KCSD honors eight staff with Crystal Apple awards

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The Klamath County School District each year awards Crystal Apples to eight staff who best exemplify its mission: “Inspiring today’s students to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”

Five certified and three classified staff — nominated by students, staff, and community members — were awarded the coveted honor this year. Normally, the district honors its Crystal Apples during a celebration at the Ross Ragland Theater in April. Because of COVID-19 shutdowns last spring and continued restrictions on social gatherings, that event was cancelled.

KCSD Superintendent Glen Szymoniak this fall personally delivered the winners their Crystal Apple award. The district is featuring the winners on two billboards in November and December – one at Highway 39 and South Sixth Street near Klamath Community College and the other on Highway 97 near Wocus Road.

“Throughout our district, our educators are dedicated to the success of our students,” Szymoniak said. “The winners of our Crystal Apple awards showcase the qualities that inspire and help students succeed.”

The 2020 Crystal Apples include a bus driver, two school secretaries, a special education coordinator, two elementary teachers and two high school teachers. The eight awardees for 2020 are:

JOANNE CRISS, special services coordinator, Klamath County School District

In her 40 years as an educator, Crystal Apple winner JoAnne Criss has helped hundreds of students find their path to success.

“Every student has a different way of being successful,” said Criss, who for the past 15 years has worked as a special services coordinator for the district. “Our students have extra hurdles they have to jump over. It’s important that students and their parents know there are many paths to be successful.”

Criss grew up on a ranch in the Butte Valley area, graduating from Butte Valley High School. She and her husband raised their two children in the Klamath Basin. After earning her teaching degree with an endorsement in reading, Criss began her career in Butte Valley Elementary School. She is now in her 41st year as an educator with the Klamath County School District. She taught various grade levels, worked as a reading teacher, and was coordinator for Title I, ELL, and migrant programs before taking a position in special services.

Special services offers evaluation and support to students with various learning disabilities, health impairments, and emotional and intellectual disabilities. Criss specializes in evaluation of students to provide them with services that help them succeed.

In her nomination for the Crystal Apple, Criss was described as instrumental in helping new teachers navigate special services and its programs.

“She listens to concerns and comes up with reasonable solutions to any problem,” her nominators wrote. “She is not only a good support for students, but also supports guardians and school staff. Teachers, administrators, and guardians benefit from the advice JoAnne provides.”

Laura Blair, special services director for KCSD, called Criss one of the most student-centered educators she has ever worked with.

“She is selfless and committed, and she lives and breathes education,” Blair said. “She is always working towards expanding her skills to better help students and their families.

When she is not working, Criss likes to garden and practice Jiu-Jitsu. She has a black belt and has been practicing in the martial art for nearly 40 years.

Criss said she was surprised and honored to receive the Crystal Apple. “I work behind the scenes, and to be recognized with this award really touched my heart,” she said.

ROB DUNHAM, shop teacher, Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School

Crystal Apple winner Rob Dunham has taught shop classes to two generations of students at Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School, encouraging them to build and problem solve in a variety of hands-on classes from woodworking and welding to automotive and emerging technology.

Dunham works long hours, coming in early and staying late to help students on projects and homework. 

“Rob is the rock of the school and a driving force behind the improved (academic) data with Chiloquin,” his nominators wrote. “It’s time for a community to thank a man for his life’s work. You will not find a more passionate and connected educator.”

Dunham started his teaching career in 1996 as a shop teacher at Chiloquin. From Walla Walla, Wash., he fell in love with the Chiloquin area, and he plans to stay until he retires. His wife, Jenny Dunham, also teaches at Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School.

“These are my people,” Dunham said of Chiloquin. “I’m honored that I get to come here and work with these kids every day. I enjoy my coworkers, but what fills my soul are the kids. Seeing them grow.”

A natural storyteller, Dunham admitted he is known for being loud, but he has tempered that over the years. He is passionate about his students, and today – five years after the seniors in his advisory class graduated – he knows about each one. Their names are autographed on his classroom door.

His shop is a working shop. Students are doing hands-on learning full time. He always has a vehicle for students interested in auto mechanics to rebuild.

Principal Scott Preston attributed Dunham’s success as a teacher to his ability to connect with students.

“Rob is a constant source of support for two generations of students at Chiloquin Junior/Senior High School,” he said. “His rapport with students is in a class of its own.”

ROSANNA EGGER, secretary, Gilchrist Elementary School

With four children, Rosanna Egger spent so much time at Gilchrist Schools that when the elementary secretary retired, the principal asked her to apply. That was more than six years ago, and Egger has taken care of Gilchrist students ever since.

Egger, one of KCSD’s 2020 Crystal Apples, exceeds expectations every day, even filling in as a bus driver when needed.

“I love watching the kids grow,” she said. Three of her children have already graduated from Gilchrist Junior/Senior High. The fourth is a freshman this year.

Egger is the first person students go to when they don’t feel well or have other issues. Her challenge? Trying to get her “job” done while giving students the attention they need.

“Rosanna Egger supports our students in all aspects of their school career,” said Melanie Mobley, principal of Gilchrist Elementary School. “She is known to many students as ‘Mama Egger.’ She goes above and beyond to take care of our teachers. She is patient and kind to our students and sets high expectations for them as well. Rosanna also attends after-school and evening events to support students in their activities.”

Egger chose to raise her family in small towns, and before Gilchrist, lived in Denio, a small town in northern Nevada with a two-room schoolhouse.

“Rosanna is never too busy to answer a question,” her nominators wrote. “She takes time to get to know our students, staff, and their families.”

FLOYD KENDALL, bus driver, Henley route 

Crystal Apple award winner Floyd Kendall watches over the students who ride his bus, especially this fall when just the younger elementary set are attending class.

“If they’re not there, I get to wondering what’s wrong,” he said. “If I don’t have a kindergartener or a first-grader, I worry about where they are, how they are doing.”

This concern for students is one of the reasons Kendall was awarded a Crystal Apple, which honors school district staff who go above and beyond to make a difference in the life of students.

“Floyd always offers to help, whether driving the football team to Seaside, or helping leadership with volunteer projects,” his nominators wrote. “Floyd always has a contagious smile and a helpful attitude. He inspires students to be outgoing and kind and he tries to cheer everyone up.”

Kendall has deep roots in the Henley area. He graduated from Henley High School, where his father was a teacher.

He married and moved to Enterprise, Ore., where he and his wife raised their kids and Kendall worked as a building contractor. Once the mills closed, the family returned to Klamath Falls. When the housing downturn hit, Kendall needed a job and took a position as a school bus driver, driving Klamath Union and Mazama routes.

Kendall started driving bus for the Klamath County School District in 2009, driving routes for Peterson, Stearns, and for the past several years, Henley students.

“I love the kids. I love talking to them,” he said. “I’ll sit in the back of the bus with the high school kids while we’re loading and talk with them. The kindergarteners bring me books, and I’ll read to them.”

Kendall enjoys driving daily routes, but his favorite part of the job is driving students on out-of-town trips. He clearly remembers a trip to the state Capitol in Salem. Not one to sit in the bus and wait, he joined the students on a tour of the building. The group ended up in the governor’s office, but the governor wasn’t there. One of the students sat at the governor’s desk and a photo opportunity appeared. Kendall took a picture of the entire class gathered around the desk.

“That was great,” he said. “As long as my health will let me, I’ll be driving.”

CARI PATZKE, fifth grade teacher, Ferguson Elementary School

Crystal Apple award winner Cari Patzke makes sure her students at Ferguson Elementary School have experiences that help them succeed. At the end of each school year, she hikes with her fifth-grade class to the top of Hogback Mountain. She also coaches the school’s triathlon club.

“I love my fifth graders,” she said. “It’s a sweet spot, that turning point. You can still reach them.”

Jana Dunlea, vice principal at Ferguson Elementary, said Patzke is a teacher who goes the extra mile for each student in her class. 

“Cari takes the time to get to know them and their needs and adjusts her teaching and lessons to make each individual successful,” Dunlea said. “She provides a safe, welcoming, and caring environment where students can come to learn and find an adult to look up to.”

Patzke charted a path to a college degree as a divorced, single mother with two jobs. When her youngest child turned 3, she enrolled at Klamath Community College. She earned her master’s degree in teaching from Western Governor’s University.

After a year of student teaching, she taught for two years at a private school and for a year in an intervention classroom at Roosevelt Elementary School. She started teaching fifth-grade at Ferguson in 2016. She has since remarried, and she and her husband have six children between them.

Her Crystal Apple nominators point to her dedication to the community, where she helps with events, coaches and encourages wellness.

“She is positive, caring and encouraging toward all those she meets,” her nominators wrote. “Anyone who knows her speaks volumes of the impact she has in the community, the school, and the district. She is such a wonderful person who wears many hats and never tires when it comes to helping out anyone.”

TAMMY PRESKITT, fifth-grade teacher, Chiloquin Elementary School

Crystal Apple award winner Tammy Preskitt believes teaching – and learning – is more than books and lessons. It takes empathy and understanding.

Preskitt has taught at Chiloquin Elementary School since 2013, her first job after going back to college for her teaching degree at the age of 50. She taught first grade for several years, fourth-grade last year and is teaching fifth-grade this year. Chiloquin, she says, is a good fit for her.

“We do have high poverty and all those things that go with that,” she said. “My background matches those things so I believe it’s given me great empathy and understanding for my students. I know where they’re at and know how to help them get to a place where they can be thinking and participating. It’s really important to create an atmosphere in the classroom where they can feel safe.”

She earned her degree from Western Oregon University and then moved to Chiloquin. Preskitt and her husband live within the city of Chiloquin.

“I wanted to teach where I live and live where I teach,” she said. “My students see my outside my classroom. They know where my home is. We see each other at the store and at the park. That is part of creating community. I get to know the students and they get to know me, which all helps with our learning process.”

Preskitt’s Crystal Apple nomination credited the educator with being able to reach students to help be successful in the classroom and in their personal lives.

“Tammy balances academics and empathy beautifully. Her strategies and mindfulness are positive and develop cooperation, mutual respect, and responsibility,” her nominators wrote. “She empowers and accommodates in her classroom, and her students develop a growth mindset.”

LAURIE ROSS, English teacher, Lost River Junior/Senior School

Crystal Apple winner Laurie Ross’ forward-thinking vision ensures her students not only succeed academically, but socially and emotionally as well.

An English teacher and robotics coach at Lost River Junior/Senior High School, Ross has a built state-recognized robotics program and developed partnerships that bring opportunities to students in the small, rural high school.

“The passion that she has for students is innate and can’t be developed — she works to the point of exhaustion evaluating, reflecting, and implementing opportunities for all students,” said Principal Jamie Ongman. “Her personal mission is to work to expose our students to other opportunities that normally small rural students don’t get.”

Ross started her teaching career in her hometown of Corning, Iowa, in a self-contained autistic classroom. In addition to a teaching degree, she has master’s degrees in reading and special education.

She taught for two years in Alaska before moving to the Klamath Basin to teach yearbook, journalism, and English at Mazama High School. She has taught English and robotics at Lost River since 2010.

Ross teaches English to 8th, 10th and 12th graders, including honors and dual credit courses such as Writing 121 and 122. Since she started at Lost River, she has taught journalism with computer aided design and started the school’s robotics program, which competes statewide and regularly ranks in the top third in the state.

Though she has now been an educator for 22 years, a bad experience student teaching had her second-guessing her career choice. She worked briefly in insurance before her hometown principal asked her to teach. 

“It was the right thing. I can’t not teach,” Ross said. “When I’m teaching I have to do the very best I can all the time. I’m always trying to get better.”

SARAH SMITH, head secretary, Henley High School

Crystal Apple award winner Sarah Smith has been the face of Henley High School for more than 18 years as a secretary in the main office.

“I just love the kids,” she said. “Every day is different. It’s never boring.”

Smith started her career in the banking industry, but changed tracks when her son was about to start kindergarten. She was hired as attendance secretary at Henley High School in 2002, moving to the head secretary position in 2004. When she isn’t at school, she is working with her family’s beekeeping business.

Her nominators called Smith “an incredible asset” to the Henley community, not just the school.

“Sarah is the glue that seamlessly binds the daily operations of Henley High School,” they wrote. “Whether supporting students and staff members at her school or ensuring that every Henley patron feels valued and supported, she performs her role in a five-star capacity with smile.”

Two of Smith’s three children have graduated from Henley High School, and her youngest daughter is a seventh-grader at Henley Middle School.

“I loved to be here when my kids came through Henley. I loved seeing them every day,” she said, adding with a smile, “I don’t think they minded.”

Smith said she was surprised but pleased to receive the award. She said her biggest challenge is just managing time in the office. This year, with distance learning instead of in-person instruction, has been difficult. “Not having kids here has been really hard,” she said. “We really miss them.”

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