Teachers honored with leadership award
Posted on: Dec 18, 2019
Four staff members from Delano Public Schools received Leaders in Educational Excellence Awards during a ceremony at the River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud on Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Those honored were DHS media center specialist Monica Kunkel, DES Title 1 teacher Karla Vieau, sixth-grade teacher Sara Potter, and DHS Spanish teacher and current Delano Teacher of the Year John Fitzer.
“I have a passion for helping children,” said Vieau. “I knew since I was in second grade (when I had a teacher who didn’t appear to enjoy teaching) that I wanted to go into teaching and let the kids know that learning can be fun, and I wanted them to feel loved every day!”
Vieau has maintained that enthusiasm for her students after 33 years of teaching, including 22 years in Delano.
A fellow staff member who nominated Vieau for the award cited her “unwavering belief that all students, especially those with the greatest challenges, deserve the opportunity to reach their potential.”
Title 1 is a program designed to assist students who perform below their grade level in reading so they can succeed in the regular classroom.
“I feel that a large part of my job is to teach my students the love of reading,” Vieau said. “I feel the world can open up to children when they learn to love reading!”
Vieau said her favorite aspects of the job include the opportunity to see students catch on and begin reading, or simply light up when they are greeted kindly. According to the nomination on her behalf, Vieau has influenced the other staff members as much as she has her students.
“She inspires me and others to strive for rigor, relevance, and relationships,” said the nomination. “Former students hug her 10 years later because they know that she believed in them.”
Vieau said that being recognized as a Leader in Educational Excellence is gratifying.
“It is so nice to know that teachers acknowledge the hard work you are putting in with students and appreciate working together,” she said. “I thank all that voted for me, and people past and present that nominated me for this honor!”
Potter is in her 10th year of teaching, including her third in Delano.
“I got into education to help others and to foster students’ curiosity and love of science,” she said.
A statement nominating Potter for the honor noted that her strengths in science make her a resource for other staff members.
“Sara is phenomenal to team with because she is so organized and patient,” the nomination said. “She is very knowledgeable in science and helpful to all teachers in the building as she fulfills the role of science facilitator.”
While Potter has made her mark in that subject area, she is also active on many other committees and task forces, and makes a point to support teachers and students alike in their extra-curricular activities.
“Some of my favorite aspects of teaching are helping students discover their own talents, watching students learn something exciting for the first time, and the relationships I build with my students,” Potter said.
“I am so honored to receive this award. I work with so many wonderful people here at Delano and on my sixth-grade team that are just as deserving of this award. As I look down the halls of DIS I see so many dedicated teachers and feel honored to be recognized among them.”
Since she began her teaching career in 1988, Kunkel has covered a lot of ground and built a wealth of experience in districts big and small. She started her career as a French and English teacher in Ironwood, Michigan, then served as a media specialist for Minneapolis Public Schools, Minnetonka Public Schools, and Breck School. This school year marks Kunkel’s 12th in Delano.
“I loved school when I was young and had some really great teachers that I admired,” said Kunkel. “One of them was the high school librarian. I was also an avid reader, making use of the bookmobile all summer since we lived 17 miles from the nearest library.”
The seeds of her future career were planted in high school when she served as a library aid and discovered the satisfaction of helping others find tools for learning.
“I found the hunt for difficult-to-find resources to be fun and challenging,” said Kunkel. “I knew then that I wanted to be a school librarian when I grew up.”
Because school media specialists need their teaching degree, license and at least three years of teaching experience, Kunkel said she pursued an interest in the French language on her way to earning her teaching credentials. She then moved from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Minneapolis and began her graduate program to become a licensed school media specialist through Mankato State University.
“This award is such an honor because I have been nominated by a colleague who was moved to praise the work I do on a daily basis,” said Kunkel. “I look at my fellow award winners and the list of nominees and am humbled to be grouped with such amazing educators.”
The nomination statement for Kunkel’s award cited her active leadership among her colleagues, both on the district technology committee and as the current president of the Delano Teachers Association.
“Monica is constantly looking for new and innovative ways to help our students achieve excellence in all aspects of their lives,” said the nomination. “She is a strong leader in her building and throughout the district.”
While she is busy in various behind-the-scenes endeavors that shape Delano Public Schools, Kunkel said she derives the most satisfaction from working directly with students.
“My favorite part is connecting a reluctant reader to a book he or she really enjoys,” Kunkel said. “I also really enjoy helping students locate resources for their classroom projects -- the harder the resource is to locate, the more I enjoy it.”
Fitzer also represented Delano High School at the banquet in his capacity as the 2018-19 Delano Teacher of the Year. He is in his 30th year of teaching at Delano and 34th overall.
“I’m very passionate about what I do. I love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” said Fitzer in a Teacher of the Year interview last year. “I don’t consider this a job. It’s not work to me. I just love being with the kids and seeing their eyes open to new things.”
Fitzer said what he enjoys most about his job is seeing students grow up into young adults, and hearing from former students about where they have gone and what they have done after high school.
Teaching has come naturally, as he was the primary organizer for activities in his neighborhood while growing up, and was able to find satisfaction in the success of others.
“I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher since I was 12 years old,” said Fitzer. “It just always felt really good when people succeeded at something and I was able to help with that.”
For a more complete feature on Fitzer, see the Teacher of the Year article at bit.ly/DHSnewsletterFeb19.