Celebration of Excellence

 Celebration of Excellence



2014 Awards Celebrating Child-Centered Excellence



 Awards Announced at the Event

​Joyce Gustafson Memorial Award ​Jerry McNeal, Scenic Heights
Charlie Parnell Award for Excellence in Special Education Lindy Hanson, MCEC
Brad Board Award for Excellence in Elementary Education ​Kelly Phillips, Clear Springs
2015 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Nominees

​Melanie Dewitt, Traveling Teacher

Dave Surver, MHS


 Minnetonka Community Education Awards


​Dakota “Kody” Henslee, Volunteer Award (Awarded Posthumously)
Minnetonka Community Education recognizes Dakota “Kody” Henslee posthumously with an Honorary Volunteer Award. Kody passed away one month ago on April 8 while actively helping as a volunteer coach for the Minnetonka Rugby Program. Kody personified selflessness and “service above self.” Kody was integral to Minnetonka rugby as a player and, recently, as a volunteer coach. There is no doubt that Kody had an impact. Not only did Kody make the rugby experience better for our players, he also made the lives of our rugby players better. Accepting the award in Kody’s memory are his mother, Angela Henslee, and his brother, Zack Henslee.

City of Minnetonka Partners, Organization of the Year
The City of Minnetonka is a critical partner in the success of Minnetonka Schools. Six Minnetonka school facilities are located within the City of Minnetonka. Also, Minnetonka Community Education programs events in and through all parts of the City of Minnetonka.

Many City of Minnetonka employees stand out as excellent in this partnership. However, the award for Organization of the Year will be presented to four very special people who annually go above and beyond to make sure roads are swept, potholes are filled, traffic is controlled and intersections are safe for thousands of MCE’s Youth Triathlon and Tour de Tonka participants. These four exceptional partners at the City of Minnetonka are: Sargent Steve Kniss – Minnetonka Police Department, Steve Malecha – Minnetonka Street Maintenance Field Supervisor, Mike Pavelka – Minnetonka Events Manager and Steve Pieh – Senior Services and Activities Manager. What an awesome group
of community leaders!

Megan Ryan, ECFE/Minnetonka Preschool Volunteer of the Year
Megan Ryan’s contributions to Community Education’s ECFE and Minnetonka Preschool Program go far beyond what this proclamation provides. Megan has been on the Preschool and ECFE Advisory Council for nine years, definitely exceeding the average commitment. Typically and thankfully, parents are able to donate two to four years to the Council. Megan has served in every possible role of support on the Council including: fundraising chair, membership, vicechair and chair. Megan joined the Council when her first child was just four months old. This year, Megan will graduate from the Council along with her baby, Rainee, who will finish up her last year of Minnetonka Preschool. Megan took on a new challenge this school year in the Minnetonka Preschool program: a long-term substitute teaching position. Megan is a fabulous volunteer, and she is also a fantastic teacher.

David Guido, Youth Programs Volunteer of the Year
David volunteers his time and talents to MCE to support and strengthen our community, Minnetonka Schools, our families, to have fun and to instill fun. David is extremely organized. He brings the gift of organization to every event he volunteers. He has a special know-how and a top-notch attitude that makes him a premier volunteer and a great guy to be around. David does not just volunteer for one event, or for one year. David comes back annually to assist, lead and work to make sure the events he volunteers for continue to be first class. David schedules MCE events on his personal calendar with the same importance that employees do when scheduling their work day. MCE events are a lot of fun thanks, in part, to David and his first-class energy!

Lee and Connie Aragon, A dult Programs Volunteers of the Year
Lee and Connie are husband and wife and they are totally involved and committed to each other, as well as to MCE. Events like Tour de Tonka take a village of volunteers and it also takes several key leaders. Lee and Connie helped grow Tour de Tonka to what it is today with their hard work and endless energy. Lee also served on the MCE Advisory Council for four years, and he was the chair in 2005-2006. Lee and Connie know what it means to live life to its fullest measure by giving back to the community they live in.


 Employee Awards for Child-Centered Excellence


The Minnetonka Employee Awards for Child-Centered Excellence recognize clerical, custodial, food service, paraprofessional, administrative, community education and other licensed staff who are not classroom teachers. They represent the many caring, child-centered adults who work tirelessly on behalf of our students and our community to make Minnetonka a world-class district.

Cindy Andress, Minnewashta Elementary, Principal
It’s easy to see why the Minnewashta community voted Cindy Andress the 2014 Sun Sailor’s Readers’ Choice Award for Best School Principal. Cindy has spent the past ten years creating a positive learning environment for both students and staff. She spends quality time getting to know her students and their families. Cindy welcomes students each morning to another day of learning. And they, in turn, greet her with hugs. Throughout the day, Cindy celebrates their accomplishments—no matter how small—and is supportive when needed. As a district leader in piloting innovative programs such as Olweus Bullying Prevention and Hour of Code™, Cindy has made Minnewashta a welcoming community of learners.

Jan Bootsma, Executive Director of Student Support Services
As the Executive Director of Student Support Services, Dr. Jan Bootsma is a respected leader in the field of special education. With a natural ability to resolve conflicts and grow consensus around sensitive topics, her leadership is a key reason that Minnetonka is recognized for exemplary programming for students. Dr. Bootsma’s legacy in Minnetonka will include working with student activities to bring adaptive athletic programs to our secondary students; collaborating with neighboring districts to develop the Transition Plus program for our 18-21 year old students; collaborating with Cargill and Transition Plus to develop the Project Search Job Program for students with disabilities; and bringing together community agencies on the Minnetonka Family Collaborative and Tonka Cares. Jan’s willingness to challenge the status quo and go the extra mile to meet students’ needs has elevated learning and life opportunities for our students.

Dawn Bruesehoff, Middle School East, Guidance Counselor
As a guidance counselor, Dawn Brueshoff plays an integral role in making MME a place where students are happy and feel important. She cares deeply about how her students are doing both academically and emotionally and is always aware of their needs. She takes a special interest in at-risk students and because of her emphasis on constant contact with parents and follow through with staff, her students rarely fail. Dawn has also been key in implementing and coordinating programs for struggling students, including Saturday School and Study Lunch, and those programs are a vital part of keeping students successful. MME is a better place because of Dawn Brueshoff.

Robin Chandler, Middle School East, Head Secretary
Robin Chandler’s job title should be “professional problem-solver.” As the head school secretary, her organization and attention-to-detail are exceptional. She is a thoughtful, warm, and positive person. She looks out for all teachers, parents, students and other staff members. Her patience, flexibility and calm demeanor are appreciated by all who come into contact with her. Shared one of her colleagues, “We all depend on Robin to put out little fires throughout the day (for example, when a teacher has an emergency and needs a reserve teacher).” Even through her workday ends at 4:30, she is always answering emails from parents and staff well into the night and early in the morning, sitting at her kitchen table with her iPad and a cup of coffee. Robin is the primary steward of MME.

Lindy Hanson, Early Childhood Special Education, paraprofessional
Working as a paraprofessional in the Early Childhood Special Education program for 22 years, Lindy is highly respected among staff at the Minnetonka Community Education Center. Lindy works in multiple classroom settings, both inclusive preschool classrooms and special education only sessions. She always goes the extra mile to help her students be successful learners. When she sees a student struggling with a skill, she instinctively knows when to provide extra support and when to let him or her work independently. Lindy always brings creative ideas and materials to help students work toward their individual goals. Lindy is comforting and provides a consistency that calms young children transitioning into a new routine or environment. After a few days with Lindy, fear and tears are replaced with smiles and hugs...ready to start the day.

Jared Little, Middle School West, Paraprofessional
On a daily basis, Jared Little demonstrates his commitment to students and enthusiasm for learning. His positive attitude spreads to everyone he sees in the halls, at lunch and with his students. Jared understands how to make middle school feel more welcoming and inclusive. He is professional with colleagues and is always striving to learn—including pursuing his teaching license. Whether he’s sharing his love and knowledge of history in classes, building props with students for the school musicals, or working with students in the learning lab before school to improve their academic performance, Jared is always focused on helping students be the best they can be.

Mary Nassiri, MCEC , Paraprofessional
Whether it’s in her role as an ECFE childcare paraprofessional or as an employee with the YMCA after-school program at Minnetonka Heights, one thing is clear, Mary Nassiri definitely LOVES children! In both of her jobs, Mary is a stable, dependable and nurturing staff member who makes others feel comfortable in a new environment. Mary’s genuine warmth helps everyone feel welcome. She is quick to welcome new families into the community and makes the extra effort to invite immigrant families to connect with the school. Mary is also an incredible cook who loves to share this gift! For the YMCA after-school program, she ensures children have a healthy after-school snack and sometimes adds
a Middle Eastern flair which has expanded everyone’s palate. Mary is super organized, genuine, trustworthy and kind.

James Plaziak, Clear Springs Elementary, Custodian
Mr. Jim, as Clear Springs Elementary students call him, always has a smile for everyone, especially the students. He embodies the child-centered excellence award; he is approachable, fun, and enthusiastic—with a great sense of humor. Always the first to arrive at school—even on no-school days—Jim makes sure the school is warm, the snow is cleared and the building is ready for important learning to take place. Whether it’s cleaning up the hallways or making nests for the Clear Springs court yard ducks, Jim creates a safe learning environment for all. He takes pride in his work and gets great personal reward watching children grow through their years at Clear Springs.

Darryl Schorle, Minnetonka High School, The Cove
With an outgoing personality and training as a chef, Darryl Schorle takes pride introducing new options for students in the Cove at MHS. He is outgoing and strives to make each student’s day. He knows a smile and a kind word can go a long way. He infuses fun into his work, including posting a trivia question for customers each day. As one might expect, Darryl’s shop is busy every morning before school. But you may be surprised to learn that he frequently keeps the Cove open after school and prepares snacks for Backpack Tutoring, athletes, and other students who spend long hours at school or in service to others. Thanks, Darryl, for going above and beyond to support high school students who want to do so much!


 Excellence in Collaboration Award

VANTAGE Instructional Team: Melissa Olson, Chris Pears, Erik Sill, Brent Veninga
VANTAGE: Minnetonka’s Advanced Professional Studies Program was successfully launched in September 2013 for college-bound students interested in business careers. The instructional team of Melissa Olson, Chris Pears, Erik Sill and Brent Veninga bring a wealth of business and professional experience to the table. Their passion for creating this innovative, experiential program is transforming the high school experience. They have formed a dynamic collaboration between Minnetonka High School and the Twin Cities corporate community, connecting classroom learning to real-world experiences. Melissa, Chris, Erik and Brent have transformed the way they teach— orchestrating a complex array of projects, lessons and business partners. Due to their collaborative leadership, VANTAGE is set to expand in fall 2014, adding healthcare and Big Data. This team has proven “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

 VANTAGE Gold Sponsor Awards



VANTAGE: Minnetonka Advanced Professional Studies Program relies on dedicated business partners to provide authentic projects, guest instructors and professional mentors for students. In its first year, VANTAGE had the assistance of more than 50 business partners. A select group of these partners contributed a high level of time and expertise to provide the real-world professional experiences that will provide VANTAGE students a uniquely competitive advantage in their future college and career. These businesses are VANTAGE Gold Sponsors.

Allianz, Aon Hewitt, Aspire Beverage, Bluestem Brands, Cargill,
Carlson Rezidor, Emerson Rosemount, I See Me!, Lifetouch,
Lola Red Public Relations, Target 

 Spinnaker Awards



L​aunched in 2004 to recognize the generous contributions of time, talent and resources that parent volunteers, community members and business partners share with our schools, the Spinnaker Award is named for the natural power of the large front sail on a sailboat that catches the wind to propel the craft forward. Like a Spinnaker, these award recipients are out in front, full sail, propelling Minnetonka Schools toward the fulfillment of our Vision and Mission.

Sandra Hibbard, Aquatics Volunteer
For more than a decade, Sandra Hibbard has been a “do whatever is needed” volunteer for aquatics, from simply timing at a swim meet to becoming a technical specialist on the computer system. She is a founding member of the Minnetonka Anchor Club, has been a board member for five years, and spendsb an incredible amount of time each season compiling stats, photos, and news articles to create a special summary book for each of the 50 to 60 swimmers on the boys and girls teams. Sandra’s involvement in aquatics has grown as our facilities have grown. It is just not in her vocabulary to say no. You could perhaps understand that commitment if she had a child on the team, but her daughter graduated years ago. Sandra is one of those rare volunteers who stays involved because of a passion for community aquatics.

Jenny Mattiacci, Clear Springs, Diamond Club and High School Volunteer
From baseball and hockey team parent to Clear Springs PTA President to the Diamond Club Board, Jenny Mattiacci is known as a get-it-done volunteer. During the last ten years, Jenny has been a vital team member for fundraising and friend-raising events, netting more than a quarter of a million dollars for youth programs. Jenny combines her technical skills with her organization skills to ensure events run effectively and efficiently. She has chaired the Diamond Club Fall Classic, Clear Springs Parents Night Out, the Golf for Biggy charity event, and is on the Board for the North American Pond Hockey Championship. Jenny also finds time to volunteer in the MHS College and Career Center and
assisted with the VANTAGE Winter Leadership Conference this year.

Bonnie Niles, Minnetonka Alumni Ass ociation, Volunteer
As president of the Minnetonka Alumni Association (MAA) Bonnie (Board) Niles (‘67) works tirelessly to bring awareness to the organization, connect members of the alumni community and raise funds for the MAA Fine Arts Endowment. In her ten years with the MAA, Bonnie has served on the planning committee for the last two All-School All-Class Reunions, volunteered at countless community events and helped recruit additional volunteers and board members. Currently, Bonnie is leading the planning efforts for the next All-School All-Class Reunion, which is expected to draw more than 4,000 people to the Excelsior Commons the last Saturday in July. Bonnie also serves on the Minnetonka Public Schools Foundation and has been active on the Teacher Grant Committee.

Michelle Seets, Minnewashta, Excelsior and MMW Volunteer
Michelle Seets is an exceptional parent leader and volunteer. For ten years, Michelle has been a friendly face in Minnetonka schools. She dedicates her efforts to make school programs run seamlessly. Michelle is currently in her second of three years as MMW’s PTO president. Michelle implemented a new method to create and manage parent volunteer groups and wrote training materials for other schools to use. Last year, Michelle expanded Community Service Day to a full-day experience, coordinating organizations’ volunteer needs, scheduling transportation and making the day more meaningful to students. She is also leading an effort to host a District speakers series as part of K-12 parent education. Michelle’s involvement has made a lasting impact on
students and their school activities.

Peggy and Paul Borowski, Vocal Support, Tonka Turkey Trot and District Volunteers
Peggy and Paul Borowski have been significant and highly invested volunteers in our District since their children started at Clear Springs years ago. With three daughters—the youngest graduating this year—their volunteer time has stretched from Clear Springs to MMW to MHS to the District’s Finance Advisory Committee and from the classroom to athletics to fine arts. They headed up the
track/cross country Turkey Trot and are founding members of Vocal Support—our choral booster club. Peggy and Paul are thoughtful and deliberate in terms of large-scale organization planning, but also are readily available to serve at the Cub brat wagon or to pick up treats for an event. They are servant leaders and models of engagement for our parent community. Whatever is needed, they are ready to assist with the most positive attitudes, smiles on their faces and positive energy to share with all whom they encounter.

Mary and John Cheleen, Deephaven Volunteers
John and Mary Cheleen have been two of the most reliable volunteers at Deephaven Elementary over the last five years. As grandparents of Deephaven students, Mary volunteers every Wednesday in the office. She manages the Birthday Book program with the Media Center Specialist and organizes the Principal’s Summer Challenge—managing the spreadsheet, tracking and recording summer reading, writing and math for 199 students who are then recognized at a special event each September. John is out on the playground every Tuesday and Thursday supervising students, regardless of the weather conditions. You can always count on John to show up. He loves being with the kids outside. He is actually disappointed if it is an inside day because he feels it is so good to get the kids out to play. The Cheleens are excellent models for how grandparents can be involved in their grandchildren’s school and make a positive difference for so many students.

Kari and Dave Rotman, Touchdown Club Volunteers
Dave and Kari Rotman have been instrumental in running Minnetonka’s Touchdown Club over the years and have been prominent figures in the Minnetonka football community for almost a decade. Dave coached youth football for eight-plus years and has served as Touchdown Club President for
four. Kari assisted him as well as playing a big role in the Tackle Cancer initiative. They have worked tirelessly to improve the Touchdown Club and their leadership has helped to increase participation and fundraising. The Rotmans are outstanding examples of servant leaders. Their passion and enthusiasm is contagious. They have an amazing ability to bring people together for a common cause and serve with enthusiasm.


 Child-Centered Excellence in Teaching Awards



When former students see Mary Benson, they always ask her if she still organizes Ancient Civilizations Day because they have such fond memories of that experience. Mary started the tradition 16 years ago as a way to celebrate student learning about Latin America, Ancient Civilizations, or this year’s Minnesota history. Mary’s passion for teaching social studies inspires her students who become fully engaged in her stories. As a student government advisor, Mary teaches students important leadership, problem-solving and public-speaking skills. She is a skilled teacher, collaborative colleague and goes the extra mile to ensure new teachers are well-informed.
Since starting at Clear Springs as a Spanish Immersion Reading Specialist, Melanie Dewitt’s place in Minnetonka has evolved to more than one role at more than one school. Melanie is not only an outstanding teacher; she is also a coach, mentor, problem-solver and innovator. Her engaging and hands-on lessons propel her students in their learning. She selflessly gives of her time to help other teachers create innovative lessons, differentiate to help students and inspire others to be their best. Melanie incorporates 21st Century fluencies in her teachings for both her elementary and middle school students. She is a tireless advocate for children and truly wants her students to be citizens of the world.
Carolina DuFault inspires a love for learning among her third grade Spanish immersion students. With her enthusiasm, innovative spirit and child-centered approach, Señora DuFault has created a classroom that students enjoy attending each day. Carolina has demonstrated a unique ability to identify each student’s learning style and adjust her teaching to ensure they meet their goals and overcome challenges. As one parent said, “On numerous occasions my daughter has expressed the desire to be a teacher when she grows up. We believe this love for school and learning are largely due to her experience in Señora DuFault’s class.”
Jill Erickson is passionate about health, exercise and physical education. Her enthusiasm spreads to all of her students. Jill has the ability to make students feel comfortable and ease any anxieties when they try new activities. She modifies lessons to meet the ability level of students with special needs, such as lowering basketball hoops and providing mats to help students feel safe and successful with an activity. Jill understands the importance of being active and promotes developing healthy, active lifestyles in her young students.
Parents say that Chris Hentges has a special ability to impact his students and their day to day success at school. He takes the time to connect with each student and goes out of his way to learn all that he can about them in order to do so. His classrooms are run in a calm and productive manner. His natural ability to reach students leaves them motivated to learn and engaged in the material. Hentges’ dedication to his craft is well-noted, as he is routinely among the last teachers to leave the building after school hours.
Jennifer Kitt teaches fifth grade at Excelsior and is a dedicated teacher who always goes above and beyond with her students. She is child-centered and repeatedly creates differentiated curricula for students in her classroom. Her students can always count on her to make the classroom challenging and relevant. Jen is dedicated to connecting with families to understand individual student personalities and learning styles. She works to make her classroom engaging and positive and often makes adjustments based on student interests and needs. Jen puts in extra hours and long weekends to provide personal feedback on student work, especially writing. Jen’s students see her as an advocate and a coach. They work hard to meet her high expectations.

Celebrating her 40th year of teaching, Mary Kolstad brings the same energy to Groveland Elementary today as she did when she first started in the District years ago. She is loved by her students and her colleagues. Mary is a distinguished teacher who is enthusiastic and demonstrates support and compassion for her students. Mary has a stuffed animal named Furball. The students take turns bringing Furball home and then keep a journal of Furball’s adventures that week. The children love having Furball with them and at the same time the children are working on their writing skills, then sharing with the class. Mary is committed to challenging her students and trying out new or different strategies. She differentiates her instruction masterfully. She is well versed in the 21st Century Fluencies and uses them in her classroom daily. Mary is a positive and supportive colleague. She is willing to take the lead on a project but never needs the credit. Mary is a gem of a person and teacher.

A natural leader, Cindy McGlasson teaches a course for students that struggle in math at MME. Because of her passion and commitment to them as individuals, she has been incredibly successful in helping them find success. She takes the time to get to know each of her students individually and differentiates her teaching approach based on each student’s areas of need. Among parents, she has a reputation of doing whatever is necessary for her students’ success. She is ,a long-time leader at MME, respected for her wisdom, problem-solving abilities and positive attitude.

There is a reason that “Compass” is rooted in the word COMPASSION: Renee Morabito. She is the heart and soul of Minnetonka High School’s Compass program. She puts students first. Renee provides structure and stability for students who may not have it once the school day ends. Many of the students in the Compass program encounter barriers each day. Renee is fantastic at breaking them down with students. She works along-side them to teach skills, resilience, and tenacity. She holds students accountable for their actions, and is willing to have the difficult conversations. Renee is always looking for a solution. Renee is dedicated to helping each student find success, both at MHS
and after graduation.
Students entering Vicki Qualley’s Minnetonka Preschool classroom are greeted each day by her warm smile and positive, upbeat attitude. Known for kneeling down to welcome preschoolers to class each day, Vicki works hard to find ways to connect with students and their families. Whether it is creating weekly newsletters for parents, adapting lessons plans to meet the needs of individual students or linking families with District resources, she goes above and beyond to ensure all students have a positive preschool experience. Colleagues say that Vicki is one of the most caring teachers they have ever worked with and that is evident in the energy and excitement she brings to the classroom every day.
Mary Beth Rissmann consistently demonstrates a passion for teaching, enthusiasm for all her students and genuine interest and commitment to helping students learn, both individually and collectively. Her warm and caring demeanor says it all. She plays a very important role in her students’ lives and she readily balances their individual sensitivities with the need to move them forward and continue their academic and social development. She motivates her class by integrating technology in fun, challenging and rewarding ways. She is an invaluable member of the Scenic Heights community.

Dave Surver has demonstrated remarkable talent and enthusiasm as he teaches students how to master math. Both at Minnetonka High School for seven years and at MMW for 16 years, he has a unique ability for explaining complex math concepts. He has taught with the ACT Academy for two years where he volunteers his nonteaching time to help kids prepare for the ACT in the mornings before school. He provides tutoring at no charge for kids whose parents are struggling financially. He is an innovator with technology, being the first in the District to regularly use SMART Recorder to record all of his math lessons. Working with colleagues, he has produced over 1,000 video math lessons called Two Minute Teacher which are phenomenal teaching tools. This year, Dave is preparing for a rigorous testing program called the National Board Certification to continue to improve his skills in math education. Dave is kind, dedicated and gives 110 percent effort every day. He loves to teach and has found ways to make math interesting and exciting for all students. 

Did we miss someone you think should be honored?
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