This year’s winners of our fourth annual K-12 Outstanding Educator Recognition Program are from public and private schools from both Kentucky and Ohio. While we received many nomination forms, we picked the teachers that went above and beyond the expectations of what a teacher needs to do. We’re honored to list these exemplary educators as well as tell some of their stories.

And the winners are:

Sherry Clark
Chorus
Twenhofel Middle School
Independence, Ky.
 
Dwayne Humphrey
STEM
Turkey Foot Middle School
Edgewood, Ky.
 
Amanda Minnich
Social Studies
Woodland Middle School
Taylor Mill, Ky.
Sylvia Roberts
Second Grade
St. Henry Elementary
Elsmere, Ky.
Melissa Weingartner
Science and Social Studies
St. James School
Cincinnati, Ohio
 
Linda Dietz
Math, Language Arts
St. Henry Elementary
Elsmere, Ky.
Susie Lewis
Math
Cincinnati Country Day School
Cincinnati, Ohio

Nicole Montello
Special Education
River Ridge Elementary School
Villa Hills, Ky.
Travis Rowley
Corporate Work Study Program
DePaul Cristo Rey High School
Cincinnati, Ohio
Chris Wilke
Social Studies
DePaul Cristo Rey High School
Cincinnati, Ohio
Jessica Ebert
Religion
DePaul Cristo Rey High School
Cincinnati, Ohio
Jayney Litzler
Fourth Grade
St. Henry Elementary
Elsmere, Ky.
Kathy Niehaus
Special Education
Caywood Elementary
Edgewood, Ky.
Celeste Simonson
Math, Science
Holmes Primary
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cheryl Wilson
Math, Science
Mt. Healthy North Elementary
Cincinnati, Ohio

Kris Gillis
English
Dixie Heights High School
Crestview Hills, Ky.
Doug Miller
Science
Deer Park Junior/Senior 
High School
Cincinnati, Ohio
DeAnna Poling
Fifth Grade
Beechgrove Elementary
Independence, Ky.
Dan Teller
Principal
Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori
Cincinnati, Ohio
 

Winner Profiles

Nicole Montello
River Ridge Elementary School
Special Education, grades K-1

Nicole Montello’s creative and passionate teaching style at River Ridge Elementary is what makes her students feel empowered.

Montello has been a special education teacher at River Ridge for the past six years. Montello’s decision to go into special education evolved in high school during a volunteering opportunity, where Montello was randomly placed at a group home for adults with developmental delays. Shortly after, Montello embarked on the path to receive her undergraduate degree in special education from Bowling Green State University.

Montello describes time as the most challenging part of being a special education teacher. “I wish I had more time with each kid. When summer was here, I just thought, a couple more weeks we could have accomplished more together and I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.”

As for this year, Montello is trying the tips from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in her classroom. Her goal is to meet these principles in her classroom so as to create jobs for kids who are maybe overlooked in the regular classroom. For example, Montello’s solution for a student in a wheelchair who may not be able to stand up and erase the board is “giving the student a Swiffer handle and attaching an eraser to the end. Then that student can absolutely erase the board,” says Montello.

Montello loves the time she spends with her students, but says, “When they come back, it’s thrilling of course. I want them to be successful enough to graduate and not need me anymore. If I’ve accomplished that, I know I have done my job.”

– Kat Cook

Travis Rowley
DePaul Cristo Rey High School
Corporate Work Study Program, grades 9-12

Travis Rowley is an educator at DePaul Cristo Rey High School, but his classroom extends to businesses and hospitals in the Greater Cincinnati area. His students spend at least five days a month gaining real life work experience alongside professionals at over 70 companies.

“The exciting part is they get to see the relevance of their education,” says Rowley.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in history from Syracuse University in 2004, Rowley received a certificate in secondary education from the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He decided to join Teach for America and continued teaching in North Carolina until 2010, when he and his wife traveled to China to teach English. Then, Rowley settled in Cincinnati and began working at DePaul Cristo Rey High School

“I believe that education is a collaborative initiative,” says Rowley. “The program helps students reinvent themselves and how they look at education.”

Rowley considers himself very fortunate to be working with students to develop their professional skills. By teaching students work ethic, Rowley thinks that students enjoy being treated as a young professionals.

“I hope to continue in educational leadership,” says Rowley. “Education isn’t static, it’s evolving.” Rowley plays a huge role in the Corporate Work Study Program as the senior coordinator and hopes to continue building partnerships with more businesses in the Cincinnati area.

– Alyssa Reck

DeAnna Poling
Beechgrove Elementary
5th Grade

Teaching the same grade in the same school for 32 years is not something you hear often. That is until you meet DeAnna Poling, a fifth grade teacher at Beechgrove Elementary. Poling’s passion for education grew from her upbringing. Poling says, “Education was always such a big part of our family growing up, we were learners and go-getters.”

With a bachelor’s and master’s from Northern Kentucky University, Poling’s proficient schooling and years of experience hasn’t changed her go-getter attitude. Poling says, “There is always something new and changing. Technology has progressed over the years and always interested me. It was fun for me to try the abilities of my kids in a fun way, while I continued to learn as well.”

Poling didn’t limit her drive to the classroom, though; Fifth Grade Team leader, organizer of science fairs and Academic Team coach are just a couple of Poling’s titles outside of the classroom. Poling says, “A combination of all my roles has helped me better myself as a teacher, but just being a part of the Kenton County School District gave me so many opportunities. Excellence was always at the top of the list, providing opportunities for all their teachers to grow. It shaped me into the teacher I am today.”

Unfortunately, Poling is hanging up her erasers and retired at the end of the 2014 school year. As for retirement plans, Poling says, “I don’t really have any, but something education related for sure.”

- KC

Amanda Minnich
Woodland Middle School
Social Studies

When walking into Amanda Minnich’s classroom, one should be prepared to take a step back in time to another historical era. Every day, the eighth grade social studies teacher guides her students on an educational journey, taking them from their 21st century lives to meet the active leaders that shaped the country.

“I don’t want class to be focused on just a textbook,” says Minnich. “Hands-on learning lets students teach what they’ve learned to the class in creative ways, like singing songs, or acting out a lesson using props and costumes.”

Minnich incorporates various forms of technology in her teaching and brings in speakers and actors from the community. She has found that this helps students master the content and become excited about the material. However, Minnich has also learned the art of reflection and realizes that just because a teaching style works well for one group of kids doesn’t mean it will work the same way with others.

After discovering that many eighth grade boys were struggling academically and socially, Minnich created an all-boy social studies class, determined to help them succeed. Even as a female teaching the class of 36 boys by herself, Minnich describes it as “one of the best experiences in 10 years of teaching.”

After the school tracked this specific class’ data, educators revealed that they had the highest scores on the state test in social studies, and even outscored the four other classes at the school.

Only going into her fourth year teaching at Woodland Middle School, Minnich was recently selected as one of the few teachers to conduct the Common Assignment Study in the social studies classroom. Minnich and other teachers implement one common unit of learning, reflect on the teaching experience and design new units of study based on these findings.

Minnich consistently puts her students first and is committed to guiding each one of them to reach their potential.

“I hope for students to have a passion for this subject, but overall I want them to have a basic understanding of how the U.S. government works, so they can become educated, informed and active citizens for the future.”

- Gloria McNerney

Dwayne Humphrey
Turkey Foot Middle School
STEM, Project Lead the Way

As an active leader in and out of the classroom, Dwayne Humphrey goes above and beyond what’s expected from the average teacher. In his Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes, Humphrey engages students by exploring professional fields like engineering, architecture, aerospace, biomedical, and energy and the environment.

However, what makes these courses unique is Humphrey’s group-project-based activities that require students to think outside of the box and understand how to apply knowledge to the world around them. Distinctive, new-age technology is incorporated, where students are instructed how to build robotics, design inventions and use 3D printers to make projects come to life.

“The challenge in schools is to give kids authentic experiences in the classroom for a wide range of careers,” says Humphrey. “This prepares them for future work so they can be successful.”

So, when a new student born without her left arm was placed in the classroom, Humphrey’s eighth-graders were put to the task of designing and building a prosthetic hand for her. They spent months researching, working with doctors and engaging in real-life problems. “This is the way that education needs to move,” says Humphrey. “It’s no longer about remembering facts, but about the application of that knowledge.”

A Lexington, Ky., native, Humphrey graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and later obtained a master’s in education from Xavier. He then moved to Northern Kentucky where he began instilling his love of learning into students.

In addition to his teaching load, Humphrey is always researching new teaching skills and opportunities to collaborate with others in the community. Committed to the professional growth of the school, Humphrey is the middle and high school activity coordinator, where his ultimate goal is to connect every student with a meaningful activity outside of the classroom. Ultimately, Humphrey hopes that students take away a variety of skills from the classroom. “I want kids to develop a love of learning from classes, something that encouraged me to become an educator in the first place.”

- GM

Doug Miller
Deer Park Jr./Sr. High School
Biology, AP Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, grades 9-12

When it comes to bringing some humor into the classroom, Doug Miller—who teaches Biology, AP Biology and Anatomy & Physiology to ninth through 12th graders at Deer Park High School—says that it doesn’t always work. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying.

Receiving his bachelor’s from Berea College and his master’s from Xavier University, Miller has been a committed educator for 32 years.

“I try to relate to my students, by incorporating and presenting material that ties into pop culture,” says Miller. “I don’t just get to know my students. I get to know them as individuals.”

For the last 15-20 years, Miller has taken his class to Mount St. Joseph University for a forensic anthropology presentation, brought in guest speakers and taken a trip to a cadaver lab.

“I’ve heard students say that it’s a life-changing experience in response papers,” says Miller.

He has extended trips to the cadaver lab into the summer for his students.

“My favorite part about being an educator is hearing about a student’s accomplishments,” says Miller. “It’s rewarding.”

While it’s bittersweet saying goodbye to the seniors, Miller knows there is a possibility they might return to benefit his future classes.

“Some of our guest speakers are graduates of Deer Park,” says Miller. These speakers include a nurse, radiology technician, and others.

– AR

Melissa Weingartner
Science and Social Studies
St. James School
Cincinnati, Ohio