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 middle schools.
  • Nominees from elementary schools can be found here, and the list of nominees from high schools and administration are here.

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.

Cultural Liaison

Naohoua (Tony) Yang – Tony consistently goes above and beyond in supporting staff and students.  He has been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping the Elementary Music Teachers learn about Hmong Music, and ways that we can use it to connect in new ways to our students.  He is the kind of staff member that you ask for an inch, and he gives you a mile!!!!

Lincoln Middle/SOTA II

Scott Bagniefski, Teacher – Mr. Bagniefski had both of my children in his classroom (in different years). My daughter came home from his math classroom unenthused at first, saying that she read Mr. B to be someone who had been one of the “cool kids” when he was younger because he acted so confident and joked so easily with popular kids in class. My daughter thought he was therefore unlikely to engage with or support kids on the margins of social interactions and interpersonal comfort zones. My daughter was pleasantly surprised (thrilled!) to discover that Mr. B relates well with and engages EVERYBODY with equal ease, and works hard to help everyone succeed. He made even the most awkward and timid students feel more confident and at home in his classroom. He goes above and beyond in many other ways as well, making himself available to help struggling students outside of class every day he can (and being involved in extracurriculars on top of that support). I’m not sure how much sleep he gets, but he is a shining example of one of the BEST instructors that Lincoln has to offer: someone who lives to teach and mentor, and who does both of those things tirelessly and exceptionally well. My son, who took social studies with Mr. B, nodded enthusiastically when I read out my description of Mr. B (above); he also found Mr. B to be an excellent, funny, down to earth instructor who values learning for learning’s sake and who is very adaptable and supportive in his work with students.

Jason Bahr, Teacher – Thanks for always collaborating and processing all the ideas and dreams we have for our department.  We get to go down in history as we close the door on Lincoln, so many fun activities were introduced to our kids thanks to you.

Ruth Bent, Teacher – Senora Bent teaches Spanish at Lincoln Middle School. Learning Spanish is so tough for my kiddo, and Senora is so kind, patient, and solution-oriented as she works with students. She is an amazing communicator with parents, keeping us up to date and in the know about things that she can help with. She makes a tough class fun, using movies, for example, to help kids understand the material. I’m so grateful that my son had a chance to have Senora Bent as a teacher!

Rick Blasing, School Counselor – Mr Blasing is so kind, thoughtful, and helpful to our students! I am so grateful for his easy-going personality, and for his willingness to reach out to students and parents. He has helped us trouble-shoot all kinds of issues that my son has faced. My son felt welcome and valued at Lincoln in large part because of Mr Blasing!!!

Rosemary Bodnar, Teacher – Ms Bodnar is truly a shining star!   She was assigned as my son’s case worker in the middle of his 7th grade year (pandemic virtual learning).   When the change was made, she called me personally and we talked at great length about my son, his challenges, what my goals were and how she could best help him.   Since that day, she has proven to be his biggest ally, cheerleader and confidant.   We stayed in contact daily.   She remained his case manager through the 8th grade and now that he is in high school, she still maintains a connection with our family to see how he is doing, what she can do to help with the transition to high school and even comes to watch him at his sporting events.   Ms. Bodnar exemplifies to me why people become teachers.  She sees the good in every student all the time and never just the behaviors they display.   We feel incredibly lucky to have had chance bring her into our lives.   I am so grateful to her for the guidance she’s given our family and the encouragement she gave our son to be the best person he can be.   I am so excited for her that she gets to retire this year (earning this award would be such a wonderful way to celebrate her retirement) but sad for the kiddos who will not get to experience her magnificence.   I will never be able to thank her enough for all she has done for us!

Garrett Fischer, Administrator – Thank you for all you do for our kids! I am so grateful for your open and productive communication with parents and students.

Alex Hubing, Administrator – In all of the years of my children attending schools in the School District of La Crosse (since 2009), we have never had such a proactive, positive, solution-oriented principal. My son has a 504 plan, and Mr Hubing has helped us formulate a plan that helps our son with his challenges. He is always smiling, which I know must be difficult some days — he’s a principal of a middle school! But I so appreciate his warmth and genuine interest in the students — it really makes such a difference!

Mandi Hundt, Teacher – Ms Hundt is a wonderful earth science teacher! She uses Article of the Week (AoW) assignments to not only help kids learn about the world, but also to help them write persuasive arguments with evidence. Both of my children had Ms Hundt and I’m so grateful they did!

Paula Johnson, Teacher – PJ has had a difficult year with her family, but she was so attuned to her students during all of the challenges she faced! She emailed all of her students, made sure that they were on top of their assignments, and communicated so well with students and parents so that we knew what to expect. I’m so grateful that PJ’s challenges are getting better. And I am so grateful that PJ is my son’s English teacher. She really understands the challenges that 13/14 year olds go through and her empathy comes through in everything she does.

Kim Novak, Teacher

  • Learning math is to tough. Teaching middle schoolers is so tough. Kim Novak does both, which amazes me, and she does it so well! She has a wonderful flipped classroom, and her Canvas site is SO organized, which makes it so much easier to work with our son at home with his homework. Thank you for all you do for our kids — we notice it all!!!
  • As a teacher for my children Kim has always looked out for their academic and social development. Her heart is so strong for her students.  As a colleague I enjoy her so much for her dedication to students, her innovation, and her eagerness to help others.  She makes everyone’s day brighter!

Brian Olson, Teacher – Because of Mr Olson’s social studies class, my child now wants to major in history in college! Mr Olson really gets the kids fired up about the past — getting middle schoolers fired up about anything is such a feat! I’m so grateful that my sons both got to learn from Mr Olson.

Erin Schmuck, Teacher, SOTA II – Erin Schmuck makes my day brighter because she makes so many students’ days brighter! She’s dead serious about learning and education, but she also knows how to make school interesting and inclusive. She is great about encouraging and challenging students to be their best selves, work together as a community and have fun along the way.

Logan Middle

Kevin Anderson, Case Manager – He’s always there when you need someone

Julie Brudos, Teacher – La mejor!

Ashley Burke, Teacher

  • Ashley is a fabulous PLC partner for math. She understands the diversity of our learners and wants to help all students be successful in math!
  • She incorporates fun games into our math learning. She also invented Trashketball where the team that solves the problem and makes the basket wins.

Jesse Martinez, Teacher

  • He is an amazing advocate for kids as well as teachers/fellow coworkers in the district. He truly has a passion for teaching and doing what’s right for kids! Absolutely awesome role model and teacher!
  • Jesse works tirelessly as our LEA President. He listens, gives knowledgeable advice, and follows through. This role has never been so important (or stressful), and we are so fortunate to have Jesse as a leader in our district!

Samantha Parkhurst, Teacher

  • Sam has been an excellent team leader for our 6th grade unit for many years. She always keeps us informed and values our input. She is a caring advocate for staff and students.
  • Our family is going through some tough adjustments and Mrs. Parkhurst has really helped our child with good emotional health practices. Mrs. Parkhurst has shared tips, resources, and given gentle suggestions to I’ll improve our child mental well-being. They say it takes a village and I am beyond pleased that Mrs. Parkhurst is part of ours.

Jodi Slaats-Hughes, Teacher – Jodi is an excellent role model for students and staff. She always puts what’s best for student’s first, and it there to help them do their best academically, socially, and emotionally.

Nicholas Stone, Teacher – Mr. Stone is a wonderful teacher and support person to my son. He gives him his time, his patience and his compassion every single day. He communicates with me all concerns and importantly, all the victories. It gives me peace of mind knowing my son always has someone at school who advocates for him and who supports him. Thank you, Mr. Stone. We appreciate you very much.

Cassandra Tolvstad, Teacher

  • Tolvstad makes learning hard things fun in spanish. She uses fun games to make middle school fun!
  • She always brings a positive attitude to the classroom and makes learning super fun! She is the best teacher ever and in my eyes she is already a shining star!

Rachel Wotruba, Teacher – Rachel is a fabulous PLC partner for science. She brings so much knowledge to our meetings and often uses technology to enhance student learning.


Stephanie Hein, Teacher – Ms. Hein is the definition of an engaged teacher who absolutely makes a difference! She gets to know her students and builds authentic relationships with them to help elicit their best potential. She is accepting of all students and advocates for everyone’s voice in her classroom. She is exceptional in her role!

Sarah Horton, Dean of Students – They work tirelessly and show up early to school in order to do their job, and once she gets home, she continues to work hard both doing at home duties and work on her computer for school, rarely they take breaks which is inspiring to see such dedication and restlessness and I wish more people were as active and hardworking as my she is, Sarah truly deserves to be nominated as a rising star as she has such a powerful and authoritative yet honest and polite way of communicating with kids and staff at her place of work.  My mom has worked in this school district for a very long time and deserves recognition for her efforts in helping the schools function and maintaining order, from studying to become a principal and working her way up to school psychologist and now to a dean of students, i’m proud and wish that someday I can move up in the world like she has.  She is my mom and I’m glad she raised me and my brothers.  She never fails to impress me and I love her infinitely.

Xeng Lee, Teacher – Mr. Lee has found a way to keep kids engaged in class and foster great relationships. He works with parents to ensure healthy parent teacher communication, to aide students on their learning journeys. He’s always so helpful, knowledgeable, kind, and exuberant.