Congratulations to Katelyn Leitner-Black, a 5th-grade teacher at Pioneer Elementary School, who has been selected as Suffolk Public Schools’ 2018 City-Wide Teacher of the Year.
Congratulations also to William Carter of King’s Fork Middle School, who was named Middle School Teacher of the Year … Kristen Ellis of Nansemond River High School, who was named High School Teacher of the Year … and Christopher Stadler of Northern Shores Elementary School, who was selected as Rookie Teacher of the Year.
2018 City-Wide Teacher of the Year
Now in her fourth year of teaching, Katelyn Leitner-Black is known for her enthusiasm, creativity, and engaging teaching style. Her students call her the “crazy teacher” because they’ve never had a teacher stand on a desk to teach a class, or sing rap lyrics to help them understand a science concept. They say she never has a bad day and she makes learning fun.
“I have realized that I might be the only smile they see that day; I might be the only one who has ever played with them during recess and I might be the only positive role model they have in their life,” she explains. “How powerful is that? I am a leader, I am a friend, I am a nurse, I am a mom, I am a Teacher!”
Unlike many teachers, Leitner-Black says her career choice was not because a great teacher inspired her. Instead she went into teaching because she struggled as a student. She says she became a teacher because she knew learning could be fun and engaging, “and I wanted to be the change.” She wants to teach struggling students because she knows how it feels, and she is “passionate about reigniting a love for learning.”
Her grandfather’s story also pushes her. He struggled through school, was unable to read, and dropped out at a young age. “When he found out I was going to be a teacher, tears filled his eyes and he had a heart-to-heart conversation with me expressing his concern for students who are so low that they get left behind, like himself. I then promised him that I would do my best every single day to close that gap for students like him.”
Parent Katie Moegenberg praises Leitner-Black for sparking a significant change in her son Griffin, who has autism. He now loves going to school to see his friend Mrs. Leitner-Black. About three weeks into the new school year, Griffin came home crying happy tears because Mrs. Leitner-Black “told me today how smart I am. She is the only teacher that has ever told me I am smart. She understands my brain.” His mother says her son’s grades have improved tremendously, his passion for learning is back, and his social skills have improved. “It has been said that everyone has that one teacher they will never forget,” she wrote. “I know without a doubt that Mrs. Leitner-Black will be Griffin’s.”
Beyond her impact in the classroom, Leitner-Black also leads a weekly after-school science club at the Whaleyville Community Center. She represented the school division on a state curriculum committee. She serves on the board of the local non-profit Down the Middle Foundation.
This summer, she will travel to Ghana as a teacher leader as part of the Limited Resources Teacher Training (LRTT) international program. LRTT sends teachers from economically developed countries to poor countries in Africa and Asia. She will be part of unique team of qualified and dedicated teachers to co-facilitate effective and contextually relevant professional development for native teachers.
Leitner-Black earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Radford University, and was just awarded a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Averett University.
2018 Middle School Teacher of the Year
William Carter, a technology education teacher at King’s Fork Middle School, has been named the 2018 Middle School Teacher of the Year for Suffolk Public Schools. In the classroom for almost three years, Carter is a “career switcher” who came to teach after years in the manufacturing industry.
Keeping his students curious, engaged, and active are directly connected to his success as an instructor. Students make balloon cars, LED light arrays, electromagnets, computer code, stick bridges, herb plantings, and tabletop catapults. They put the textbook lessons about technology to the test every day, working in teams and learning that failure along the way is just part of the process toward success.
“With each new learning plan, I have been increasingly placing the students in the driver’s seat. This approach provides me the opportunity to act as a facilitator rather than just the provider of information.”
Beyond the classroom, Carter leads a student technology club and shares his knowledge with other teachers at the Suffolk Excellence in Education Conference.
Parent Renita Ruffin praises Carter for challenging her children to think outside of the box, develop their own creations, and strive for excellence. “He is loving, passionate, enthusiastic, and relatable to the students and staff. His real-world approach in his classroom created a culture where all students can learn.”
Carter earned his bachelor’s degree from Bridgewater College, his master’s degree for James Madison University, and his teaching licensure through Old Dominion University. He was also an instructor in computer programming, decision sciences and operations management at JMU for six years.
2018 High School Teacher of the Year
Kristen Ellis, a Spanish teacher at Nansemond River High School, has been named the 2018 High School Teacher of the Year for Suffolk Public Schools. Now in her eighth year of teaching, she is known for quiet, consistent professionalism and a strong rapport with students and their families.
Teaching Spanish, she often has the same students for several years. Because of that, her students become a big part of her everyday life. Meghan Pearl, who graduated from NRHS in 2017, says Ellis “is a teacher who not only cares for her students’ academic success, but also for their personal well-being. She takes the time to get to know each of her students and becomes a positive influence in their life.” Pearl chose to go into nursing so she could help people and have an impact, just like Ellis does as a teacher.
Before teaching, Ellis worked for 15 years with the Visiting International Faculty (VIF) program, which brought international teachers to teach U.S. schools as part of a cultural exchange. She traveled to Mexico, Chile and other Spanish-speaking countries. Immediately
after college, she lived in Spain for a year.
Because of those experiences – learning to be fluent in a non-native language – Ellis says she understands when her students struggle. Her travels also help her introduce them to the culture, history, literature, art, music, sports and legends of Spanish-speaking countries.
Ellis earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia.
2018 Rookie Teacher of the Year
Christopher Stadler, a music teacher at Northern Shores Elementary School, has been named the 2018 Rookie Teacher of the Year for Suffolk Public Schools. His colleagues note his “hard work, initiative, loyalty, and dedication to his students and his profession” has helped him be a “real hit” at school.
Elementary resource teachers instruct students from all grade levels – and for Northern Shores, that’s 900 students all with different reading levels, music backgrounds, and social skills. By keeping a “Students First” mentality, Stadler has managed teaching the fundamentals of music one classroom at a time, and collaborates with grade levels to create parent performances that emphasize history, science, math and reading Standards of Learning.
Principal Lori White says Stadler “is a natural in the classroom and presents as an educator with many years of experience.” Despite teaching 900 students, he often calls students by name and interacts with them as a mentor. Another colleague says he “demonstrates thoughtfulness, leadership skills, collaborative skills, the willingness to take risks, and genuine compassion for children and their development.”
Stadler earned his bachelor’s degree from Old Dominion University.
School-Level Teachers of the Year
- Booker T. Washington Elementary – Paige Kluck
- Creekside Elementary – Leticia Rouse
- Driver Elementary – Courtney Frarey
- Elephant’s Fork Elementary – Ashby Stancill
- Hillpoint Elementary – Jade Jones
- Kilby Shores Elementary – Leah Moulton
- Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary – Casey McKenna
- Nansemond Parkway Elementary – Stacy Sammons
- Northern Shores Elementary – Adrienne Bullock
- Oakland Elementary – Lucy Willis
- Pioneer Elementary – Katelyn Leitner
- Forest Glen Middle – Leslie Wolfe
- John F. Kennedy Middle – Tracie Smith-Banks
- John Yeates Middle – Hope Paquette
- King’s Fork Middle – William Carter
- King’s Fork High – Matthew Fike
- Lakeland High – Brian Rountree
- Nansemond River High – Kristen Ellis
- Turlington Woods – George Old
- College and Career Academy at Pruden – Crystal Taylor
School-Level Rookie Teacher of the Year
* Schools not listed below did not have new teachers this year.
- Booker T. Washington Elementary – Blake Eure
- Creekside Elementary – Presley Rona
- Driver Elementary – Linda Lewis
- Hillpoint Elementary – Christyna Mencarini
- Mack Benn, Jr. Elementary – Wayne Rau
- Nansemond Parkway Elementary – Suzanne Cardwell
- Northern Shores Elementary – Christopher Stadler
- Pioneer Elementary – Haley Jones
- Forest Glen Middle – Olivia Graham
- John F. Kennedy Middle – Amanda Weisiger
- John Yeates Middle – Tiffany Antonucci
- King’s Fork Middle – Christina Bradshaw
- King’s Fork High – Valencia Sykes
- Lakeland High – Rebecca Sapp
- Nansemond River High – Kelsey Sutter
- College and Career Academy at Pruden – Varnestine Lefevre