Four teachers earn LEEA honors
Four teachers have been recognized as exemplary educators and leaders among their peers by the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School District.
Each will receive a Leadership in Educational Excellence Award at the annual LEEA Banquet and Award Ceremony hosted by Resource Training & Solutions in St. Cloud on Oct. 25.
Those honored include Northwinds Elementary School kindergarten teacher Katie Deneen, Buffalo Community Middle School math teacher Natalie Johnson, Buffalo High School health/physical education teacher Josh Ortmann, and Discovery Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kimarie Tacke.
Deneen has taught for 30 years, including 17 at BHM Schools.
“I have always wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I wanted to create a classroom that is welcoming to every student who walks through the doors and to make lasting connections with each of them.”
Northwinds Principal Carmen Tubbs said Deneen has been successful in that regard, building strong relationships with students and their families, and also serves as “a positive leader, mentor and support for fellow colleagues.”
Seeing joy on the faces of her students, whether from simple excitement about their subject matter or from the satisfaction of hard work that yields success, is Deneen’s favorite aspect of the job.
“I get to go into work every day and am surrounded by amazing people who constantly inspire me,” Deneen said. “I am honored to be recognized as someone who inspires others and humbled to be receiving this award.”
The seed of an idea that eventually sprouted into Johnson’s 23-year local teaching career was planted early.
“As a student, I saw the difference the right teacher could make in a person’s life,” she said. “I wanted to become a math teacher because I find joy in helping others.”
BCMS Principal Matt Lubben said Johnson is frequently mentioned when students talk about favorite teachers, and she is a standout in her ability to connect theoretical classroom exercises to real-life scenarios.
“I thrive on finding ways to best help my students learn math in a fun and meaningful way so they will see the important role its understanding will have in their future,” Johnson said. “I find it so rewarding to watch my students grow and achieve success after learning hard work and perseverance when problem-solving.”
Johnson is also a leader among the eighth-grade math department members.
“Our staff absolutely loves Natalie, and the kids too,” said Lubben. “She’s always positive and smiling, and makes kids feel good about themselves. She’s been a great fit for our school and just a real strong leader both academically and culturally.”
From Johnson’s point of view, the high regard from her peers is mutual.
“I am so humbled to receive this honor because I work in a building filled with amazing teachers who all have a passion for helping children and who are just as deserving,” she said.
Ortmann is in his 12th year of teaching, and also serves as the head coach of the BHS boys basketball team – the squad that as a student he once helped lead to its first and only state championship.
“Outside of my parents and family, the people who had the greatest impact on me with who I am as a person today were my teachers and coaches,” Ortmann said. “Having that same opportunity to try and give back and positively impact the students that walk our hallways at BHS makes this the greatest job there is.”
Because of his classroom and coaching connections with all ages of students at BHS, Principal Mark Mischke said Ortmann is well-positioned to lead in exactly that way.
“So many people get to see him and interact with him, and they walk away in a better spot than they were before they spent time with him. So I think his ability to influence is very noticeable in a very positive way,” Mischke said. “If you think about describing a teacher you would want to have to start a school, Josh would be one of those people.”
That may be, but Ortmann sees more of a team accomplishment in the very meaningful individual honor he has received.
“This award really doesn’t have much to do with me as much as it does the people that I am surrounded with,” he said. “We have great leadership here at BHS and have a PE/health department that genuinely wants nothing but the best for each and every student that comes into our classes. This award is a recognition of the hard work that we all are putting fourth together on a daily basis to try and create an environment where every student feels a strong sense of belonging.”
For Tacke, the recognition is a fitting finale to 40 years in the classroom, including 27 years with BHM Schools.
“This is my last year teaching, which has caused me to reflect back over my career,” Tacke said. “I have never shied away from leadership opportunities if it meant I could make things better for students, teachers and the school system at large. I am proud of the initiatives I have been involved with to do just that. This award is such a nice honor to wrap up my career.”
Discovery Principal Mat Nelson said Tacke is “more than deserving” of the recognition.
“She cares deeply about her students as learners and people, and meticulously maintains a safe classroom learning environment to maximize academic, social, and emotional growth,” Nelson said. “Ms. Tacke exemplifies what the highest quality teacher should be and demonstrates so much care and skill in everything she engages in. We are thankful to have her on our team at Discovery Elementary!"
Coming from a long family tradition of teaching, the role has come naturally for Tacke.
“There are definitely things about my job that bring me joy!” she said. “Most of those things have to do with the students and all their personalities and learning styles. I have been able to develop life-long relationships with students and parents/families. I also love the creative outlet I have in the classroom.”