Three WEAC members win Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Three WEAC members – Richard Erickson, Bayfield High School; Kevin Reese, Clintonville High School; and Rebecca Saeman, Sauk Trail Elementary School, Middleton – were named Wednesday as recipients of Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Winners of the award receive a certificate, a trip to Washington, D.C., for professional development and recognition events, and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

The Wisconsin recipients were nominated by the state Department of Public Instruction in 2017 and 2018, the award program cycle, DPI spokesman Benson Gardner said.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teaching. The Awards were established by Congress in 1983. 

The award recognizes those teachers have both deep content knowledge of the subjects they teach and the ability to motivate and enable students to be successful in those areas.

Awardees reflect the expertise and dedication of the Nation’s teaching corps, and they demonstrate the positive impact of excellent teachers on student achievement. The National Science Foundation administers PAEMST on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Below are profiles of the WEAC members who won this cycle’s awards:

Rick Erickson, Bayfield

Rick Erickson

Richard Erickson has been teaching for 35 years and has been at Bayfield High School for 25 years. There, he teaches 11-12th-grade Chemistry and Physics, and a science-focused experiential learning alternative education program for 9-12th-grade at-risk students. Previously, he taught for ten years at Mahtomedi High School in Minnesota. Richard collaborates with scientists from the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the National Park Service, and Northland College to provide his students with authentic scientific experiences and research opportunities. He facilitates independent student research and encourages his students to participate in science fairs. Richard has worked with the University of Wisconsin to develop a summer program focused on indigenous arts and sciences, targeted toward Native American students. For the past three years, he has coordinated science festival events in the northwest region of the state and has served on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction “Reimagining Science Fairs” committee. Richard was a Minnesota Teacher of the Year Finalist in 1992 and the 2014 Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year. Richard earned a B.A.S. in teaching physical science from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and is certified in broad field science, physical science, chemistry, physics, and alternative education.

It goes without saying that it is a true honor to be recognized for the work that has been my passion for 35 years. I am excited to receive the Presidential Award while also acknowledging the many teachers who are deserving of recognition for their efforts to foster the sense of wonder in students. It is a testimony to the science teachers who fanned the flame of my curiosity, my colleagues with whom I have collaborated on exciting projects, and my role models who have made me a better teacher.

Rick Erickson

Kevin Reese

Kevin Reese

Kevin Reese has been a mathematics teacher at Clintonville High School for his entire 17-year teaching career, currently assigned to teach 9-12th-grade Advanced Algebra, Pre-Calculus, Advanced Placement Statistics, and AP Calculus. Kevin is also an adjunct instructor for the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, permitting qualified students in his Pre-Calculus, Statistics, and Calculus courses to earn dual credit from the UWO campus. In his classes, Kevin works to incorporate student-centered activities that everyone can grasp, but that have high learning potential. Throughout his time teaching mathematics, Kevin has maintained a passion for leadership. In addition to leadership roles within his mathematics department, building, and district, he currently serves on a statewide committee that is working to develop a guide that will consist of instructional practices aimed at promoting educational equity in mathematics throughout the state of Wisconsin. He also works to develop future leaders through his advising of the student council at Clintonville High School. Kevin is a member of the Wisconsin Mathematics Council and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Kevin earned a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a M.S. in mathematics education from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He is a certified teacher for grades 9-12 mathematics.

Even with this recognition, I still feel there is more work to be done for me to improve as a teacher. I arrive each morning ready to take on the challenge of another student that I have yet to fully engage in learning and to bring out their best as a person. This is a tribute to all the students I have ever taught who inspired me to give my best effort in and out of the classroom, and for all my hardworking colleagues who have dared with me to take risks to improve instruction for our students.

Kevin Reese

Rebecca Saeman

Rebecca Saeman

Rebecca Saeman has been employed within the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District as a Math Interventionist for over 12 years. She has spent the past nine years as a Math and Reading Interventionist at Sauk Trail Elementary. She previously served as Math Interventionist at Northside Elementary and Park Elementary. Rebecca loves working directly with her students to grow their academic skills and confidence levels. She focuses on making sure all students are aware of the learning targets for the lesson and why the learning is relevant and important. She also enjoys counseling educators in the area of conceptual mathematics, so they may pay forward these same learnings to their own students. In addition to her daily student curriculum and educator training, Rebecca also cofacilitates the annual STEAM clubs for students in first and second grades to inspire their enthusiasm for STEAM through discovery-based learning. Rebecca has conducted several professional development presentations at National Math Recovery Conferences and within her school district. Topics include early numeracy skill development and activities to promote student growth. Rebecca earned a B.S. in elementary education from Edgewood College. Additionally, she earned both a Reading Teacher License and a M.S.Ed. from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Being honored with the Presidential Award reconfirms my purpose as an educator and encourages my passion for and dedication to my mathematics students and fellow educators. As mathematics teachers, we must remain dedicated to empowering students to acquire new learning skills, expand their mathematical understanding, and develop self-confidence to fully apply themselves throughout their future academics. I share this award with my inspiring children, dedicated educators, and supportive family.

Rebecca Saeman

Menominee Indian High School teacher Benjamin Grignon presented WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award

WEAC President Ron Martin presents WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award to Menominee Indian High School teacher Benjamin Grignon.

WEAC President Ron Martin on Wednesday presented WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award to Menominee Indian High School teacher Benjamin Grignon. The award was presented in Grignon’s classroom, in front of students, family members and colleagues.

In presenting the award, Martin quoted one of Grignon’s nominators who said: “Ben’s role as a teacher is not simply to teach art; rather his is the simultaneous honor and obligation to preserve and teach traditional Menominee arts, culture and language through his classroom. He is more accurately described as an art-informed anthropologist, tasked with keeping Menominee Nation traditions alive through education. I cannot overstate how important this work is as the primary teacher working to insulate his nation’s culture and traditions from being lost through time and diffusion.”

One of Grignon’s students wrote: “He is passionate about his students and values that knowledge as power. He provides his classes great learning opportunities and opens doors for all of us. His ability to spread his teaching is one of the most important resources this community has.”

In accepting the award, Grignon thanked his students and said he is honored to pass on traditions to them and hopes they pass them on from there. “It’s important that those teachings remain, and that we uphold that as the Menominee People,” he said.

Grignon has previously been named a Wisconsin 2019 High School Teacher of the Year, and Martin said the WEAC Excellence in Education Award is in effect WEAC’s own “Teacher of the Year” Award. Fourteen excellent educators from across the state were nominated for the WEAC award this year, and four were selected as award recipients: Grignon; Waukesha teacher Sarahi Monterrey; Joanna Rizzotto, a South Milwaukee alternative learning coordinator/teacher; and Sandra Kowalczyk, a Sun Prairie school reading specialist.

Students, family members and colleagues join Benjamin Grignon as he accepts WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award.

Waukesha’s Sarahi Monterrey honored with WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award

WEAC President Ron Martin on Tuesday presented WEAC’s Excellence in Education Award to Waukesha North High School Teacher Sarahi Monterrey. The award was presented at the end-of-the-year staff meeting at Waukesha North.

“Sarahi has done some tremendous and phenomenal things not only with her students and her community but has also been a tremendous advocate for public education and particularly the teaching profession,” Martin said.

“Thank you to all the phenomenal educators across our state that every single day are doing all these wonderful things to change the lives of students,” Sarahi said. “That’s really what it’s all about – making sure that all students have an opportunity to a quality education.”

Sarahi has already been named Wisconsin’s High School Teacher of the Year, and Martin said the WEAC Excellence in Education Award is in effect WEAC’s own “Teacher of the Year” Award. Fourteen excellent educators from across the state were nominated for the WEAC award, and four were selected as award recipients: Ben Grignon, a high school Menominee Indian culture teacher; Joanna Rizzotto, a South Milwaukee alternative learning coordinator/teacher; Sandra Kowalczyk, a Sun Prairie school reading specialist; and Sarahi Monterrey.

A committee of three past NEA Foundation Excellence in Education Award recipients from WEAC reviewed the four WEAC award winners, ranking each in professional practice, advocacy for the teaching profession, attention to diversity, community engagement, and leadership in professional development. It then selected Sarahi as WEAC’s Excellence in Education nominee to the NEA Foundation. She will go on to compete with representatives from other state unions, and four individuals will be selected to receive the Horace Mann special recognition and a $10,000 award. One finalist will receive the NEA Member Benefits award and a $25,000 prize.

WEAC members help create safe and supportive school communities

The latest Department of Public Instruction ConnectEd newsletter highlights the work of two WEAC members – Verona language arts teacher Nate Campbell and Rice Lake school social worker Joshua Morey – to create safe and supportive school environments for LGBTQ students and staff.

“In Verona,” Campbell said, “we believe that every child must be successful. My work with the GSA (Gay Straight Alliance, also referred to as Gender Sexuality Alliance) is supporting the efforts of students who are LGBTQIA+ and their allies to feel safe and successful in school.”

In Rice Lake, Morey serves as a GSA advisor for the high school and middle school GSA clubs. Because of the GSA’s efforts, every RLASD staff person, including custodial, food service, teacher, aide, administrator, and all new hires, receive training regarding gender and sexuality inclusive practices. “RLASD staff regularly use our students’ preferred names and pronouns and respect students’ rights to facilities and activities that align with their identities,” Morey said.

Read more:

Safe and Supportive School Environments for LGBTQ+ Youth

We all know how important it is to keep kids healthy, safe, supported, and encouraged in school. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students are 50% more likely than their peers to have been bullied at school or online in the past year.

The Department of Public Instruction will host the Creating Safe and Supportive School Communities Social and Emotional Learning Symposium June 19-20, at the Stevens Point Holiday Inn Conference Center. Find out more.

Two Education Support Professionals win WEAC ESP scholarships

Two exceptional Education Support Professionals have been awarded 2019 WEAC ESP scholarships.

The winners of the $1,000 scholarships are Terri Taylor, who works in Milwaukee Public Schools and is a member of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association and the Milwaukee Educational Assistants Association, and Taneka Golden, who works in Racine public schools and is a member of Racine Educators United.

Taylor plans to use her scholarship money to help defray costs for a course she is taking at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee titled The Exceptional Individual. This course, she said, will help with understanding special needs students in today’s school.

“I will be able to explore the legislation, collaboration, transition, standards, learning disabilities/behaviors disorders,” she wrote. “Completing this course will help with completing the school social work certificate requirement. I currently work with Milwaukee Public Schools as a parent coordinator and just graduated from graduate school with my Masters of Science in Social Work. This course will help in my career becoming a school social worker in Milwaukee Public Schools and to also work with students with special needs in the schools.”

Golden, a paraprofessional, said she will use her scholarship money to purse an Elementary Education Degree.

“I decided to pursue this degree a few months ago when I was able to work a summer internship through the Center for Urban Teaching as a Fourth Grade Teacher,” she wrote. “I believe that obtaining this scholarship will allow me to not only relieve some of the financial stress on my end but also continue to support my children. This scholarship will help with the purchase of books and other supplies that are needed to complete my degree.”

The WEAC ESP Scholarship is awarded for study at either a two-year or four-year accredited institution of higher education or for job specific professional programs, courses or certifications.

Recipients must be an employed, active ESP member of WEAC who is interested in pursuing classes that will enhance their skills or further their career in the education field. Find out more about the scholarship.

The scholarship is part of a long-term program to elevate the work of education support professionals in Wisconsin Public Schools. WEAC received a grant from the National Education Association’s Great Public Schools (GPS) Fund to build respect and recognition of Education Support Professionals. GPS Fund grants, established by NEA members in 2013, are designed to help enhance the education profession and promote student success.