Shining Stars can be found anywhere!
From teaching assistants to administrative assistants to student support staff, these are the people who make our schools run smoothly. They are custodians and crossing guards and health assistants who make sure we are safe, warm and healthy. They are, of course, the teachers we entrust our children’s education to, who engage minds and hearts and encourage curiosity, inclusion, and discovery.
We asked parents, students, community members and District employees to nominate a “Shining Star” and explain why they deserved recognition, and we were thrilled with the responses. In just three weeks, from February 27 to March 20, 2023, we received 180 nominations.
- Below, please find the nominees from elementary schools.
- Click here to see the nominees from middle schools, or here for nominees from high schools and administration.
Three nominees will be selected to receive special grants funded by the La Crosse Public Education Foundation’s Tom and Jean Heyt Thompson Endowment. From the remaining nominees, we will randomly select 10 employees to receive $50 Downtown Mainstreet gift certificates.
Mariah Bigelow, Teacher – Ms. Bigelow has a way of forming strong connections with her students and supports them in the classroom as well as outside the classroom. She has come to Cross Country meets and soccer games to cheer on current and former students – she really makes her students feel seen and loved for who they are.
Summer Elston, Teacher – She goes above and beyond for each and every student in her classroom, she sees each of their needs and cares for each kiddo in unique and special ways!!!
Jane Erickson, 4K Teacher – Jane is a pleasure to work with. She works so beautifully with her classes, treats everyone with so much respect, and has a true calling for teaching. I always look forward to my library visits with the Emerson 4K classes, and Jane is a huge reason why!
Amy Joley, Teacher – Very kind, humble, creative with all her students. My daughter loves to go to school to learn. Mrs. Joley makes learning fun and always integrates parents to be a part of their children’s learning experience.
Jena Jorstad, Teacher – Jena has been a fan favorite of our oldest daughter. Even though Jena is no longer our daughter’s teacher she continues to have a positive relationship with her. While Jena was her teacher, she went above and beyond to make school fun and exciting. Our daughter always came home to tell us if the fun activities she did during the day. On top of that, she is just so supportive, positive, and her energy radiates!
Patrick Shay, Teacher – He has taught both my kids and has been a very positive influence on them. He’s always working hard keep students involved and positive.
Nancy Weaver, Teacher – Nancy goes above and beyond for every student that walks into her classroom. She does whatever it takes to make sure every child feels loved and accepted. Nancy takes the time to build a trusting relationship with everyone she knows. She truly makes our school a better place to be!
Reid Duddeck, Teacher, SOTA I – Mr. Duddeck provides a calm, accepting, creative and consistent environment for kids to learn in, and we are so grateful for him. My daughter comes home excited and enthusiastic about everything they do. She says that Mr. Duddeck is a teacher who likes kids and we all agree he is a shining star!
Maria Henry, Teacher, SOTA I – Mrs. Henry is a passionate and gifted educator and it shows in the quality of her work with kids and families. She is incredibly kind and makes students and families feel heard. When our child was struggling with some vision issues earlier this year, she was compassionate and responsive, coming up with extra ways to support her and encouraging us as we supported our daughter. We are so thankful for Mrs. Henry and the way she inspires those around her to be kind, trust ourselves, and rise to the challenge when things get hard.
Judy Johnson, Teacher Assistant, Hamilton – Judy loves kids and that love shines thru in everything she does. If you hear her talk about her work, every success and every frustration is tied to how and if the kids are getting what they need to be successful. Everything she does and gives is for the kids, and that is what makes her here such a shining star.
Mike Lawrence, Teacher, SOTA I – Mike is an incredible teacher who goes above and beyond for every single student. He constantly looks for ways for his students to grow and make the world a better place, from hydroponic gardens, to pen pals in Africa and even a pet wall of fame that makes kids feel important and seen. Mike laughs and with his students and they’re comfortable taking risks and asking questions because they know he always has their back. Mike is truly a standout teacher and makes our school, community and world a better place.
Doug Schmeckpeper, Crossing Guard – Doug is the Crossing Guard at Hamilton/SOTA I. He is there every morning and afternoon, rain or shine, shepherding the kids across the street with a smile on his face. Drop off and pick up can be tricky with so little space for cars to stop in front, but with Doug there, we’ve got a lot more options! He’s a shining star for the whole community!
Shanon Bills, Teacher
- Shanon was my cooperating teacher 17 years ago, and has stayed one of my most trusted peers and friends. She can take credit for just about every good thing about my own teaching!
- The love Mrs. Bills spreads in her classroom is something every child deserves to feel and experience. Knowing my son is so loved and cared for during his school days makes my husband and I so happy and reassured. Our son has learned to love school and has grown so much, not just academically but socially and emotionally. Mrs. Bills is one of a kind and we couldn’t haven’t asked for a better teacher for our son!
Mary Blaha DeBoer, Administrative Assistant – At Hintgen Elementary, we all know who the glue is that holds our school together. We couldn’t survive without Miss Mary, from knowing every answer to every question a teacher, student or parent has to giving us the daily “Roar” on the morning announcements. We all appreciate everything that she does for Hintgen Elementary School.
Emily Juneau, Teacher
- Emily goes above and beyond every single day for every student in the building. She works so hard to include everyone.
- Emily is a rockstar teacher! She sees and cares and specializes her teaching for each of her special kids in the building.
Kris Markworth, Teacher – A full circle story….Kris was my 4th Grade teacher, she then became my mentor as I volunteered in her classroom through high school, after graduation being a colleague and now a lifelong friend, and a huge part of my life. Kris always knows how to make my day brighter by sharing a piece of positivity. As my teacher, I always remember her being happy and a ray of sunshine in our classroom. I was always eager to go to her class. After many years had passed I happen to be in the right place at the right time to be a volunteer in her classroom and see the behind-the-scenes of how she prepares to reach each and everyone of her students. Kris is the person I call to seek advice from when I am having the hardest days and am struggling as a teacher. She is the most compassionate person I know, and puts in every ounce of that compassion into her students and the work that she does to help them grow and achieve their goals. She has done so many great things through Family Nights and Read Across America. There are two words Kris never forgets to tell me, and that is to Think Positive!
Lisa O’Malley. Teacher – She is my kid’s teacher. One of the classmates died tragically on Feb 11th and she’s just been amazing at supporting the class while dealing with her own grief. Overnight, she was thrust into having to help 12 other 6 and 7 year olds process the loss of their friend. What Ms. O’Malley has had to go through these last couple of weeks should be recognized. But, overall, my kid is thriving in her class and she comes home so excited about her day. She feels loved at school and is learning so much. Ms. O’Malley is a fantastic educator and human being. Thanks for considering her.
Christine Rox, Teacher – Always caring for parents and students.
Delane Swanson, Teacher – Miss Delane has a special way of developing relationships that include respect and trust with all of her students. She goes the extra mile for each and every student in her room. She is also first one in line to help with school wide activities or events. Such a wonderful addition to Hintgen Elementary School!
Jen Thill Sanders, Teacher
- In Miss Thill Sanders class you will feel the love every minute. Her class is a family, helping each other to succeed because of her love and compassion for teaching and learning.
- Thill-Sanders always has a smile and kind words. She is a patient and hard working teacher. We appreciate her so much! You can tell that the children respect and look up to her. We feel lucky to have Mrs Thill-Sanders in our lives supporting our 2nd grader learn and grow.
Anna Auten, Teacher – Even though she is a PE teacher, every time I see Anna she is either sitting on the floor or squatting down talking with children. It is her first year in our building, and yet she has developed beautiful relationships with many of our students that struggle the most to connect to adults. Not only that, she’s absolutely hilarious. I always look forward to our conversations because I know that her communication style is just going to brighten my day in some way!
Nicole Blagsvedt, Teacher – Nicole is the total package as a coworker – sense of humor, reliability, deep passion for doing her best – She shines in the face of adversity every day!
Kenzie Boris, Teacher – From a parental view, Kenzie is doing an incredible job as a first year teacher! She has remained positive despite having an incredibly challenging classroom. Kenzie has persevered through physical, mental, and spiritual ups and downs this year which is evident by our son’s learning growths and how he looks up to her!
Nicole Brudos, Teacher – Nicole is a gentle, kind, and engaging educator. My daughter wakes up every morning excited to go to school, because her teacher makes learning so fun! She took time out of her busy weekend to come watch students past and present on the basketball court. She encourages her students and brings out the best in each and every one. She is a shining star!
Cassie George, Teacher Assistant – Cassie takes care of some of our most challenging discipline situations with patience, problem solving and positivity. She is always looking for ways to help both staff and students. She is involved in every aspect of our school and is a valued member of our team that helps everyone feel safe and welcomed.
Kate Hooper, Teacher – Kate Hooper is tireless at growing compassion in her kindergarteners. Even when her students are in other places within the building, it is clear that they are in Kate’s class because of the way they speak to each other and address difficult societal issues with huge hearts for others.
Donna Houlihan, Teacher – Ms. Houlihan goes above and beyond to help the deaf and hard of hearing students at Northwoods. She works individually with students and provides them exceptional support. She does this all with a big smile and warm presence for the children.
Jen Kies, Teacher – Jen is an excellent educator, but she is also an excellent human being! Her sense of humor, support, and reliability are exactly the kind of person that I love to surround myself with!
Taylor Killilea, Custodial/Buildings and Grounds
- Taylor is an absolute rock star! Her kindness and positive attitude – even when doing the most disgusting and/or frustrating jobs – makes our school a better place to be. She takes such pride in her work, and in our building, that I never feel bad about asking her help for a task. She quite literally makes our school a better place to be!
- Taylor is new to our building, but has made so many positive changes already! She is proactive, and responds to needs and questions immediately with a smile on her face!
Chris Kryshak, Teacher – Mr. Kryshak goes above and beyond to support his 4th graders. He takes the time to get to know the children individually and provides additional educational resources to help them excel.
Becky Misch, Teacher – Becky has incredible vision and ability to see the big picture. She steps in to help when needed in so many big and small ways!
Geri Patschull, Administrative Assistant
- Geri has 100% been the reason our building has stayed afloat this year! We were without our full time AA from July-Sept, so Geri did ALL the back to school business alone, and continues to keep 2 buildings going. She is incredibly organized, stays calm (no small task in her role) and has a heart of gold.
- Geri is the kind of staff member that is the first to step in and help, whether she asks or not. She has a positive attitude, and I always feel comfortable coming to her for anything. Her quiet spirit, and yet subtle sense of humor are spectacular!
Katie Pierre, Teacher – Katie is one of our student success coaches, but I’m pretty sure that she’s filled in for nearly every job in our building! Katie excels at building relationships with kids and advocating for all children. She is invaluable to our school and district!
Tara Schuttenhelm, Teacher
- Schuttenhelm is a great teacher. She does the most to make her kids happy even when circumstances aren’t ideal. She is a team player and a leader. She always looks out for her fellow colleagues and advocates for all school district employees and their needs.
- Tara was my cooperating teacher, my mentor as a new teacher, and continues to be my mentor, co-problem solver and therapist for the 16th year!
Indy Stanton, Teacher – Indy is one of the few staff members left from when I started teaching, and we have been teammates most of my career. She helps to keep me organized and shares both the physical and emotional work load of teaching.
Marcie Tauscher, Teacher – You know those team members that always have your back? No matter what? That is Marcie Tauscher. Her capacity to make everyone on staff feel this way is incredible.
Jordie Weiland, Teacher – This is Jordie’s first year, and I’m so happy to have her on my team. Despite the challenges, especially as a new teacher, Jordie stays so positive and solution minded!
Mike Wuensch, Custodial/Buildings and Grounds – Mike is like my school dad…he is always willing to fix, assemble or construct to fulfill a variety of requests. He even responds to my random after hours texts and helps when I have car problems!
Jenny Banse, Instructional Coach – Jenny is always working with staff to support them in any way they need. Any time a question arises, she is asked to co-teach a lesson or unit, or some support is needed with a student, she does not hesitate to jump in and help. She has a shining, positive attitude and believes in students and their abilities. Jenny goes above and beyond in her day to day work at our building and does it with fidelity and execution. She is an excellent example of what teamwork, grit, and passion looks like in education. I could not be more fortunate to be part of a team with her.
Holly Denzer, Health Assistant – Holly is our health assistant and SO much more. Not only does she care for all the students that come into her office with loving care, but she is also a source of much-needed comic relief and laughs in the office. Some days, she barely has a chance to catch her breath, yet she always makes time to offer her students a kind word and a hug. Keep shining bright, Ms. Denzer!!
Darcy Lenz, Teacher – Darcy is always highly optimistic, does everything she can to help her kids succeed and her coworkers smile.
Becky Lueck, Student Services – I have learned so much from working with Becky! I feel I am a kinder person because of her. She taught me to meet people where they are at, and to always have hope. She models grace and kindness consistently. Just passing her in the hall makes my day a little brighter!
Heidi Rouzer, Teacher – Heidi is truly amazing. She helps me see the potential in students and has amazing problems solving skills. She is consistently positive and does such a great job juggling schedules and prioritizing. She is a fantastic communicator. A day with Heidi is a better day.
Brian Skiles, Custodial/Buildings and Grounds – Mr. Skiles goes above & beyond to connect with staff and students at Southern Bluffs. Besides keeping our school in tip top shape, you can usually catch him whistling down the hall, greeting students by name and accepting hugs and hello’s from many of them. He makes every day brighter and we’re lucky to have him.
Stephanie Umberger, Teacher – Mrs. Umberger shines brightly in many different ways. She is an amazing, engaged preschool teacher who rocks the 4K classroom, getting all the preschoolers ready for kindergarten. She is the teacher representative for the PTO, and is always the first to volunteer to help with advising, planning, and events. She does all these things with a smile on her face and a wonderful positive attitude. The school community, students and parents all see her shining brightly everyday, and each day makes a difference in the lives of the students.
Samuel Bina, Teacher – El mejor!
Jocelyn Buxton, Teacher – Mrs. Buxton does more than just deliver content. She inspires and motivates her students to reach their full potential. She connects with students on a personal level and creates a positive learning environment that encourages curiosity and growth. She teaches life skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-reflection. She is patient, compassionate, and adaptable to the needs of her students. Mrs. Buxton’s impact will surely go beyond the classroom and last a lifetime as she teaches kids they can do hard things.
State Road Elementary
Teresa Fox, Teacher – Mrs.Fox has always been a bright light on such dark days. She gives so much love and effort to her classroom, she’s truly a gift the to education system.
Addison Gaber, Teacher – Every day that my daughter comes home from school, we ask her about the best part of her school day. She always responds, “everything!” It’s not difficult to see that her teacher, Addison Gaber, is a huge part of that experience. She daily creates a classroom environment that is inclusive, engaging, interesting, and challenging for our daughter. There is no greater gift that Ms. Gaber and the School District of La Crosse can give us than cultivating a connection in our daughter’s mind of happiness, curiosity, and fulfillment with the concept of education. We have been so pleased with the ways in which Ms. Gaber goes above and beyond to meet the needs of her students!
Kaitlin Grey, Teacher – Ms. Grey has been such a wonderful teacher as my son transitioned to a new school. She made him feel welcome before he even started. She continues to nurture his love for school every day. We are thankful for her!
Katie Crowley, Administrative Assistant – Katie goes above and beyond by making everyone feel special, taken care of and goes the extra mile! She makes the school a better place to be and has a heart of gold!
Joel Guberud, Custodial/Buildings and Grounds – He really cares about making the school a clean and welcoming place for the students
Nick O’Keefe, Teacher – Nick is always willing to go the extra mile for our students. He is a supportive, positive teammate. He makes Summit an awesome place to work.
- His positive attitude and willingness to step in whenever wherever is needed each and everyday! He gives it 100% for the kids and his coworkers, and the families of Summit everyday!
- Nick is constantly going above and beyond to make the students at Summit Elementary feel welcome and loved. The lessons Nick teaches go beyond the gym doors of his classroom. He instills a love for the environment around the students he teaches while building a relationship of trust, safety, and compassion. Nick is everyone’s biggest cheerleader… his students, his colleagues, his friends, and his family! Nick is totally deserving of a shinning star for all he does for his school and community