominating him, though. I am nominating Mr. Lupton for his heart and dedication to his students.

My first experience with Mr. Lupton was walking into the high school as an 8th grader after our trip to VEX Worlds 2015. I remember being a terrified middle schooler not knowing anything about the high school. I remember Mr. Lupton meeting us at the door and giving us a tour of his classroom. Walking into the engineering lab was quite the experience. I saw the large bins of tools and parts and the high schoolers working on robots. Little did I know at this time I was being introduced to my second home. I immediately recognized Mr. Lupton’s hard work to build such a great atmosphere and program. With his help my freshman year as a single man team, I achieved 3rd place at our state tournament. He helped our top two teams that year get invited to travel to VEX Worlds as well, and Mr. Lupton was brought to tears. I am so proud to be a part of this program that he has worked so hard to build and find success with. This is only one example of Mr. Lupton’s devotion to his students.

Mr. Lupton has a sign and a slogan he says as you enter his door every day that says “Welcome to Paradise; it's right between your ears”. This is a slogan that he strives for all of his students to follow. He does this by ensuring that every student in his room is comfortable and willing to use their brain to grow and to create magnificent things.

Mr. Lupton works incredibly hard to ensure his students can reach the goals that they set for themselves. The ultimate goal of robotics at our level is to reach the world stage. He has pledged to us that as long as he knows that we are giving our 100% effort, he will always be happy to help. He has spent late nights with our teams, working on our robots and providing insight. He takes time out of his weekend to ensure that our robots are ready to compete at the highest possible level. This demonstrates his intense dedication to help his students reach their highest goals and ambitions.

While Mr. Lupton takes great pride in his work with Idaho robotics, he also takes a great amount of satisfaction in his engineering and architecture students. He works tirelessly to inspire students to find enjoyment in STEM fields. He does this through numerous activities ranging from 3D printing to advanced architecture to working with raw circuitry and microcontrollers. STEM is a field that Mr. Lupton is a great believer in, and he inspires people who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in STEM. Nine times out of ten, students who walk out of his classroom, come back for more. This is because of Lupton’s intense dedication to his students that ensures they know they are in the paradise of their brain.

Mr. Lupton jokes about the robotics team and how we are all a bunch of nerds because he himself is a nerd with us. Mr. Lupton has opened his doors to all students to eat lunch in his room and work on robots or other projects. By doing this Mr. Lupton has created almost a nerd sanctuary where no one is harassed for his or her interest in robotics or STEM fields. Through doing this, he has created a safe group of people with similar interests.

Our school has recognized the robotics team as a club, but what Mr. Lupton has created is truly a family. We are a family of hardworking students who all want to excel in what we do, and Mr. Lupton has instilled this drive to succeed within us. He has impressed into us the value of teamwork and positivity. His mantra is that vowing to approach a situation with nothing but a positive attitude dramatically increases the chances of success.

Lupton has not only made an impact on my career of engineering but on my swimming career. At our school swimming is not recognized as a school sport but ever since my freshman year Mr. Lupton has ensured that the whole school is aware of every school record I have broken and every placement of meets I have attended. This is yet another example of Lupton’s care for his individual students’ success.

Other students have the same impression of Lupton as well:

“When we are at competitions, Mr. Lupton takes extra consideration to see all his teams compete and to make sure he talks to them after the match to give them suggestions and recommendations of what they need to do better, on the robot or in their driving, to get the job done more easily and more efficiently. Then, after we get home from every tournament, he wants every team to give him a status report on what they are doing and how they plan to improve. He also loves to check in on us and help us through a problem we might be having. He is very proud of every single one of his teams this season and loves to see our improvement and success.” - Cole Taylor, Sophomore.

“Mr. Lupton takes an interest in more than our learnings and our success in competitions. He cares how we feel about his teaching, and he wants to see us enjoy learning. Even outside of Robotics, Mr. Lupton is tremendously helpful. This year, he is helping me to understand Arduino code and devoting his own time in his prep period at school to help me debug my code. He truly takes an interest in each of us students as individuals as well. Zach, who wrote this recommendation, and I, have skied with him, talked about life in general, and overall created a very meaningful bond. He has been a major positive influence on me, and I can’t appreciate enough what he has done to inspire me and help me along the way.” - Luke Dean, Sophomore.

“I believe that a hardworking and productive student has a hardworking and productive teacher. Lupton is a great example of that. He allows his student to build and learn on their own terms while keeping a structure that meets the requirement of the class. He lets the students branch out with a more self-directed learning, as well as push us to be better in all of our other courses. This is just one of the many reasons that Mr. Lupton is qualified to be teacher of the year.”-Carter Gerringa, Junior.

I, along with all his other students, idolize Lupton for his hard work and dedication to his students as well as his job as a teacher of the amazing STEM system. This is why I believe that Mr. Lupton is the Teacher of the Year, but to us he is so much more than a coach or a teacher; he is our family.

Submitted by:  Zach Deal and fellow WRHS Students

Kyle Carr Kyle Carr, Spanish Teacher at Wood River Middle School

During the 2016-2017, my son, Wylie Zellers, has had the privilege to participate in Mr. Carr’s Spanish class. He has shown me many videos that you have produced and has sang to all of them. When my wife who speaks Spanish at a basic level asks Wylie vocabulary questions, he is always quick to respond with the correct answer. In the beginning of the school, I was always asking him to conjugate verbs, which is what I did while learning German and he struggled. I questioned him as to why he did not have piles of flashcards with past, present and future verbs - he didn't know.

Lately, I have been listening to him speak, joke and even correct my wife on her Spanish.  I realize that it is not all about the grammar and the book. What I do know is that Wylie is challenged, engaged in your class, inspired daily and stoked to go to Spanish. You have hooked my son on Spanish and I could not ask a teacher for more.

Your methodology is reaching many students and I ask that you do not change your approach. Keep inspiring all students with your energy and enthusiasm.

Submitted by: Joel Zellers

 Steve Harkins Steve Harkins, Blaine County Sheriff

Blaine County Sheriff, Steve Harkins, and a number of his sheriff deputies, have created a wonderful culture in the lunchroom of Hailey Elementary, simply by establishing a caring presence.  For the past two years, Steve and numerous loyal sheriff deputies can be found engaging in conversation with students in the lunchroom or sitting down eating lunch with children.  It’s hard to find words to describe how the energy shifts when these law enforcement officers enter our school building, but you can actually see the visible impact their presence has on so many children.  Although it’s known that law enforcement’s role is to keep our communities safe, we school based professionals see many children fear police because of problems they’ve witnesses within their family systems.  Couple this with some of the negative stigma in our nation about law enforcement, and student’s fear can grow when they think about police officers.  Fortunately, Steve and his fellow officers counter this by building relationships with children that foster positive and safe role-models.  Now, Steve will state it is a “win-win” - that they get as much out of coming as the kids get out of spending time with them......but we see the long term effect this meaningful mentoring has on our young students. 

Steve and his under-sheriff, Will Fruehling, recently visited a 3rd grader who has a dream to become a sheriff.  This young student has a developmental disability, but he has the potential to be anything he wants to be, with the proper mentoring.  Steve and Will had a lunch date with this student, allowed him to interview them, and then they provided him with an honorary sheriff’s badge.  This experience will be forever etched in this young boy’s mind, heart and future.

Most recently, Steve established a new program titled, “Ride with The Sheriff to School” and Hailey Elementary is the pilot school.  Steve’s latest idea is honoring deserving students by giving them a special ride to school, from Sheriff Steve Harkins.  Steve is providing “front door” service by going to the selected student’s home in the morning, meeting their parents, picking up the student, allowing them to sit in the front seat with him on the drive to school, then dropping them off at the front doors of Hailey Elementary.  This program is designed to encourage positive behavior and reward deserving children, while building a healthy bond between students and our local law enforcement.  Can you imagine how fun it would be to ride in the front seat of a police car with the Sheriff?  

In a time when law enforcement officers’ days are filled with the ever growing task of keeping our community safe, Steve and his deputies make an effort to come by our school every week, because they understand the importance of connecting with our children.  This dedication is also educating children about the need for public safety in our communities, and shedding awareness on different types of public safety officers (law enforcement, paramedics, fire fighters, etc).

Submitted by: Thad Biggers and Teri McKenna

Paul Zimmerman Paul Zimmerman, Technology Innovation Specialist at Technology

I am writing this accolade for Paul Zimmerman because he is such an inspiring, instrumental force in guiding our schools, students and teachers through the ever-changing world of technology.  His skills and deep knowledge of computers and equipment is extensive. He also works tirelessly as our District’s Technology Integration Specialist, but that’s just a start.

He spends many hours off the clock, not only honing his own technological skills, but seeking out future- tech that he thinks will engage our kids in amazing educational experiences. He then shares his skills and research with any who ask.  As a teacher, I love to collaborate with Paul, he has so many insightful ideas and his energy and enthusiasm for sparking learning for kids is contagious!    He also really listens to what teachers might need to help fuel that spark.  He does this not just with ideas, he finds the equipment, funding, and provides the training to make it actually happen. Pretty much anything a teacher can dream up, Paul will figure out how to make it a reality.  He custom-created Minecraft worlds so that the kids could use real science and math to design and build a Mars science colony, and brought 3D printers and color-coding-programming robots to our elementary schools.

But, he doesn’t stop there; he brings his talents and caring into our classes and actually teaches the kids.  He is a fantastic teacher—the kids absolutely love him!  His latest is virtual reality, not as a toy but as immersion.  When he took my kids to the moon and Mars, smiles and gasps of amazement flooded the room.  It was comical to watch the kids literally reaching out their hands to touch what they saw!  More importantly, it was a powerful learning connection, that would never have been possible without Paul.  So glad we get to work with him!

Submitted by: Krista Jones

Debi Gutknecht Eric Anderson Angie Martinez   

Debi Gutknecht, Eric Anderson, Angie Martinez, and Wood River Middle School, Alturas Elementary, and Bellevue Elementary Staff Members

This time last year, I was picking Gracie up from WRMS and giving her a sexy spring break in the isolation unit at St. Luke’s Pediatric Oncology in Boise. Although I tried to gussy it up with some day trips around town, Gracie was vigilant in wanting to stay with her sister, who she had largely not seen since January, and despite the fact that this week would be dominated with watching Devo wretch and bleed.

I wish I exaggerated.

But while I give you that graphic picture, I want to give you this incredible contrast.

This year, we still aren’t doing anything sexy, but Dev is back in school. She danced her first school dance, performed a solo in choir, is wrapping up basketball, and thinking about summer. She’s not exactly the expert on cells that she should be (sorry Mrs. Clark, but I think it’s denial) and her sister is struggling to remember why she missed her so much (siblings). But they are there and “there” is not someplace we can take for granted.

And the doctors, whose projections and predictions I had to reduce to a tournament bracket to understand, are now coming to me asking how we achieved this success so soon.

Most kids who have endured such circumstances end up staying home for school. Many never go back. A lot have to change schools.

These children and their families lose so much from the moment of their diagnosis that most people can’t even begin to comprehend. The collateral damage can’t be guessed.

Home, school and community are the foundations for healthy children, they are the lifeline for the sick. Devo and Gracie lost a lot, but they didn’t lose the momentum of the hope that education was going to lead to bigger and better things. That belief was sown through Angie Martinez’s compassionate leadership and her staff at Bellevue Elementary. It’s been deftly handled by the staff who inherited them at the Wood River Middle School. It was supported by teachers and students throughout the district who didn’t even know these girls.

Hope prevailed. Rules might have been bent (not saying they were) but thinking and commitment were tested.

It was and remains, a dice roll each time we lay our eyes on each other every dawn.

I want you all to embrace that there was a conscious decision on all of your parts to make this happen. That without your acceptance of what we were dealing with, and the reasoning to give us Eric Anderson to work with her (and, by proxy, Gracie) you would have lost two students. He and Devo have a special bond and it has allowed her to grow emotionally and in confidence, to reconnect her, to give her the courage to go back to school. And his work with her could only work with the WRMS staff’s full engagement, which we had stem to stern.

I don’t know how it all works for inspiring you in these capricious times, but as a Head Start teacher, one who makes it through adversity, poverty and against the odds to Kinder, is more than enough to call my year a success. Y’all should be proud.

If anyone wants to understand more, I’m happy to explore the night terrors and the anxieties, the depression and the hopelessness, the fear and the pain.

But I’m more excited to share that when everyone applied the principles that led you into your professions-that children are nurtured to greatness through the schools that serve them-it works.

I also know that it’s the human element in this equation in this particular community that made this possible. All the personal touches, the check-ins, the balancing, the sharing. And that is why, when everything in us wants to move to an isolation bubble with a hospital next to it, we stay.  

I’m certain, somewhere in all this process, you are raising some kids who will go after why this is happening to our loved ones. Who is responsible? And how to stop it. And some others who will stay in the trenches and take care of the sick, accommodate their horrifying circumstances, and do whatever it takes to hold back this life stealer.

Submitted by: Jen, Tyler, Devo and Gracie - The Peterson Family

Kristin Cassalia Kristin Cassalia, Dual Immersion Teacher at Alturas Elementary

Arnold and I have to give a big shout out to Ms. Kristin Cassalia, teacher at the Alturas Elementary School in Hailey, who we had never ever met before until we were seated next to her and her lovely daughter yesterday, late afternoon, at a restaurant in Hailey.

What a fabulous woman, mother, community member and we have to believe, teacher we are fortunate to have in Kristin Cassalia.  What a superb representative is she of the teaching staff that we have in the Blaine County School District.  Her enthusiasm and manners and her ability to carry on an articulate conversation with us "elder" community members/ tax payers made us so glad to have met her and to know that she is a teacher in our school district.  During this off the cuff, totally non-scripted communication with Kristin we were reminded again of how fortunate the students are in this district to have teachers like Kristin Cassalia in their lives.

Submitted by: Susan and Arnold Blair


Erin Patrick   Gabrielle Bryant

Erin Patrick and Gabrielle Bryant, Paraprofessionals at Wood River Middle School

Earlier this school year, WRMS social worker Tod Gunter, WRMS Parent Association, and Blaine County Education Foundation discussed how to get a study club together for this year to help students who need and want extra help to get on track academically.  Tod suggested Erin Patrick to head up and run the group and she asked Gabriella Bryant to help as well.  Erin and Gabi's commitment and hard work have paid off.  Fritz Peters, Tod Gunter, and Kristy Heitzman (executive director of BCEF) have all praised Erin and Gabi and the students involved for their success.

I reached out to Erin to see how study club was going and her response says it all:

"It has been fabulous!!! The students have been making so much progress. A lot of them came in 7 weeks ago with numerous missing assignments but we just celebrated on Thursday because everyone turned them all in except two out of 14. It was a great success. The students I work with tend to be lower on the academic standard so it takes them more time than others but we have been kicking butt to get things done!!"

That kind of can do attitude and enthusiasm could motivate anyone.

Submitted by: Lee Dabney