Know The District
We might be a little biased, but we think the people who work for the School District of Janesville are more than a little AMAZING! And once you get to meet them, we think that you'll agree!
But SDJ has nearly 1,500 employees -- so getting to know each one would be just short of impossible.
In an effort to get you started, we present this story series titled "Know the District." Included here is a collection of question-and-answer profiles that feature SDJ staff members at facilities throughout the district. These include teachers, social workers, principals, paraprofessionals, counselors, directors, food service workers, IT people and other front-line folks whose commitment to students is integral in helping shape our leaders of tomorrow!
So check these out, and come back regularly for new additions!
Steve Saliby - Roosevelt Elementary School
- Name: Steve Saliby
- Position at SDJ: Head Custodian, Roosevelt Elementary School
- How Long Have You Worked for SDJ: 22 years
- Education: Graduate, South Iredell High School (Statesville, N.C.), 1987.
- Family: Wife, Becky; daughter, Emily, and son, Sullivan.
Your name is quite recognizable for anyone familiar with local theater. What initially led you to the stage? I started doing theater at the age of 10. My sister wanted to audition for a dinner theater production of “The King and I,” so I went along for the ride. After she auditioned, the casting director asked me if I wanted to audition. I ended up getting in, and she didn't. She was not very happy with me.
If you weren’t working as head custodian at Roosevelt, what do you think you would be doing for a career? I really enjoy interacting with people and grew up in the restaurant business. I would probably be managing a restaurant and periodically bartending there.
You’re a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan. What led to you following the black and gold instead of the green and gold? I was born in California and grew up in the 70s there. My family were all Oakland Raiders fans and I wanted to be different, so I started rooting for the STEELERS. It is the same reason I am a Yankees fan instead of a Dodgers fan.
What is the best thing about being a custodian at an elementary school? What is the worst thing about being a custodian at an elementary school? The best thing about being an elementary head custodian is providing positive influences and interactions with children. The worst things are the CODE #2 clean-ups (use your imagination).
What is your favorite board game to play, and why? I have always enjoyed Trivial Pursuit because I love trivia.
If you could have free tickets to see any theatrical performance in any location, what would it be and where would it be? It would have to be “Les Misérables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary” that was performed at The O2 Arena in North Greenwich, London, England in 2010. It is my all-time favorite.
What person in history would you most like to meet, and why? I would love to have met Frank Sinatra and hang with The Rat Pack. Those guys were the coolest.
When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: My best friend and I were in Pittsburgh to see a game, and we were staying at the Hilton where the players stayed before the game. I had my Rod Woodson jersey on, and my friend was sporting a No. 95 Greg Lloyd jersey (big shoes to fill Keanu). We turned the corner and they both were coming out of a team meeting. They signed our jerseys, and Rod had two interceptions the next day to beat the formerly undefeated New Orleans Saints.
If you turn on the TV, what show/movie will you sit down and watch no matter how much of it you have already missed? Which show/movie will you turn off right away? I still watch “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan” when I come across it, but lately it has been “Avengers: Endgame” that gets me. I would rather chew glass than watch “The Bachelor.”
What makes you grateful? I am grateful that my kids are becoming amazing and kind adults. I am also grateful to my wife for putting up with me.
Name the one item you own that you could not live without. I would have to say that it is my Ping putter, which is more than 50 years old. It was handed down from my Dad to my brother and then to me. It is always a conversation starter on the course, and it has seen and drained some great putts in staff outings.
Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I did several national TV commercials when I was younger. They can be found on Youtube if you look in the right place.
If you could both star in and direct any theatrical production, which would it be and why? I would love to direct and star in “Big Fish.” I loved the movie, and the stage show was also wonderful.
If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? I would look up in the sky and thank my Mom in heaven for the luck.
If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I would love to play piano. I took lessons when I was young but never stuck with it.
Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. I always stock up on Popsicles, especially the Bomb Pops.
You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I would probably try to squeeze in a round of golf.
If you could travel anywhere in the world for free, where would you choose to visit? It would be Ireland. I would love to see the old castles and tour the local pubs.
Past "Know the District" Features
- Sharon Willeford, Franklin Middle School (Nov. 15, 2023)
- Linda Madarik, Van Buren Elementary School (Nov. 1, 2023)
- Jeff Halverson, Roosevelt Elementary School (Oct 18, 2023)
- Amanda Jones, Edison Middle School (Oct. 4, 2023)
- Vernita Jones, Madison Elementary School (Sept. 20, 2023)
- Adrian Farris, Monroe Elementary School (Sept. 6, 2023)
- UPDATED: Tina Johnson, Educational Services Center (May 23, 2023)
- Eric Skrzypchak, Parker High School (May 9, 2023)
- Andy LaChance, Edison Middle School (April 25, 2023)
- Charity Dillinder, Kennedy Elementary School (April 11, 2023)
- Daniel Jackson, Marshall Middle School (March 28, 2023)
- UPDATED: Jennifer Fieiras, Washington Elementary School (March 14, 2023)
- Erin Jensen, Rock University High School (Feb. 28, 2023)
- Ashley Wright, Wilson Elementary School (Feb. 14, 2023)
- Maryanne Messier, Monroe Elementary School (Jan. 31, 2023)
- Lisa Peterson, Rock River Charter School (Jan. 17, 2023)
- Carrie Kulinski, Educational Services Center (Dec. 20, 2022)
- David Harrison, Franklin Middle School (Dec. 6, 2022)
- Meghan Everhart, Jackson/Lincoln Elementary Schools (Nov. 22, 2022)
- Shelly Learned, Craig High School (Nov. 8, 2022)
- Lindsay Sayles, Educational Services Center (Oct. 25, 2022)
- Neal Boys, Parker High School (Oct. 11, 2022)
- UPDATED: Luke Hanewall, Marshall Middle School (Sept. 27, 2022)
- UPDATED: Jill Reifsnider, Youth Services Center (Sept. 13, 2022)
Sharon Willeford - Franklin MIddle School
- Name: Sharon Willeford
- Position at SDJ: English Learner Teacher, Franklin Middle School
- How Long Have You Worked for SDJ: 8 years
- Education: Bachelor's degree in International Studies/Spanish from UW-Oshkosh; Master's degree in Teaching of Languages, University of Southern Mississippi; Teaching Certificate from Georgia State University.
- Family: Husband, Steve; daughters Susanna, Laine and Kate; son Evan, and an orange kitty named Peaches.
Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? The primary job responsibility of an EL teacher is to improve the English reading, writing, listening and speaking skills of students of diverse languages and backgrounds. I work with middle-schoolers and usually have the same kids for all three years. I help make the academic content accessible to all students. I work with my co-teaching colleagues to find ways to modify or scaffold instruction which benefits everyone in the classroom. I do family engagement events, advocate for our diverse multicultural learners and provide a connection between families and school. One of my most satisfying roles is helping immigrants access the services they need at school and in the community to navigate their new life in America. Because of my Spanish language skills, I do a lot of interpreting at Franklin, as well.
If you weren’t in your current position with SDJ, what do you think you would be doing for a career? Before I became a teacher, I worked for the Government of Argentina as the Assistant to the Deputy Consul at the Consulate General of Argentina in Atlanta. My favorite part of that position was being involved in planning and hosting events. I left Atlanta and got into teaching because I relocated to small-town eastern North Carolina. I think if I had not moved, I would have worked for a company in international sales or marketing.
What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it? My first job was summer corn detasseling. It was hard, hot work, but I learned the value of money, perseverance, tackling big jobs in chunks and that work is more fun with friends.
What went into your decision to become an EL teacher specifically? I started teaching Spanish at the high school level and ended teaching at UW-Rock County. I often had Spanish-speaking students ask me if I would proofread their papers for other courses. Some of the students had been EL students at some point, and I heard so many good stories about educators who had helped them out along the way. After 23 years of identifying as a Spanish teacher, I started to think about making the jump. Honestly, a part of me was working the retirement angle, too. I could live the winter in some warm place like Colombia and tutor English.
If you could learn to do any one thing, what would it be? I have always wanted to learn how to scuba dive. I’ve traveled to some great places but had to enjoy the water snorkeling. The idea of it both terrifies and excites me.
If you could travel anywhere in the world free of charge, where would you go and why? Oh, so many choices. I love to travel and I think right now if you were giving me a week off school and a free trip, I’d be off to Montenegro. Montenegro? Exactly, I think it is flying under the radar, so it would be perfect for my country No. 29. It’s close to Italy, Croatia and Greece, but quieter.
Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. That I don’t know how to drive a manual transmission. There’s a cute 1974 MG convertible parked in our garage, but I don’t know how to drive it.
What initially drew you to the idea of learning a second language? I had an amazing Spanish teacher back in the day at Franklin – Mrs. Lyones. Memories of her class involve a lot of food. I believe it was her (but it could have been Mrs. Ostic at Parker) that took us to the neighborhoods of Chicago (Pilsen) where we got to see and experience the culture and try out our Spanish. I was able to travel on school trips to Mexico and Spain (can’t imagine taking middle-schoolers!). The next year I was chosen to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student to Colombia and after I got back from a year abroad, I was sold. I took some French in college and am currently 176 days into Portuguese on Duolingo.
Give one of your favorite examples of a time where nontraditional methods helped you reach a student who was struggling? Tough question. I had a student that really would not do any work and claimed he hated reading. In conversation though, I discovered he had read all the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books. So, while the rest of the class was doing character analysis, etc. on “Tangerine,” this student and I applied all that to a DWK book. The student didn’t suddenly do all his work, of course, but he was able to apply the skills to his book and produce work that wasn’t likely to happen otherwise. Was it more important that he read the same book as the class or that he could show he understood the concepts?
You have two hours of free time. What do you do? If I’m at home, I make coffee and go sit in our hot tub. In summer, a ride in the MG convertible is always a good way to unwind. Otherwise, you’d probably find me looking at travel websites and planning a trip, whether I take it or not.
Who is your favorite Muppet? I root for Oscar the Grouch. Oscar is different from the other Muppets and yet, he’s accepted. He secretly has done some nice stuff. This was an argument starter in our household as to whether Oscar is a Muppet or not.
What is your favorite thing to eat, and where is your favorite place to get it? Ice cream is my favorite thing to eat. That Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream being right across from Franklin is dangerous! I also love La Michoacana. Get the “Maracuya” (passion fruit). Trust me.
What song, when it comes on the radio, has you singing along? Which one makes you immediately turn the dial? I raised four kids, so really, I just like peace and quiet! However, I like old-school, 70-80s Rock. I have been known to sing along at the top of my lungs to some Pitbull, Queen or Violent Femmes on a good road trip. I don’t care for country music, though.
Many of us take speaking English for granted. What would you say your students struggle with most in learning this language? English is such a confusing mess of a language. How do you explain red/read/read? How can red (the color) be pronounced the same as read (the past-tense verb) yet they are spelled differently? And how on earth can “read” be pronounced differently and mean both past and present tense? It’s all about context, and the best way to learn a language is just to be immersed in it. Idioms are always a challenge to language learners, too. Students struggle with moving from social English to the academic language that is needed to be successful in school and work.
If you could share a piece of advice with your 18-year-old self, what would it be? I would tell my 18-year-old self to take more risks and challenges because sometimes the best parts are when you get off the beaten path. Oh, and wear way more sunscreen.
Linda Madarik - Van Buren Elementary School
- Name: Linda Madarik
- Position at SDJ: Music Teacher, Van Buren Elementary School
- How Long Have You Worked for SDJ: 28 years
- Education: Bachelor's degrees in Education and Music Education from Western Michigan University.
- Family: Daughters Annalise and Kallie.
What initially led to your love for music, and when did you know you wanted to become a music teacher? Singing 80s pop songs with my dad in the car really loud. Pitch accuracy was optional. We just loved loudly singing together and having fun. I would have to say that my admiration for my high school band and choir teachers inspired me to choose the path of music education.
If you were not in your current field, what career direction do you think you might have explored? I love being outside! So probably something where I could be enjoying nature. Maybe parks and recreation or something to do with the conservation of natural resources.
What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it? My dad was a veterinarian and I worked as his receptionist/vet tech. I learned how to be compassionate towards clients who received bad news about their pet and their bill. I learned about perseverance and diligence as I struggled to balance accounts for the services my dad provided. Math was a challenge for me. I learned that my family worked hard and made many sacrifices for my brothers and me. Most of all, I learned that I was not cut out to follow in my dad’s footsteps and that was an important lesson because I always thought I wanted to be a veterinarian.
Who is your favorite Muppet? 100% Miss Piggy. I love her confidence, her sweet and spicy personality, and she most definitely deserves credit for perfecting the “hair toss.”
Your daughter is a teacher at Harrison Elementary School. How does it make you feel to know that your daughter has followed in your footsteps? I’m very happy for Annalise. When she told me she had decided on education as her major I told her you are going to have a career filled with amazing people. You are lucky, lucky that you see the value in educating these amazing people and working side by side with outstanding educators to better our world. I would be humbled to know that I may have played a small part in her choosing education as her passion. She hasn’t admitted that yet.
Name the one item you own that you could not live without. Well, when I asked my daughter (youngest) what she thought my item would be she said, “Your couch!” I would say at this point it would be my Croc flip-flops. I live in them. It’s all about comfort.
In your opinion, why is music class such an important educational component for elementary school students? Children need to be able to have times during their day where they can have a sense of humanity and community through music. Singing, playing, and creating provide students with the ability to build a sense of community and feel connected to one another. When students feel a sense of belonging and connection, they are willing to take risks in a comfortable yet stimulating environment. That is the powerful magic of music education.
Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I can sing all 50 states in alphabetical order in approximately 25 seconds. It’s a song. If you know, you know.
Can you name a popular television show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don’t understand why it is popular? I would have to say “Seinfeld.” I can remember friends and family members reliving their favorite parts of that show and laughing so hard that they could barely talk. I don’t know. I just don't get it … literally.
If you could have tickets to any concert featuring any artist (alive or dead), who would you want to see and why? The Bee Gees. They were my teenage crush (I’m old) group. I loved Barry Gibb’s falsetto voice. There is also something so amazing when family members harmonize. Their voices just fit together perfectly.
What makes you grateful? There are too many to list, but since I am an educator, I am going to go with …the people. All of the children I have had the privilege of knowing and their parents who graciously shared their children with me. All of the colleagues that I have known throughout my teaching career. All of my family members live out of state. These colleagues past and present are my family and I am and will always be grateful for their love.
Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. I always buy blueberries. It must be comfort food to me as I ate them by the handful as a child growing up. Our family friends owned a blueberry patch and that was our source of entertainment when we spent time with them.
Knowing what you know now, what piece of advice do you wish you could have given to yourself as a first-year teacher? I would tell my first-year teacher self, “You’re doing fine, don’t be so hard on yourself.” During my first year and a few years after that, I was convinced that my lack of experience was going to “damage children.” I wish I would have realized that everyone has to start somewhere and if you love the students more than the content you teach, you are on the right path.
You’re in your car, listening to the radio. What song will get you to sing out loud, and which song will get you to change the station? I’m an 80s kind of person so I will always belt out “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. Even if it’s not a song I love, I don't change the station for music, just news and commercials.
If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I want to learn how to train dogs to be service dogs. I know that this would be a challenge because I have been described as soft-hearted and most of my animals are completely spoiled and have no manners. In addition to being challenging it would be so amazing to present someone with a well-trained companion to help with the many challenges of life.
Jeff Halverson - Roosevelt Elementary School
- Name: Jeff Halverson
- Position at SDJ: Second-Grade Teacher, Roosevelt Elementary School
- How Long Have You Worked for SDJ: 31 years
- Education: Bachelor's degrees in Learning Disabilities and Elementary Education, UW-Whitewater; Master's degree in Curriculum & Instruction, National Louis University.
- Family: Wife, Jenny; sons Vinny and Jack, and dog, Beau.
- What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it? I worked at Mike’s Country Restaurant in Madison. I know, that seems like quite the oxymoron. I washed dishes for the catering part of the business. I learned when you think you’re done with the job, there’s always more (dishes) to do!
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? Learn to fly a Cessna airplane so my trip to the Northwoods would take one hour instead of four.
- What is the worst injury you have ever suffered? I’ve been pretty fortunate not to have any broken bones after playing football growing up. I did have a detached retina in 2001 and two surgeries quickly thereafter. Public Service Announcement: If you see any new flashes of light and/or new floaters in your eye, get in to see an ophthalmologist immediately!
- In addition to being a grade-school teacher in the School District of Janesville, you have a successful business as a professional photographer. How did you get into photography? I’ve had a fondness for photography my entire life. I really got into it seriously in 2013 when I bought my first DSLR (camera). My former neighbor, who is a professional sports photographer, has been very kind and instrumental in my progression as a photographer over the years.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? I would travel to Alaska again. My wife and I have been there four times and have just scratched the surface on what we’ve seen. After we were married, we traveled a lot before we had kids. Our favorite moments were taking a flightseeing trip in a small Cessna, landing on a glacier just below Denali in the Alaska range and getting out of the plane and playing in the snow in the middle of summer. Also, going to Brooks Falls and watching brown bears pluck chum salmon out of the air as they tried to jump the falls. Finally, everything about Kodiak Island. I’d go do all three of these things again. It never gets old!
- What initially inspired you to become a teacher? My father was in education his entire life. I’ve followed in his footsteps. I was so proud to see what he accomplished.
- What movie makes you laugh, even after you’ve seen it several times? “Napoleon Dynamite.” Love that movie. I am also an 80s movie buff.
- What is your pet peeve? Fast drivers on the Beltline in Madison.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I can’t cook much, but I make a mean peach cobbler with fresh Georgia peaches from the Tree-Ripe truck. Our entire family loves it.
- What type of photography do you most enjoy producing: portrait, sports, nature, something else? I love nature, sports and senior photos – probably in that order. I love shooting high-school sports and Wisconsin football. I’ve had many of my first-graders from Jefferson Elementary, my former school, come back to me and get photos done. That’s always fun.
- When you were a young student, what was your favorite subject to study, and why? My favorite teacher was Mrs. Romittee, my fourth-grade teacher in Niagara, Wisconsin. She made us put together a huge “Wisconsin Booklet.” I loved learning about our state.
- Name one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. In the summer, it’s definitely Rainier cherries.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? Kermit, of course. Grew up with that guy.
- What song are you most likely to sing along to, and which one could you go the rest of your life without ever hearing again? I made up a song about the continents. My co-workers always come into my classroom and laugh when they hear it.
- If you could share a piece of advice with your 18-year-old self, what would it be? Take risks in life. Sometimes it’s hard to do, but it’s worth it.
Amanda Jones - edison middle School
- Name: Amanda Jones
- Position at SDJ: Choir Director, Edison Middle School
- How Long Have You Worked for SDJ: 6 years
- Education: Bachelor's degree in K-12 Choral and General Music Education, UW-Whitewater.
- Family: Husband, Terry, and two cats.
- What initially led to your love for music, and when did you know you wanted to become a music teacher? I first felt led to become a music teacher in my sophomore year of high school and really made the decision in my junior year. I had some amazing teachers that inspired me to better myself as a musician and made me want to work with and try to inspire students the way they did.
- If you were not in your current field, what career direction do you think you might have explored? I think if I weren't a choir teacher, I still would have become a teacher anyway. It was always something I considered, and teaching math was a thought I had during my time growing up and in college.
- What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it? The first job I ever had was at Culver's, and it ended up being a place I would work all through high school and college. It was a great experience, and I learned things like time management and communication skills. I also met my best friend and ate way too much custard.
- In college, you spent part of one summer touring Italy performing Opera. Describe your experience. This was an incredible experience and one of the many reasons I was so glad I transferred to UW-Whitewater in my sophomore year of college. I got to travel the Italian countryside, live in a small town with amazing people and perform in a comedic opera (Puccini's “Gianni Schicchi”) in several beautiful and historic theaters throughout Italy.
- If you could have free tickets to see any performer, who would it be? I would actually love to see John Williams conducting any of his movie scores while the movie plays. I've been to see one of the “Harry Potter” movies while the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra played the score live (amazing!!), and it would be so cool to see this legend conduct the score himself!
- Do you have a pet peeve? I feel like I have a million. A serious one is when people don't keep their word, and a silly one is when students move their chairs from the dots on the floor in my room.
- What is your all-time favorite food, and where is your absolute favorite place to get it? My favorite food, in general, is pasta. Really any kind. Most years for my birthday, my husband will take me out to a new Italian restaurant because he knows I love it. This past year we went to a place called Naples 15 in Madison, and it was incredible!
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: Meeting my husband, Terry. We lived in different states and met through a mutual friend who introduced us in the summer of 2016. I believe God brought us together, and I couldn't be more thankful!
- Name the one item you own that you could not live without. For me, it's my Bible and my wedding ring. I love both of them.
- You enjoy travel. Share some of the places you have already been, and if you could visit anywhere in the world for free, where would you choose to go? I have been blessed to be able to do some traveling. So far, I've been to Italy, London and Liverpool, England; Niagara Falls, New York; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Universal Studios in Florida; The Grand Canyon and Flagstaff, Arizona; Nashville; Yellowstone National Park; Corpus Christi and San Antonio, Texas, and most recently, Cancun, Mexico. After typing all that and realizing there's more, I feel REALLY blessed! If I could travel anywhere for free, I'd be going to Scotland. It looks beautiful.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I think people might be surprised to know I'm only really familiar with musicals I've directed. I wasn't a big musical theater person growing up, but I've been enjoying learning more about different shows as I direct more at Edison.
- Can you name a popular television show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don’t understand why it is popular? There are a bunch I can think of, but one is “Game of Thrones.” It's one my husband has seen, and I actually really like stories, movies and books about castles and dragons and kingdoms and all of that. But this one I don't get.
- You and your husband are in the process of becoming licensed foster parents. What led to you making that decision? We've been trying to have kids for years now, and it looks like it just isn't in the cards for us to have them biologically. But God makes a way, and we have always felt led to have children, so here we go! We're currently in the process of getting that license and are in the baby stages (pun intended) of looking into domestic adoption. Both are messy, hard, beautiful roads, and we look forward to seeing what our future family will look like when we are finally blessed with children of our own.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Donuts/baked goods are my weakness.
- You’re in your car, listening to the radio. What song will get you to sing out loud, and which song will get you to change the station? I sing constantly and to everything. My family can attest to that. There isn't a lot that makes me want to change the station, except maybe a bad cover of an already good song.
Vernita Jones - Madison Elementary School
- Name: Vernita Jones
- Position at SDJ: School Counselor, Madison Elementary School
- How Long Have You Worked for SDJ: 6 years
- Education: Master’s degrees in Organizational Leadership Administration and School Counseling, both from Concordia University in Mequon.
- Family: Daughters Amiyah and Aaliyah, and significant other, Byron.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? I am the school counselor at Madison Elementary. I work with students in grades Kindergarten through fifth grade. A typical day for me involves classroom guidance lessons, individual sessions with students, collaborating with staff to help better serve our families. When needed, I also help with being the building assistant and manage behaviors.
- Before joining SDJ, you were a correctional officer at the Rock County Juvenile Detention Center. What made you decide to change course? I needed a change. I wanted to be a change-maker with students and families, and I knew that doing that took time. Most youth at the detention center were there for sanctions (10 days) and while there we had conversations about ways to move forward, but I knew that was not enough.
- What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it? My first job was at the YMCA after-school program. I was an assistant child care teacher. I learned patience! I worked with elementary age students after school and provided homework help, snacks and general care until their adult picked them up. I was 17 and at the time was in the Child Care Co-op program at my high school. Patience is and was key when working with students after school who most of the time did not want to be there.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? If I could learn to do one thing, I would learn to speak and write in another language.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? If I could travel anywhere in the world, I would go to Shark Bay, Australia. My favorite animal is a shark, and Shark Bay has a huge variety of sharks living there. I would love to see how sharks and orcas interact with each other in their natural habitat.
- Talk a little bit about your fascination with shoes. My fascination with shoes started when I was a young child. I played basketball, and Michael Jordan had the best shoes at the time. Whenever he released shoes, my parents made sure that I would get the pairs I truly wanted. At the time, I did not know that they would mean something and be worth as much as they are until I got older. Getting retro Jordans used to be so easy. I could go to a shoe store any day, anytime and get whatever shoe had recently been released. Now, it is a whole process. You have to enter drafts, use points and hope that you are selected. Once I saw that there was a shoe resell market I really became even more fascinated with shoes. Yeezys, Nike Dunks and Retro Jordans can resell for three times the price depending on the shoe and size.
- Your job requires a lot of positivity, which can be draining. What methods do you use to maintain a positive perspective for students while maintaining your sanity. Remaining positive and smiling is truly my go-to. I know that everyone goes through something, and if I can be the person who helps them make it through, I did my job. I am also quite honest. When students are upset and feeling down about something relatable, I share that I know exactly how they are feeling.
- When it comes to television, what shows are you most likely to binge and which ones will you avoid at all costs? As crazy as it may sound, I enjoy binge watching true crime/serial killers documentaries. It is probably the counselor in me trying to see what part in their life helped them get to that decision. I will not watch any scary movies.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: As simple as it sounds, being able to spend time with my siblings since our father passed has been some of the most amazing moments.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I think people would be surprised to know that I still watch WWE wrestling. I have been a fan since I can remember. Monday Night RAW and Friday Night Smackdown are two shows I must watch.
- The very best part of my job is: The very best part of my job is building relationships with my co-workers, students and their families. Getting to know the likes and dislikes of my co-workers has been quite interesting but necessary to have a positive work environment. Relationship-building is also very key when working with my students and families. I like to call myself the bridge that brings families and teaching staff together.
- Share an example of a time where nontraditional methods helped you reach a student who was struggling. There was a time a student was extremely upset and stated they wanted to go home. During this time, it had been almost impossible for the student to calm down and at this time the student mentioned they wanted to go home. Without any hesitation, I said, “I do, too. Can you call my mom and tell her to come get me?” The student started laughing and said that was the first time they heard an adult say they wanted to call their mom. After that, the student and I were able to have a conversation about how adults have the same feelings as students.
- When you were a young student, what was your favorite subject to study? My favorite subjects to study were ELA and history. I enjoyed writing and reading and different parts of the world. My fourth- and fifth-grade teacher allowed me to be her teacher assistant, and my job was to write on the whiteboard.
- Name something you’re incredibly proud of and something you regret. I am incredibly proud of myself for completing school. I did not attend college the traditional way. Working full-time and being a parent full-time had its ups and downs, but I pushed through. I do regret not going to school for teaching like I initially wanted to as a child.
- Share a piece of advice that has stuck with you. Who did it come from, and why did it stick? You cannot pour from an empty cup. In order to be there for others, you have to take care of yourself. It is OK to put you first. My mom has always told these statements to me when things got hard or I got too hard on myself. I have found myself telling others these same exact statements hoping they will be encouraged to keep pushing through.
Adrian Farris - Monroe Elementary School
- Position: Music Teacher, Monroe Elementary School.
- Tenure with SDJ: 25.5 years.
- Education: Bachelor's degree, Music Education, UW-Whitewater; Master's degree, Interdisciplinary Studies, National Louis University.
- Family: Wife, Heather; sons Cole and Dayne; granddaughter, Nevaeh.
- What initially led to your love for music, and when did you know you wanted to become a music teacher? I started taking piano lessons at the
age of 5. My mother was my piano teacher, and all six of my siblings play. I knew I wanted to be a music teacher when I was in high school. I was very involved in the music department where I grew up and had some great influences through the years.
- If you were not in your current field, what career direction do you think you might have explored? I have always been an athletic guy, so probably something dealing with sports. I used to enjoy kicking field goals and could consistently make them from 40 yards.
What was the first job you ever had, and what did you learn from it? I started delivering papers at the age of 9 with my older sister. She would pay me a nickel a paper which back then almost bought me a pack of Topps football cards. I learned getting up at 5:30 a.m. to deliver papers isn't worth a nickel a paper.
Among your many hobbies is woodworking. What are some of the items you’ve made, and what is it about this pastime that you enjoy? I love woodworking because you start with nothing and end up with something very unique. No two things are ever the same. I have made several tables including spinning the pedestal on a lathe. My favorite thing to do now is creating things out of trees that I trim around our property (chairs, planters, broomsticks, etc.).
In addition to woodworking, your interests include golf/disc golf, bicycling and running. Are you competitive, or do you partake in these activities simply for fun and health benefits? I am very competitive. This is what happens when you are the middle child in a family of seven siblings. The dinner table is probably where my competitive nature began. I started running when I was in my late 20s. I have two younger brothers who were runners, and they challenged me to compete in some races with them. I, of course, took the challenge on and lost for about the first 10 races. By the time I was in my third or fourth year of running, I was not only beating them, but I won a lot of road races. My favorite win was the Cheese Days Chase (in Monroe), which is a 5k and has around 1,000 runners competing. I won the whole race with a time of 17:26. My parents were there cheering me on, and I was able to cheer on my younger brothers as they finished … a minute or two behind me!
Back in 2013, you and your siblings released a Christmas music album. What sparked that idea, have you released any since or have you considered another one? My family is very musical. All of us play piano, and most of us play two or more other instruments. We grew up playing together for a Christmas mass at St. Victor's church in Monroe. We did this for more than 20 years. Along the way, we had people ask if we would record an album so they could enjoy the music year round. We produced a cassette tape around the year 2000 and then recorded the CD in 2013. It never went platinum, but I think we sold around 10,000 copies.
Share a musical instrument you can’t currently play but would like to learn, and why? I have never played a hammer dulcimer. It has a cool sound and is similar to a keyboard in some ways. I think this would be a fun new instrument to pursue.
Name the one item you own that you could not live without. Running shoes. I spend a lot of money on running shoes but without them, I couldn't do one of the things that keeps me sane. At the end of my day, strapping on those shoes and pounding the pavement is pretty special. In 2019, I had back surgery and was told my running days might be over. By the grace of God, I was running again six months later. The doctor gave me the thumbs up and told me my recovery was miraculous. I am thankful every day I can get out on the trails.
In your opinion, why is music class such an important educational component for elementary school students? Music is one of the most important facets in our lives. It surrounds everything we do. Imagine watching a movie with no music or driving down the road in silence. For those of us who play an instrument, music is something that calms, soothes and provides emotion in a way nothing else can. I am honored to share my passion with the students I interact with every day.
Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. Remember my competitive brothers? Before we started running races, we lifted weights together. When I was 25, I weighed 210 pounds and could bench press 315 pounds. Probably part of the reason I needed to have back surgery in 2019!
Can you name a popular television show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don’t understand why it is popular? I never got into the “Twilight” saga. It all seemed a little far-fetched in my opinion. I am also not a blood guy. Some of my co-workers could tell you how I react around blood.
You proposed to your wife on “The Montel Williams Show.” Share the story of how that came to be. I wrote in to the show explaining I wrote a song for Heather and wanted to propose to her on the show. They responded back within a couple of weeks and asked me to send in a copy of the song. About a month later, I received a call from the producer and was told it would be on the Valentine's Day episode. They flew us out and put us up in a fabulous hotel on 5th Avenue in NYC. I told Heather we won tickets to the show just to be in the audience. She did not know what was coming. I was sooooo nervous. About half-way through the show, Montel came over to us, and the song started to play. He handed me the microphone, and I sang to her right there and proposed afterwards. She said “YES!”
What is the best piece of advice you have received as it pertains to teaching, and who did it come from? Probably from my mom. She always told me that you get what you give. If you put forth the effort, the results will be the reward. That is true with so many things … teaching included.
You’re in your car, listening to the radio. What song will get you to sing out loud, and which song will get you to change the station? A good-old classic hair band song can get me to sing in the car. This is the music I played when I played in bands growing up, so it has some memories.
If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? The one thing I would love to be able to do is to fly. I know this is far-fetched, but when I wake up from a dream where I was able to fly, all I want to do is fall back asleep so the dream can continue and I can soar like an eagle.
Tina Johnson - educational services center
- Position: Director of Benefits and Wellness, Educational Services Center. (Update: Johnson left the School District of Janesville in 2023 to become superintendent in the Hartland-Lakeside School District).
- Hometown: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor's degree in Music Education/Vocal Performance, Wartburg College; Master's degree in Educational Leadership, St. Xavier University; Principal licensure, Aurora University; District Administrator licensure (pending), Concordia University.
- Family: Daughter, Kayla; son, Carter.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about your position. What is rewarding is that I work with some really incredible people who make me look forward to work every day. What is frustrating is that there is never enough time in the day.
- What was the very first job you ever had? I was a summer custodian at my high school, changing locks, running the floor scrubber and Bondo-ing a window are among my favorite memories.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Lace up and go for a run or hike. Nature and movement are my go-tos!
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? Crochet. My great-grandmother, grandmother and mother all crochet blankets.
- What was your favorite subject in school? Music is the right answer, but truly, I had some great teachers in a variety of subject areas. Those were my favorite classes.
- You have a background in vocal performance. Share some highlights from your singing career. I am trained in Opera. I am thankful for the numerous opportunities singing gave me to see the world. My favorite European memories are Eisenach, Germany – singing at the castle; Coventry Cathedral, England; Luxembourg; Prague and Munich, Germany. In the States: Carnegie Hall and Disney. Most recently, and as often as time allows, you can find me performing with The Lakeland Players (a live arts group based in Elkhorn).
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Avocados. I eat 4-5 per week.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Ireland.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? I don’t know if he was my favorite, but I remember having a stuffed Fozzie Bear as a child.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I LOVE tent camping in the woods.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: I got to play my trumpet with Wynton Marsalis, who taught me a lesson on circular breathing.
- If you could share the stage with one performer, who would it be and why? Barbra. Enough said.
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. Doris Day, for sure. She was an icon in our household growing up.
- If you weren’t working in your current field, what do you think you would be doing as a career? Touring the world as a motivational speaker.
- Share a quote that inspires you. "If I’m not part of the solution, I am part of the problem."
Eric Skrzypchak - Parker High school
- Position: Math teacher, Parker High School.
- Hometown: Wausau, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor's degree, Secondary Education. Mathematics, UW-Madison; Master's degree, Curriculum and Instruction, UW-Whitewater; Alternative Education Certification, UW-Milwaukee.
- Family: Wife, Dawn; daughter, Kylee; son, Keegan; dogs, Jackson and Bella.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? I am a math teacher at Janesville Parker High School. I have taught Algebra I and II, Geometry and Math for the Trades through the years. I am also an assistant coach for football and baseball at Parker.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a teacher. It is rewarding as a teacher when you see students who struggle with learning finally see the light bulb go on and they “get it.” They are so excited. One of my most frustrating moments in teaching is when a student will not even try to learn a concept. They make comments like, “I will never understand it anyway.” I personally don’t believe that. I think we all can understand math with the right support and lots of effort.
- What was the very first job you ever had? I worked on a farm when I was 14 years old. I would have to bike there, about 5 miles away. They put me on a tractor in a field by myself raking hay within the first week of working there with no experience. The most memorable experience was cleaning out the calf pens with a pitchfork on hot summer days.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? If I have two hours of free time, I am most likely doing something around my house. I enjoy being outside and working on things in my yard.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? I really loved the show “Person of Interest.” It’s about a CIA agent, thought to be dead, and a computer programmer who work together to try and prevent upcoming crimes either to the victim or the perpetrator. They do not know whose "number" they are getting or whether or not they are the victim or perpetrator.
- What was your favorite subject in school? Math was my favorite subject. Numbers made sense to me. I knew I wanted to do something in the math field.
- You played college football for the Wisconsin Badgers. What position did you play, and what was the highlight of your college sports career? I was a walk-on punter. I had the opportunity to letter twice, was a two-time Academic All-Big Tenwhile at Madison and had the opportunity to play at the "Horseshoe" of Ohio State. That was exciting playing in front of 90,000+ fans and a national TV audience. Also, I earned a one-year scholarship my junior year. I really enjoyed the opportunity of being able to compete, travel and get to know players from different parts of our country. I enjoyed and feel grateful for having had the chance to compete at a major Division 1 university. I also had the opportunity to be a part of both Big Ten and Rose Bowl championship teams.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I think it would be to become a financial planner. The numbers just make sense to me, and it would be exciting to try and find the next big company.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. I definitely like to stop at the deli and bakery at the grocery store. I like my meats, breads and cheeses.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? There are still so many places in the United States that I have not been to, so I want to make sure I can see some of these places. I still want to see the Grand Canyon, the Black Hills and some other places out west.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? Probably Cookie Monster. I always love a good cookie!
- Before moving over to Parker, you taught at TAGOS Leadership Academy in the district. How are the challenges different between teaching in a comprehensive classroom as opposed to a project-based learning setting? In the PBL setting, we were definitely looking more at the process of learning, expanding and deepening student understanding. Also, the students had input into what they wanted to learn, to a certain extent.
- In the past, you’ve donated your hair to charity. What is is about doing this that speaks to you? I have donated my hair twice. First, I donated to Pantene Beautiful Locks. My second time, I donated to Wigs for Kids. I wanted to make sure the people receiving the wigs would not have to pay for them, because with some of the organizations, they do. Also, Pantene Beautiful Locks, at the time, took hair donations of 8-10 inches, so I did not have to grow my hair as long. They stopped taking hair donations before I could donate a second time. Wigs for Kids requires 12-plus inches. I learned from the thank you letter that I got that it takes about seven hair donations to make one wig. It is amazing that they are able to take multiple peoples' hair donations and put them together to make wigs. I decided to donate my hair when some of my family members were diagnosed with cancer, and I know that it runs through both sides of my family. I look at it as a reminder to me every day about my family members.
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. I would have liked to meet (former UCLA basketball coach) John Wooden. It was amazing what he did at UCLA and how he could inspire those young adults. He was so successful for an extended period of time, and he always cared about every little detail.
- If you weren’t teaching, what do you think you would be doing as a career? I think I would have enjoyed doing landscape architecture. I enjoy being outside and doing manual labor. Our family has done all of our own landscaping around our house. We have always made it a family affair. It is a great way to spend time with your family.
Andy LaChance - Edison Middle school
- Position: Teacher, Edison Middle School.
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor's degree in elementary/middle school science from UW-Whitewater, Master's degree in curriculum and instruction, National Louis University.
- Family: Wife, Casie, and daughters Lexie and Kylie.
- Over the summer, you work part-time at Firestone Complete Auto Care in Janesville. Is car maintenance/repair something you’ve always been interested in, or are you just keeping busy in your down time? I have always loved machines and cars. I started my career as a mechanic in 1986 when all of my friends moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, as the local General Motors plant was threatening closure. I would fix everything from lawn mowers to motorcycles to keep myself busy during the summer. My dad has a 1965 Corvette Stingray that I helped him rebuild the motor in back in 1983 (still runs great). It is a skill that comes naturally to me which is why I still work on cars professionally to this day.
- If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be doing for a living? I would manage a Firestone store. I like working with people and seeing immediate results.
- Share something you find rewarding about your job as a teacher. The most rewarding part of my job is watching students overcome struggles in life. There is no substitute for experience, and the best things in life are the ones we work hardest at.
- Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self? I would tell myself that saying “no” is okay. I spent too much of my life doing major tasks for other people and neglecting what I needed done. It’s great to help others as long as your own needs are not left in the parking lot. Find a balance!
- Would you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl? I am an early bird, waking up to go running at 4:30 a.m. This is a great time to go running, and it burns a lot of energy that could be used for negativity later in the day. I find that if there is a day where I did not run for some reason, I get frustrated much easier. On the flip side, I am usually asleep by 8:30-9 p.m. every night.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? I like the Swedish Chef because he is always throwing pots and pans around. Life is always throwing things at me, and I’ve realized I control nothing. Realizing that makes it a lot more fun.
- People would be surprised to find out that I: Don’t watch or like professional sports. I find it to be a waste of time and have learned a great many skills instead of sitting in front of a TV with a bag of chips.
- You graduated from Parker High School, where you were active in athletics. What was the highlight of your sports career? I was the first male athlete to earn 12 varsity letters, competing in cross country, swimming and track and field during my four years at Parker. I never had a junior varsity event and competed at the state level in swimming and cross country. To my knowledge, earning 12 varsity letters has only been done once since I graduated 30 years ago.
- When you were a student, what were your favorite and least favorite subjects? My favorite class was auto mechanics, as I love to fix broken cars. My teacher in high school (Dick Heshelman) allowed me to work on teachers’ cars that were broken, so I learned a lot by doing that and was able to get a job at Firestone right out of high school with that experience. My least favorite class was usually math because we never applied anything we learned. I learned math through construction and machining and found it to be a really useful skill.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I would love to go to Switzerland to see watches being made. Our world is filled with so many poorly made items that break in a short amount of time. Some Swiss watches will last a hundred years when properly serviced and maintained. Plus, I hear they have really great beer.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Beef jerky. If you don’t have it in your cart, your cart is basically worthless.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be and why? I would love to do surgery. It would be nice to help people, and it also pays a lot more than teaching.
- What was the first job you ever had? My first job was delivering papers for The Messenger and The Janesville Gazette. I was about 70 pounds but was able to deliver papers in all weather conditions, and I was fast enough to outrun all the angry dogs along the route. It’s amazing what little sense of humor a dog has when you come to collect $2 from its owner.
- Share a few things you’ve learned since your first year in the district that have helped you improve as a teacher. I have learned that kids come from all walks of life, and sometimes they just need a friend to make their day better. Experience has taught me that they remember life lessons rather than content. I have had a lot of kids thank me for keeping them on the straight and narrow years after they were at Edison. I’ve never had a former student thank me for teaching them the migratory patterns of the loggerhead turtle.
- You’re flipping through channels on the TV. What will get you to stop regardless of how much of the show you’ve missed? “The Blues Brothers” is one of my all-time favorite movies. I don’t watch TV, but if that movie is ever on, I stop what I’m doing to go “on a mission from God.” There is nothing funnier than watching that 1974 Dodge Monaco (the “Bluesmobile”) outrun everything on its way to pay the taxes for the church school. Just watch out for the penguin!
Charity dillinder - Kennedy Elementary school
- Position: Lunch hostess, Kennedy Elementary School.
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Midwest Christian Academy (1994). I have been considering the possibility of furthering my education. I am always up for a new challenge.
- Family: Husband, Shane (also an SDJ employee, and five kids: Ariel (SDJ employee), Michael, Lucas, Jenna and Ethan. Also, a very spoiled cat, Doris.
- In your experience, what are the most popular and least popular lunch options for students at Kennedy Elementary? I would have to say our most favored lunch choice by far is the orange chicken. Pizza crunchers, when available, run a close second. And hot ham and cheese has gained some popularity thanks to Miss Angela’s special technique for making them!
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I thought about this for a long time. I guess I am either pretty boring or too much of an open book. Either way, I am not full of surprises.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I’m addicted to Candy Crush! If I can steal an hour alone, I love to zone out and play that.
- What song are you most likely to sing along to if nobody else is listening? That’s easy, anything by Adele!
- If you weren’t the lunch hostess at Kennedy Elementary, what do you think you would be doing for a profession? Professional gambling sounds fun, but more than likely something like helping families with loved ones who are suffering from active addiction.
- What were your favorite and least favorite subjects in school? All of them. I was a terrible student, and I didn't like school. Sad, right? I am sure I would have greatly benefited from some of the amazing things that are in place today to help students thrive. I definitely have a soft spot for kids who struggle in school.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I regret not following through with piano lessons as a kid. I think to be able to captivate people with your ability to play an instrument would be pretty amazing. I do however play a mean Amazon Music playlist! I love to be the D.J. at any family gathering … when they let me.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I think Dubai would be a cool experience.
- What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What is the greatest challenge you face? By far, the most rewarding part of my job is that I literally get to spend 3-5 seconds a day with more than 200 students as they come through the lunch line. We spend these seconds every day saying things like, “Hi, I like your outfit” or “Cool haircut, dude.” There is sometimes a hug and always a smile, and the fact that I know their name. Yes, I know every single kiddo’s name in the lunch line. I'm proud of that. The point is, I try to make them feel special with the little bit of time I have. It's like an affirmation, good vibe drive-thru, and something I look forward to doing every day. The greatest challenge would be supply issues. Kids look forward to particular menu items that we just might not be able to get, and we never like to disappoint. Not orange chicken, though. We have plenty that … for now.
- What is the one dish students ask for that you wish you could get for them but can’t? Attention … and cookies!
- What was the very first job you ever had? What did it entail? Oh, boy. At 13, I begged my parents to let me take a paper route. The 5 a.m. deliveries in the cold and rain soon proved to be too much. It didn't last very long.
- If you could have the answer to any one question, what would that question be? What are the winning powerball numbers!
- Do you enjoy cooking outside of work, or is dealing with food on the job enough for you? My husband does 95% of the cooking! He loves to cook and yes, after all day in the kitchen, the last thing I want to think about is meal planning or cooking. So this works out well! He surprises me every night with something yummy … and sometimes with fancy cocktails, too!
- Knowing what you know now, share the one piece of advice you would like to give your younger self. Romans 8:28:” And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God.” So, basically, chill. It all works out. Just love Jesus.
- In your opinion, why is student nutrition so important? It’s pretty simple: When you are not hungry and your body is properly nourished, you perform better. We live in a food-rich county with a 40% waste ratio. The thought that any student within our school district goes without a meal is unfathomable to me. SDJ and our community can rest assured we have the most amazing school nutrition team there is! From the kitchens to the ESC, the priority is our kids and that their nutritional needs are being met. I want to give Liz (Leedle, SDJ school nutrition manager ), Megan (Martin, district school nutrition purchasing manager ) and Monica (Burkheimer, district operations manager for nutrition) a huge shout out for running an amazing program I am proud to work for. Together we support our principles, teachers and staff by making sure that no matter what behaviors or academic challenges arise, it will never be because our kids are hungry. This is very important to myself and our whole team! It’s a fundamental, right … food, water, shelter? No child should ever be denied a meal. Feeding is a show of love, and that’s why school nutrition isn’t just about “hot lunch” to me. It means so much more.
Daniel jackson - marshall middle school
- Position: Assistant principal, Marshall Middle School.
- Hometown: Chicago, but grew up in Janesville.
- Education: Bachelor of Science, African-American Studies, University of Minnesota, with minors in Public Health and Family Social Science. Teacher certification from Concordia University. Master's degrees in Education (Curriculum & Instruction) and Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis, UW-Madison.
- Awards & Honors: Scholar athlete, University of Minnesota (2003-05); Academic All-Big Ten selection and National Dean's List honoree (2004-05); Member of Big Ten and National Championship Wrestling Team at University of Minnesota and two-time letterwinner (2006-07); Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship recipient (2009-10); Contestant on American Ninja Warrior (2015); Accepted Black History Month Resolution (2022); City of Janesville Public Safety Volunteer of the Year recipient (2022).
- Family: Wife, Trina. Children: Kyira Romero, Keaton Romero, Kenza Jackson and Krimson Jackson.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? If I had two hours of free time, I would go on a long, scenic bike ride across the city. I love bike trails and grew up riding my bike all over the city. It’s my happy place. Here’s a fun fact: I still ride the bike my father bought me when I was 13 years old. I guess I have not grown much taller since then LOL!
- What was the first job you ever had? What did you learn from it? The first real job I had was working at UPS in college. I worked the night shift and rode my bike for roughly 30 minutes to get there. I learned two main things: 1. Minnesota winters provide horrible conditions ride a bike in and, 2. People ship some pretty bizarre things. For instance, while working my shift one night, a package fell to the floor and busted open. To my surprise and horror, several Guinea pigs fell out. Thankfully, they were dead. If I remember correctly, the boxes of Guinea pigs were being shipped for some lab research.
- You have aspirations of someday becoming a competitive eater. What is your motivation behind that? When I was younger, I thought if I ate more, I would grow taller. I didn’t grow taller but developed a sincere love for food. In college, I ate at least five meals daily with all the essentials – mostly pasta and pizza. Thankfully, I had an unlimited meal plan and could eat as often and as much as I wanted. That said, I found that I could eat an extraordinary amount of food, and one day would like to test my skills on the big stage as a competitive eater. I’m considering going to local restaurants and engaging in local food challenges to get started.
- Who is your favorite cartoon character? Wolverine was always my favorite character growing up. I loved watching the X-Men, but I adored Wolverine because he was indestructible.
- In 2015, you competed in “American Ninja Warrior” in Kansas City. What made you decide to take on that challenge, how did you do, and how did you train for competition? I was the head coach for the Parker wrestling team then, and after one practice, I delivered a speech about accountability. I told my wrestlers that “actions speak louder than words.” That night, I went home and my wife had “American Ninja Warrior” on. I hadn’t previously seen the show but was impressed by the athleticism of the competitors. The more I watched, the more I believed I could take on the challenges. I then turned into a sofa expert. At that moment, all I could hear in my head were the very words I told my wrestlers – “Actions speak louder than words.” Over the next few days, I completed the application and submitted it for consideration. Two weeks later, I received a call inviting me to Kansas City to compete in the show. Regarding how I did, I was eliminated from the second obstacle.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I would learn how to swim. I failed to swim in high school and just haven’t been able to perfect the skill. In all transparency, I am a bit fearful of water. I attribute my fear to a tragic event where I almost drowned when I was about 12 years old. My 8-year-old twins love swimming, and I would like to know how so I can confidently engage in the watersports they love.
- What was your favorite subject in school? Social Studies was always my favorite subject in school. I appreciate the sacrifices of our ancestors in their quest to ensure “Liberty and Justice for All!”
- You were a participant in the Janesville Multicultural Teacher Scholarship program. What is your impression of the program and what impact has had on your career? The program was transformational in my life. If it weren’t for the scholarship, I wouldn’t have become an educator. Furthermore, the program is instrumental in recruiting diverse applicants for various positions within the School District of Janesville. I wholeheartedly support the efforts of the scholarship program, especially now that the raised funds are dispersed to help recipients seeking counseling and administrative careers in addition to classroom teachers.
- Who is the person in history you would most like to meet? I would have loved to have met Maya Angelou. I want to sit for hours, listen to her poetry and soak up all of her wisdom.
- What made you decide you wanted to be a school administrator? What career field did you initially plan to pursue? I wanted to expand my scope to impact students positively. I am a systems guy and love implementing progressive ways to ensure the success of students and staff. I initially began my undergraduate career seeking to become a dentist.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Alaska has always been on my bucket list. I want to see an Alaskan moose up close.
- You attended school in Janesville, K-12. What is it like to come back and serve the district as an administrator? It’s a dream come true! I love the school district, and I love the community. I am now raising my children in this community and plan to retire here. Moreover, I am proud to work for such a progressive district that strives to meet the needs of every learner.
- You were a collegiate wrestler at the University of Minnesota, and you have coached at the youth, high school and collegiate level. How did you first get into wrestling, and what is it about the sport that appeals to you? I started wrestling when I was in seventh grade. My older brother encouraged me to go out for the sport, and I had immediate success winning my very first tournament. I love how hard wrestlers train and that any body type can wrestle and find success in the sport. You have to discover your strengths and capitalize on them!
- Middle school is a time when students face a lot of changes, not only educationally but physically and personally. As an administrator, how do you help them maneuver through these challenges and find success? We evaluate the needs of each student and then put appropriate support in place to facilitate growth. We also develop alliances with parents and guardians to ensure fidelity in our efforts to support the students. On the school end of the support, we have an outstanding Student Services team this year, with the addition of a full-time social worker, an attendance advocate and a Be Great graduate coach.
- If you could provide one opportunity to every student in the School District of Janesville, what would that be? I want to create an opportunity for each student – no matter race, religion, sexual orientation, social or economic status – within their K-12 experience while attending the School District of Janesville. That begins with the unwavering staff belief that all students can learn and will learn because of what we do!
Jennifer Fieiras - Washington elementary school
- Position: Fourth-grade teacher and Unit 3 Instructional Leader. (Update: Fieiras retired at the end of the 2022-23 school year).
- Hometown: Footville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor of Science, Education, UW-Platteville; Master's degree, Curriculum and Instruction, UW-Madison.
- Family: Husband, Gabe; son, Jake; daughter, Claudia.
- What was the very first job you had? What did you do, and where? My first job was at Mr. Steak on Milton Avenue in Janesville. I worked there in high school as a hostess. Mr. Steak was located where Fuji Steakhouse is now.
You’re in your car, listening to the radio. Which song makes you turn the volume up, and which song makes you turn the radio off? Turn it up: “Ain’t it Fun”by Paramore, “Don't Stop Believing” by Journey or “Dirt on My Boots” by Jon Pardi. Turn it off: Any rap music.
Share a piece of advice you wish you could give to your younger self. I would tell my younger self to take risks and be adventurous. Take time to travel and see the world.
What are you most proud of when looking back on your career as an educator? My influence and impact on students’ lives over the past 33 years. I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful students and to work with some great educators.
Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Coffee and creamer go into my grocery cart whether I need them or not because they are non-negotiables every morning.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I would like to travel to Italy. Both of my children have traveled there and shared pictures and their experiences. I would like to experience the culture, landscapes and amazing restaurants.
Who was your favorite teacher from when you were a student? Where did he/she teach, and what about them set them apart? My favorite teacher was my first-grade teacher at Footville Elementary School, Mrs. Carpenter. She developed my love for reading and literature. She was a kind and nurturing teacher who made learning fun.
Share a word you have a hard time spelling correctly. Receive. I always have to go over the “i before e except after c” rule in my head before I write it.
Share one of the most rewarding aspects of your job as a teacher and one of the most challenging aspects. One of the most rewarding aspects has been building relationships with students and watching them achieve success. The most challenging aspect is being able to meet the needs of all students in the time I have with them.
What was your favorite subject in school? English literature. Reading has always been a passion for me, and it has transferred to my classroom. I love it when students get excited about new books and authors.
If you hadn’t become a teacher, what career do you think you would have pursued, and why? I would have been a dermatologist. I have always been interested in promoting healthy skincare.
If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I would like to learn to play the piano because music has always been an important part of my life.
Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? I love the “Yellowstone” series. Montana is beautiful, and the rural element reminds me of my upbringing. I am a huge James Patterson fan, so I’ve read all of his books.
You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I like to take long walks in the country, spend time with my family or binge-watch something on Netflix.
Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I grew up on a farm in rural Janesville. From age 9-18, I showed beef cattle all over the Midwest, and I was the Rock County “Fairest of the Fair” in 1985.
Erin Jensen - Rock University High School
- Position: Teacher (Social Sciences, History, English) and Critical Issues Forum advisor, Rock University High School.
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Adams Elementary School, Franklin Middle School and Parker High School; Bachelor’s degree in Broadfield Social Science and Education with minors in History and Spanish, UW-Stevens Point; Alternative Education Certificate, UW-Milwaukee; Master’s degree, Education in Social Sciences with emphasis in Sociology and Psychology, American College of Education.
- Awards and Honors: Rock University High School Start Award (2017).
- Family: Gloria Smithback (grandma), Rhonda Suda (mom), Tim and Connie Jensen (dad and stepmom); Samantha Jensen (sister) and nephew Flynn Jensen (fifth-grader in SDJ); Brothers Jameson Suda, Austin Jensen and Lucas Suda (senior at Parker High). Partner Mason Lyttle. Cat named Rigby. Dog named Bosco.
- If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be doing for a living? Law has always interested me but being a lawyer, specifically civil rights or labor rights, has been a more recent career interest. I also love animals and think I'd be a good dog groomer or trainer, maybe in retirement!
- You swam in high school and now coach. What first prompted you to get into the water? I was an athletic kid and tried just about anything I could! I excelled in swim lessons and just loved being in the water. I was able to join the Franklin Falcons swim team and have loved the sport since. I had a great high school career and wanted to continue swimming in college, but shoulder injuries made me realize it probably wasn't best for me to "keep swimming" (sorry, Dory). After college graduation, I returned to Janesville and long-term subbed for my former coach, Andrea Nickel. She heard that our local swim club team, which at the time was run by Parker Boys Coach Eric Rhodes, needed some help, and she sent him my info. I started a coaching club, then became Parker Girls swim assistant coach. Coaching re-lit my love of the sport after many years of not being in it.
- You are an advisor for Rock University High School’s Critical Issues Forum (CIF) program. Can you offer a BRIEF idea of what this program is? The Critical Issues Forum (CIF) is a project-based educational program facilitated by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. The CIF program is designed to promote awareness of peace, nonproliferation, and disarmament of nuclear weapons and critical thinking skills among high school students from around the world, including the United States, Japan, and Russia, through educational outreach activities. CIF develops appreciation and understanding of different national and cultural perspectives on complex but vital international security issues. RUHS is the only school in the midwest for over a decade to participate. We had the honor of being the first spotlight school this year! https://sites.miis.edu/criticalissuesforum/cif-school-spotlight-rock-university-high-school-usa/
- What was the first job you ever had? I was a babysitter for friends and family, but my first "real" job was at Taco Johns. At 15, I was one of the original staff of the restaurant. I was a cashier and prep cook. I won employee of the month! I worked there for about a year and a half.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be and why? I would love to learn to dance. I know it is difficult, but dancers make it look so effortless! You can be fierce and elegant. It seems like something that can uplift you spiritually, mentally, and physically.
- When you were a student, what were your favorite and least favorite subjects? I loved Social Studies, English, Art, and Phy Ed. I loved classes where I had an opportunity to learn about different people and hear/read stories. I also enjoyed any opportunity to express myself and be active. Science courses were tough, especially Chemistry and AP Biology, but I really liked Anatomy & Physiology and Forensic Science. Math was probably my least favorite subject; geometry, in particular, was a hard class for me. Proofs still haunt me ...
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Oooh...this one is hard. I studied Spanish all through college and had opportunities to learn in Cuba and Argentina, so I would love to head back to Latin America and the Caribbean.
- You enjoy reading. What types of books do you tend to seek out, and share a title or two that you’ve found particularly interesting. I do like to read just about anything. Fiction or non, I'm usually up for whatever! I love complex characters and interesting settings; I love learning new things and about different people. Once I start a book, I tend to finish it even if it is terrible. I dislike Joseph Conrad with an intense passion (a rant for another day). Currently re-reading "There, There" by first nation author Tommy Orange. I'm teaching the novel this year in conjunction with UW-Madison, and it is my favorite text Great World Text has chosen in a while. It tells the story of 12 strangers who share a first nation ancestry and are all trying to get to a pow-wow in Oakland, California. Each character shares their story. We learn of dislocation, trauma, and loss but see hope and cheer for triumph! The most interesting book I read this summer is Little by Edward Carry. It is the historic but fictitious telling of the life of Madame Tussaud. Though very dark and incredibly sad, our protagonist ascends, and her work lives on for centuries!
- People would be surprised to find out that I: I love visual art, and I draw. Mostly pencil (black/white and color), and I am pretty good at it!
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about your job. I have the utmost confidence in the younger generations. Every day I am excited to see my students and experience their learning, and, honestly, learn from them. I get to help young people learn while learning myself; it's a wonderful thing. I think one of the most frustrating things about education is that it has become a scapegoat for society's ills. When and where our country, states, or communities fail, education is there and expected to fix it. Yet, this high expectation can come with little support. It is tiring at times and makes you feel like you aren't doing enough. And anyone who cares for young people has young people in their life can attest that disappointing them or feeling like you let them down is heartbreaking.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? Miss Piggy. She is unapologetically herself and teaches us all to accept one another for who we are. She is not afraid to be loud and take up space. She is strong. She eats what she wants, wears what she wants, and encourages us all to do the same. She knows she is destined for greatness and works hard to reach her dreams. She also has no time for rudeness or disrespect.
- Would you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl? I love the mornings, whether a workday or weekend. I am most productive in the morning. I enjoy getting as much time out of my days as I can! Being an early bird was key to successfully earning my master's and balancing multiple jobs these past few years!
- Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self? I would tell myself that your body is the least interesting thing about you and to be kind to yourself. We are socialized to fit unrealistic molds regarding what we look like and to take up the least amount of space. Forget that! We are also taught to treat others with kindness but not so much with ourselves. Overall, I think we are never too old to look at how we treat/ have treated ourselves and see that we can be kinder.
- Name a food you could eat for a week straight. Ice cream. Endless amount of flavors. A simple and effortless snack or dessert. It can be eaten in many forms--dish, cone, shake, cake! And some of the best ice cream is made in Wisconsin!
- What are you most afraid of? I am very afraid of the dark. Not a fan of not knowing what is going on or what is around me. Probably a deeper fear of the unknown. So, I make good use of the flashlight on my phone!
ASHLEY WRIGHT - WILSON Elementary School
- Position: Principal, Wilson Elementary School.
- Hometown: Petersburg, Pennsylvania.
- Education: Bachelor's degree, Psychology, University of Pennsylvania-Lock Haven; Master's degree, Education, Penn State University; Master's degree, Educational Leadership, Cardinal Stritch University.
- Family: Husband, Keith; son, Sawyer; daughter, Harper; two dogs, cats, chickens, goats and ducks.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? Currently, I serve as the principal of Wilson Elementary School. In this role, I work directly with students, parents, staff and the community to ensure all students have opportunities for learning.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a principal. One of the most rewarding daily experiences is watching students experience success. There is nothing more rewarding than a student smiling while showing you their work. One of the most frustrating items is often uncontrollable barriers faced in education such as changes in systems and processes and changes within society.
- What was the very first job you ever had? Professional outdoor showman. My family currently owns two working carnivals in the state of Pennsylvania. My first official position was operator of the Frog Bog and the Bounce House.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Go to an antique flea market to find historical items to contribute to our 1840’s farmhouse.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? To speak several languages.
- What was your favorite subject in school? Social studies – specifically, problems of democracy. The issues and topics presented systemic problems that could have a variety of solutions.
- You grew up in a family that owns and operates a carnival. What was that like? Both challenging and rewarding. It instilled in me to be intrinsically motivated, the value of hands-on work, and applied ongoing conflict management skills as well as crisis management.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Cookie dough. Although it is not a necessity, it is a great indulgence after a long day.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? The Maldives. I enjoy clear water and being in the ocean.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? I never really watched "The Muppets," but I would say Kermit the Frog for his laid-back, wiseguy type of personality.
- In your opinion, what is the most valuable characteristic to being an effective educator? The ability to be flexible and collaborative. There are many challenges in education, and it is important to be flexible to the needs being presented and to stay solution-focused.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. That I am from Pennsylvania and from a very remote, wooded area. There are several “East Coast” characteristics that people notice at times.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: Seeing a lion in the wild in South Africa. It was the coolest, yet most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me.
- What initially inspired you to become an educator? This dates back to high school. I had the opportunity to work with elementary-aged students and from there wanted to work with students in some capacity.
- What is something people don’t know or understand about Wilson Elementary that you wish they did? We have very hardworking students and staff despite the obstacles they might face. The students and staff are doing great things on a day-to-day basis, as are all educators. We also have a mascot named “Willie Wildcat,” however, he has been retired for some time.
Maryanne Messier - Monroe Elementary School
- Position: Art teacher, Monroe Elementary School.
- Hometown: Schenectady, New York.
- Education: Bachelor of Art, Studio Art/Art Education, Beloit College; Masters degree, Elementary Education, Cardinal Stritch University; Masters degree, Administration/Curriculum, National Louis University.
- Awards and Honors: Monroe PTA Teacher of the Year (2015); JAC Fine Arts Educator of the Year (2015).
- Family: Husband, John Tyborski; dogs, Bailey and Sookie.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? I have been an art teacher in the SDJ for 25 years, including 14 at Harrison Elementary and 11 at Monroe Elementary). I am the arts integration coordinator for the district, PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) team leader at Monroe Elementary, instructional manager for the elementary art department and safety patrol coordinator at Monroe Elementary.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about teaching art. The most rewarding part of my work is seeing students' creativity in action. Children have such big imaginations, and I feel privileged to give them the space and opportunity to allow it to flourish. The most frustrating part of being an art teacher is constantly advocating for the importance of the arts in a child's education.
- What was the very first job you ever had? My very first job was cleaning stalls at a horse barn where I used to ride. In order to help pay for my lessons, I cleaned out the stalls and fed and watered the horses.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I have always wanted to learn glass-blowing. I absolutely love Dale Chihuly’s work and find the process incredibly fascinating.
- What was your favorite subject in school? My favorite subject in school was art class. I loved all the bright colors of the markers, crayons and papers. Painting and clay were my favorites.
- You are an advocate for the TAB method of teaching art. Can you offer an explanation of what that is? TAB stands for Teaching for Artistic Behavior. When I first began teaching, I used to teach all the same projects for each grade level (you remember, everyone creates “Starry Night” using the same materials?). I was teaching lots of techniques, but after several years I found I was getting bored teaching the same thing,and it wasn’t exciting anymore. I had an epiphany and thought, “I’m not teaching these students how to be artists,” so I went on a quest to learn about other ways of teaching and came across TAB. When I began using it about 15 years ago, no one had really heard of it in our district, and the fact I was allowed to try another method meant so much to me. Now the students are the artists, they chose their materials, they create a plan and they create that plan using whatever materials they chose. I am helping them bring the vision they have in their head to life, and there is nothing more satisfying.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. That I am related to Frank Sinatra. Through marriage, but still ...
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Coffee. Superman had Kryptonite; I have coffee.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I’ve lived overseas and traveled a lot growing up, but one place I have never been is Alaska. That’s a place I would love to visit.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? Rizzo the Rat. He’s one of those characters that had great one-liners, wasn’t in a lot of episodes and had personality plus.
- What do students learn by studying art that they don’t get from other classes? They learn a lot about themselves, to be honest. With other classes, the curriculum tends to be more direct. With the arts, it’s more intrapersonal. They learn how to problem-solve through their processes as well as build self-confidence.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: I auditioned for a movie about the life of JFK and made it to the last audition, but the girl they cast as his sister looked more like the boy they cast to be JFK as a child.
- Are other members of your family artistic, or did you get all the talent? My paternal grandfather was an architect, my dad builds model airplanes and my sister is an opera singer. I would say artistic talent runs in our family.
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. I would like to meet my great-great-grandmother. I would love to learn more about our family history and what caused them to leave Italy and come to America. I would love to learn more about who they were and just sit and talk.
- If you weren’t teaching, what do you think you would be doing as a career? That’s an interesting question, because I never really thought I would be doing anything else. But if I had to pick, I would probably pick a hairdresser. It’s another creative outlet, and I have always enjoyed cutting and styling hair for different occasions.
Lisa Peterson - Rock River Charter School
- Position: Principal, Rock River Charter School; School District of Janesville Charter School Coordinator.
- Hometown: Browntown, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor of Science, English, UW-La Crosse; Master's degree, Curriculum and Instruction, UW-Madison; Master's degree, Educational Leadership, Cardinal Stritch University; Doctorate degree, Philosophy, Cardinal Stritch Univeristy.
- Awards and Honors: Herb Kohl Fellowship, 2005; All-USA Today Teacher, 2005.
- Family: Husband, Tom; daughter Haley Peterson (Wilson Elementary School teacher); daughter Alyssa Peterson (special education teacher); daughter Kira Panzer; grandchildren, Lukah Byrd, Vivian Panzer and Felix Panzer. Boston terriers Roxy and Bella.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? I work to guide students for whom the comprehensive high school was not the correct educational learning environment. I try to help them find the right fit so they can fulfill their graduation requirements and launch a successful post-secondary plan.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a principal. I find it rewarding when I see students who really struggle graduate. I find it frustrating when students don’t attend school.
- What was the very first job you ever had? My first job was as a cook at the Pizza Hut in Monroe.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Play with my grandson, Lukah. He named me JuJu, and he loves to read books and play games.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? I loved “I Wish You Were There” by Jodi Picoult. It offered a great look at the Covid pandemic with a twist that kept me up late into the evening.
- What were your favorite subjects in school? English and history. I wanted to double-major to teach both of those subjects. My high school guidance counselor talked me out of that plan, so I focused on English.
- You have a fairly extensive collection of coffee mugs in your office. When did you start collecting them, and why? I started collecting the mugs because they were inexpensive souvenirs when I travel. That has morphed into family members picking me up a mug when they travel. Now I purposefully select my mug each morning to correspond with my outfit and mood.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I love to play the board game “Catan.” My sister-in-law introduced us to it in 2018 during Thanksgiving. My favorite part is that no two games are ever the same, and that there is a little luck and a lot of strategy involved.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Caramel with dark chocolate. A person can never, ever have too much of that!
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Ireland. I have a little Irish in my background, and I am fascinated by Celtic culture. I have always wanted to travel there.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? Snuffalupugus. He was the most imaginative and creative character. He was also loving and kind.
- In your opinion, what is the most valuable characteristic to being an effective educator? The belief that all students can succeed.
- You have a bell hanging in the lobby at Rock River Charter School. What is its purpose, and what does it symbolize? When a student completes graduation paperwork with his or her family, that student rings the bell. The bell symbolizes everything.
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. Martin Luther King Jr. His work served as the foundation of social justice work in the United States.
- If you weren’t involved in education, what do you think you would be doing as a career? I have always wanted to be a teacher. As a little girl, my stuffed animals were my class, and my mom’s cookbooks were my texts. The surprise for me was going into administration. I did that because the changes I wanted for my students needed me to gain more systemic leverage. Thus, my second master’s degree.
Carrie Kulinski - Educational Services Center
- Position: Families in Transition Coordinator (Homeless Liaison), School District of Janesville.
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Master of Science, Counseling, UW-Whitewater; Certified Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor and Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker.
- Awards and Honors: State of Wisconsin Leadership in Prevention Award; Wisconsin Community Leadership Award; Partners in Prevention Asset Builder Award; Rock County Youth-2-Youth Member of the Year; City of Janesville Administrative Volunteer of the Year.
- Family: Husband, Ken; daughter, Megan; son, Thomas (TJ); dog, Hank; cat, the black cat.
- Offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? Under the Federal McKinney-Vento Act, every local educational agency is required to designate a liaison for homeless children and youth. As the Families in Transition Coordinator, I coordinate services to ensure that homeless children and youth are enrolled in school and have the opportunity to succeed academically. It is my job to make sure all barriers are removed so students can receive a quality education. I set up services for children experiencing homelessness including free lunches, school fee waivers, transportation and any other items the student might need to meet his or her basic needs. I work with community partners through outreach, referral and coordination. I also write grants for the district and community.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a liaison for homeless students. I’ve always been a helper, so I often tell people I don't feel like I have a job. I get paid to help people. The most rewarding part of this job is offering hope to someone who is experiencing hopelessness. Hearing a single mom cry happy tears when I tell her I can set up a school bus to help her get her kids to school. That's one less thing that mom needs to worry about in a stressful situation. Making another person's life easier and making a difference in the community. The most frustrating part of my job is not being able to find a family a home.I go to bed some nights knowing a family is sleeping in their car; sometimes I just feel so helpless. I offer resources and referrals, but sometimes there is just no housing available or the family has exhausted all resources.
- What was the very first job you ever had? My very first job was working at Riverside Park, where I ran the concession stand. I sold pop, candy and ice cream to the kids who visited the park. In college, I worked at GM building trucks on the night shift.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? During the school year, I don’t have much free time. I help to take care of my dad, who has dementia, in the off hours. During summer break, I like to spend time up at our cabin in Mole Lake. My grandpa was a fishing guide in Eagle River, so I have been fishing since I was a kid. Most of the time, you can find me fishing or wandering around the woods with my camera. I enjoy nature photography. My husband and I also bowl in a league during the winter months. We took second place this season!
- You are an accomplished photographer. How did you get involved in that, and what inspires your art? Wow, not sure about “accomplished.” I have won some photo contests and belong to numerous national and international photography groups. It started in my senior year of college. I needed to take an elective class for three credits, so I took photography. I didn't realize it would be so much work! I learned to develop my own prints and spent lots of time in the darkroom on campus. I think I like nature photography because it's quiet and peaceful. It feeds my soul. I see so much in my job that is not pretty. Being in nature grounds me and offers beauty.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? I finished “Ozark” on Netflix. It was so good. I also like to watch the TV show “Yellowstone.” I love to read a good psychological thriller, and I try to read at least two or three books during the summer.
- What was your favorite subject in school? I loved music class! I attended Craig High school in the 80s and was in all of the musicals, a cappella choir and Spotlighters. I was such a shy, quiet child all through school. Music really helped me to find my voice and boosted my confidence.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. People might be surprised to know that the former Governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson, is my cousin.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I had a trip planned to Ireland in 2020. Needless to say, with the pandemic, I never got there. I have five years to use my plane tickets, so I plan to go next summer. I’m 77% Irish and still have family in Ireland. I have a cousin who has already mapped out our family locations, so all the work has been done for me. I bought a new camera especially for my trip, and I can't wait to get some fantastic photos.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? I’m not sure. I love those little guys who sing “Mah-na, Mah-na,” and Animal, of course. I always wanted to learn to play the drums.
- What is your favorite food and your favorite place to get it? Coconut shrimp at Bahama Bob’s in Gulf Shores, Alabama! I’m pretty sure I was a flamingo in my former life. It’s always been shrimp!
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: That's a hard question, because so many experiences come to mind. I think I might have some psychic abilities, because many times my dreams have come true. For instance, I dreamt of our house before we moved in. It's fascinating and scary at the same time. I don't analyze it too much. I just go with the flow.
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. Probably Mother Teresa. She believed that service to the poor is service to God. I think we would have a lot in common and have an extraordinary conversation.
- If you could ask your pet one question, what would it be? I would ask my dog, Hank: “How would you describe your perfect day?” (then make sure I do those things to make him happy).
- Share a quote that inspires you. My all time favorite quote is “Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up” by Jesse Jackson, because I believe we are all put on this earth to help others.
david harrison - franklin middle school
- Position and school: Students With Disabilities teacher, Franklin Middle School.
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor's degree, Cross-Categorical Education, K-12, UW-Whitewater
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? I am in my tenth year as a teacher of Students With Disabilities at Franklin Middle School. Currently, I teach grades 6-8 literacy and math strategies as well as co-teach literacy in grades 7-8. I am also an IEP (individualized educational plan) case manager for students in all three grades at Franklin.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a teacher. There are many things I find rewarding about being a teacher. The most rewarding aspect is being able to work with young people on a daily basis and watching them grow through their successes and learn through their mistakes. I find it very rewarding to be there to guide our kids through the difficult times of middle school. Although there are frustrating aspects at times about being a teacher, I can’t think of a better job. You get paid to make connections with young people in a place where you hear laughter in conversations daily and make lasting impacts on kids through learning.
- What was the very first job you ever had? What did it entail? There was no laughter! My first job was at an area pheasant farm (not the well-known one). In high school, my friends and I worked on the initial construction of a purchased farm. The job entailed finding old barbed-wire fencing, tearing down said fencing, and putting new fencing up 50 hours a week for $6.25 an hour. I worked at this pheasant farm for two months and never saw a pheasant.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? I recently watched a documentary about an attorney that was exposed to gamma radiation through cross-contamination with a family member. The documentary chronicled her life’s work of upholding law and justice.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I always wanted to be able to play the piano, for some reason. The recorder is the extent of my music skills, so I am not very musically inclined. The piano is such a peaceful instrument.
- What were your favorite and least favorite subjects in school? Both were reading. I struggled as an elementary student with literacy and looking back, I now understand that I was in intervention groups in early elementary school. Nothing gets a kid feeling good about himself better than being in the grackle group when all of your other friends are blue jays and robins. Although I had struggles, I had an amazing third-grade teacher who took time and care to make sure I was bridging those gaps. All throughout elementary school, literacy was a struggle. But through her care, I was able to develop some strong skills. There were several teachers in middle school and my ninth-grade English teacher who continued to foster this desire to read. Although it was still a struggle at times, they showed me the care and support I needed. They were the guides that developed my love for reading and eventually turned it into a desire to do the same for our kids now.
- What drew you toward working with students who face special challenges? I initially wanted to be an adaptive phy-ed teacher, and in high school I did some job shadowing with one of the phy-ed teachers at Parker. I liked the idea of helping others, but I didn’t fully understand what special education or Students With Disabilities was. I had a college professor who steered me towards teaching students reading and math. I used my struggles as a learner to guide how I taught students and how to care for students who have deficits or differences. I was not the greatest student growing up, but my roadblocks were often self-imposed. I had great teachers at Madison, Franklin and Parker that guided me through those roadblocks, and I wanted to do the same for other kids. I wanted to give students a voice and an advocate like I had in my time as a young person in school. Those connections I made with teachers helped guide me to this profession, but a desire to connect to the community that I grew up in brought me to Janesville. I had taught for five years in other districts in the area before I felt the importance of becoming a piece of this community again. I wanted to give our kids the same promoter I had growing up in Janesville.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. Despite my physical stature, I am terrified of small birds. They're deceptively fast.
- Share one item at the store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. You can never have too much coffee.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I would like to see the wilderness of Montana or Idaho. I have a lot of hobbies that revolve around the outdoors
- Who is your favorite Muppet? I have a lot of respect for Oscar. No matter how rough his life is, he still shows up every day for those kids that live on Sesame Street.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: I’m in Sports Illustrated. Well, you can see half of me if you squint and use your imagination. A long time ago, a guy named Brett Favre retired a bunch of times, and they used a picture of him jumping into the stands for his retirement issue. I’m the blurry area to the right of him.
- If you weren’t involved in education, what do you think you would be doing as a career? Social work or human services would be an equally important profession. I would still get to work with what matters most – people.
- Share a common misconception about special education and explain why it is a misconception. I think the biggest misconception is that special education is a place, an actual physical location in our school. I feel fortunate that our district has a strong foundation of inclusion and equity – especially at Franklin. Special education is a support, not a class. Our teachers of Students With Disabilities are a support to all of our kids and often are not known as teachers of SWD, just teachers. Students With Disabilities in classrooms are not viewed by their peers as different, they are viewed as friends or table partners. Janesville has made that a priority, and in my time here, inclusive practices and access to all has been the standard. I cannot say the same about some of the other school districts I have worked in.
- Knowing what you know now, share the one piece of advice you would like to give your younger self. Don’t make fun of your dad and uncles for their male-pattern baldness. Genetics are stronger than jokes.
Meghan Everhart - Jackson/Lincoln
- Position and school: School social worker, Jackson/Lincoln Elementary Schools.
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor's degree, Social Work; UW-Whitewater; Master's degree, Social Work, UW-Madison.
- Family: Husband, Matt; sons Gavin and Kenny. Two dogs, Lucy and Roxy, and LOTS of cows and chickens.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? I am a school social worker for the district and I am currently between two buildings – Jackson and Lincoln. I help support students and families inside and outside of school, connect them with resources within the community, help remove any barriers they might be experiencing in regard to basic needs or getting their students to school, and provide support to teachers by working with students to support their emotional well-being and improve their academics. I work closely with school administration, counselors and other district social workers to support all students, families and staff.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about your position. By far, the most rewarding thing about my position is the relationships I get to build with students and their families. School is their home for seven hours a day, and making sure students know there are people other than their family members who love and care for them is something I don't take for granted. We are their safe place and their constant. School social workers are, at times, in the thick of some of the toughest moments in some families’ lives, and we get the honor of being trusted enough to help support them and help them try to come up with solutions. Having students light up when they see you or run to you for a hug makes all of the tough days and situations worth it. The most frustrating part of my position is the need for more mental health services in schools. Over the past few years, that need for support by not only students but families has grown exponentially. When that need grows at such a rapid pace and you don't have enough staff to feel like you are effective, it takes a toll.
- What was the very first job you ever had? Being a swim instructor in summer school for the School District of Janesville back in 2000. I was at Marshall Middle School, and I taught little kids how to swim. I was on the swim team at Parker, and a bunch of us got jobs doing this in the summer. After we got done teaching lessons, we would go right to our summer swim practices at Parker.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I am a homebody, so if I had two hours of free time, I would sit on my couch and watch “Scrubs” on repeat. That’s my favorite show, and comedies are my jam. After being around struggles and serious things all day, I need laughter. Something that makes my soul happy.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? The “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series. Seriously. The BEST “Star Wars” adaptation to date! I have already watched it about 10 times. Sooo many jaw-dropping moments and audible gasps throughout the series. If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor and watch it right now. Like RUN – don’t walk – to your TV, turn on Disney+ and binge the entire series.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I have always wanted to be able to draw. Like REALLY draw. I can scribble and copy some things, but I have never been able to think of something and then put my idea down on paper. I joke with the kids that "Mrs. Everhart can only draw a stick figure, but she keeps trying." And I do, but it never seems to get any better. I admire those artists who draw, and their drawings or paintings look so realistic.
- What was your favorite subject in school? History. I actually have a degree in history along with one for social work. I fell in love with history when I was in eighth grade at Franklin Middle School back in 1995 with Mr. (John) Brikowski. There is just something about history that intrigues me. My favorite is WWII history and everything it encompasses.
- You are in a position that requires round-the-clock positivity. What methods do you use to maintain that perspective? There are two things that make this happen for me. The first is that I truly believe the energy you put out there makes a difference. It's a must that I am genuine and caring and positive because kids and families can see right through that. My hope is that the more positive I am, the more it might rub off onto other people or might cheer up a student or staff member when they're having a hard day. The other method is having "your person" at the school who “gets you.” I am blessed that I have people I can talk to and they will understand where I'm coming from. They get my position, and they listen without judgment. Having people in your corner who have "your brain" makes things exponentially better. Sometimes you feel as though you're on an island by yourself because you are the only social worker in your building, but when you can collaborate with other social workers and realize you're not alone, it makes the hard things a little easier.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Peppermint mocha coffee cream. I have been known to have as many as 4-5 giant bottles of this in my fridge at times. I drink coffee all day, every day, and unfortunately, I am not a black coffee drinker (I admire those who can). I need my coffee cream. It's a must.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Hawaii. It has everything I love – beaches, the ocean, history. It's on my bucket list, especially to visit Pearl Harbor.
- Who is your favorite Muppet? I'm laughing as I think of this, but my favorites would have to be Statler and Waldorf – the two old, grumpy men who heckle the Muppets from the audience. I think they're hilarious, and I always have. They're to the point and don't take things too seriously. I thought of those two right away.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: In 2019, my oldest son and I went to Summerfest for the first time. I surprised him with concert tickets to see Thomas Rhett, a country artist who was his favorite at the time. Gavin was 11 at the time, and this was his – and my – first real concert experience. The tickets we had let us get in early and go to a "lounge" area where we ate some food, hung out and got into the concert a little early. As luck would have it, they were doing some trivia that offered prizes. I missed the first question (the prize was a hat), but the last question was for meet-and-greet tickets. The question was, "What was the name of Thomas Rhett's high school band?" The answer was "The High-Heeled Flip-Flops." I was the first to get it, so Gavin and I got to go backstage to meet Thomas Rhett. It was an experience and adrenaline rush I will never forget. I have a picture hanging in my office of Gavin and I with Thomas Rhett. Gavin was so excited that he was crying. That was by far the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.
- You’re in your car, listening to the radio. Which song makes you turn the volume up, and which song makes you turn the radio off? My jam right now is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. It's just such an iconic song that everytime I hear it, I turn it up. And when the progression of the song hits its apex, you'll see me pretending my steering wheel is a drum and I'll be bobbing my head like I'm Wayne and Garth (from “Wayne’s World”). Every. Single. Time. I have a very eclectic and diverse taste for music, so there's not a lot that I turn my radio off for. But … I am not a fan of rap. Not like 90s and early 2000 rap (because that's my jam), but the new stuff. I don't get it. Maybe that means I'm old, but I don't listen to it and turn it off right away if it comes on.
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. Either Frank Sinatra or Walt Disney. I've always felt as though I was born in the wrong generation. Both of those individuals have accomplished and overcome so much. Frank has always been my favorite artist since I was in high school, and being able to talk to him and ask questions would be amazing. And Walt Disney is, well … Walt Disney!! Seeing how he built Disney, how he knew the world would be evolving and how he would think outside the box and do what he loved is something I admire.
- Give one of your favorite examples of a time where nontraditional methods helped you reach a student who was struggling. I am a firm believer that you have to meet students where they are or you are never going to get anywhere. Back in 2017, I had just come back from maternity leave and had a kindergartener who had been struggling. She was having a hard time with everything – being disruptive, banging her head, and she was not able to stay safe in the classroom. We made our way down to my office, and she continued to throw my things on the ground and try to get a reaction from me. She eventually laid on the ground. The normal reaction would be to tell her to "get up" and "sit in the chair." Insead, I laid down next to her, stared at the ceiling with her for what seemed like 30 minutes, and then asked her what she was looking at. She looked at me and laughed and said that I wasn’t supposed to be laying on the floor. I asked why not, and she said because I'm the grown-up, and grown-ups don't sit or lay on the floor. To her surprise I laughed and said I preferred the floor, that we could lay there as long as we wanted. We laid there looking up at my ceiling for a little while longer until she said, "OK, I'm better now." I met her where she was. I wasn't hovering over her or telling her to do something she didn't want to do. I gave her permission to do what she needed to do to center herself and regain control. From that moment on, we never sat in the chairs when she came down – it was always on the floor. To this day, we have an AMAZING relationship, and the best part of this is that one of the special education teachers was walking by and snapped a picture of us. It's something I'll always remember.
Shelly Learned - Craig HIgh School
- Position and school: Science teacher/Link Crew coordinator, Craig High School.
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor of Science, Education, UW-Whitewater; Master of Education - Interdisciplinary Studies, National Louis University; Master's certificate, biology, American College of Education.
- Family: Husband, Joe; son, Ethan; dog, Stella; cat, Ninja.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? As a science teacher, I see my role in helping youth develop a sense of curiosity about the world around them and develop their skills in answering those questions. This sometimes results in students identifying problems that exist in the world, so my role is also to help facilitate their problem-solving skills. As a Link Crew coordinator, my job is two-fold. First, the Link Crew leaders I work with help freshmen transition to high school through a first-day orientation and with meetings throughout the year in advisory. The second role is to help underclassmen leaders develop their leadership skills.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a teacher. I absolutely love seeing students fall in love with content and eventually pursue their passions in life as they grow up. It is most rewarding to hear from former students that are now earning degrees in science and are grateful for the role I played in their education. I have to admit, it can be frustrating to see a lack of empathy students can have for each other and not understanding everyone is going through something difficult at some level.
- What was the very first job you ever had? I had to get my first job after I received my first speeding ticket at the age of 16. My father asked me how I was going to pay for it, and I remember just looking dumbfounded by the question. He said, “I guess you better find a job!” I ended up working at Foot Locker in the Janesville Mall, which probably was the start of my obsession with shoes!
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? “George Carlin’s American Dream.” I am absolutely amazed at how long his comedic career lasted and truly believe in comedy as an art form. George Carlin was not afraid to share his voice and thoughts on any controversial topic, which really challenged his audience to consider other perspectives. I respect that.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? A back handspring. I have always been nervous about jumping head-first backwards, even from a diving board into a pool!
- What was your favorite subject in school? Science, obviously. My favorite classes were biology, microbiology, anatomy & physiology and genetics – probably because of the teachers I had.
- You are a fifth-degree black belt and own AmeriKick in Janesville with your husband, Joe. When did you first get involved in karate, and why? I started my freshman year in college at a karate club on campus at UW-Whitewater. One of my instructors was the dean of the college of education. I loved the physical and mental challenge it provided, besides the stress relief. I was involved every year in college and later moved away to get my first teaching job in Arizona. I never made it to black belt until I moved back to Janesville and started training again. I tested for my red-recommended belt the week before I gave birth to my son and then tested for my black belt about five months later. The school I was attending closed, so once my husband tested for his belt along with another friend from Chicago, we started our own school in 2004.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I love to sit with blankets and be cozy really any time of year!
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Chips and salsa. I could live on it!
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Okinawa, Japan, as that is the birthplace of the martial arts styles in which I train. Otherwise, I have heard Thailand and Vietnam are stunning, the food is spectacular and the people have an amazing culture to experience.
- Who are your favorite Muppets? Statler and Waldorf are absolutely my favorite. To this day, I still giggle at their side comments from stage left. Plus, I have a couple of friends who remind me of the two of them!
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: The most recent would be in martial arts training, where I had the opportunity to compete in with female kata Olympic gold-medalist Sandra Sanchez and her coach, Jesus Del Moral, in Lenexa, Kansas. She is an absolute beast and the most impressive athlete and human being I have ever met.
- You implemented the Link Crew program at Craig High School. What is Link Crew and how does it work? Link Crew is a freshman transition program that utilizes the talents of upperclassmen to provide peer support and mentorship academically, emotionally and socially. Each spring, juniors and sophomores can apply to be a leader for the next year. We bring the leaders together at the end of the school year to inspire them to create some excitement for the program. In August, leaders come in for 10 hours of training that includes the activities they will lead on the first-day orientation for freshmen. It also includes developing skills of support for each other, our school and, of course, the freshmen. Throughout the year, we visit during advisory periods once a month to connect with the freshmen and provide support.
- If you weren’t involved in education, what do you think you would be doing as a career? I am very interested in epidemiology and the spread of disease. I could see myself as a researcher or traveling to countries during outbreaks to help track and study the infection.
- You are a graduate of Craig High School. What does it feel like to be back teaching at your alma mater? There is a sense of pride coming back to your alma mater and giving back to the community you grew up in. It was very interesting returning and working with the same teachers that inspired me to become an educator. Not everyone has that opportunity, and I am very grateful for it.
LINDSAY SAYLES - EDUCATIONAL SERVICES CENTER
- Position and school: Social Studies and Fine Arts Coordinator, School District of Janesville.
- Hometown: Genesee Depot, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor of Science, History/Education, UW-Madison; Master of Arts, Educational Leadership/Curriculum and Instruction, Viterbo College.
Family: Partner, Scott; dog, Juna.
- Can you offer a brief description of what you do for the School District of Janesville? I’m the district’s social studies and fine arts coordinator, which is a middleman of sorts. I help with the transfer of district goals to the classroom and help represent teachers at the district table.
- What was the very first job you ever had? When I was in third or fourth grade, my mom’s boss started paying me $2 an hour, cash, to sort huge stacks of medical bills by the insurance company and seal them into envelopes. Two nights a week, I’d have stacks strewn across the living room floor. But I still remember how rich I felt when I got up to a hundred singles in my sock drawer.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Something outside. Take the dog somewhere, work in my gardens, hang out with my neighbor and her chickens, do trail maintenance on my property, split wood for my furnace, pull buckthorn … I live in the woods.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? I have an hour's drive to get to work, so I listen to tons of books. So far, my favorite of 2022 is “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. Sometimes, a book makes you feel like you were meant to read it.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? Taking this job has really renewed my desire to learn to play the piano. The other day, I watched (Marshall Middle School music teacher) Traci Schneider effortlessly play beautiful music, and it reminded me how much I wish that I could do that.
- What was your favorite subject in school? Anything but physics. My lab partner and I set a “three stupid questions a day” limit for ourselves. I was always more drawn to history, English and band. I liked that they were more about the complexities of people and less about exact answers.
- Do you have a background in music or theater? Not as an educator, but I did go through grades 5-12 playing clarinet and saxophone in the band, jazz band, marching band and pit orchestra for school musicals. I also grew up going to many musical performances since my grandma, dad and aunt were all involved in the Waukesha Civic Theater and the Waukesha Choral Union. My grandma made many of the costumes, so we always had fun playing dress-up when they did shows like “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “The Mikado” or “Hello, Dolly!”
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I don’t know -- maybe that I’m an OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) III veteran. Or that I run a series of dartball tournaments every winter and somehow convince the participants to dress thematically by month.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Broccoli. I get made fun of for always having about 10 bags of broccoli in my freezer.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I like to go on vacations that many would consider odd. I once went dog sledding through Siberia in the middle of winter, but right now I would really like to go to the Sossusvlei region of Namibia.
- I understand your family once won free cheese for an entire year. You have to share that story. When I was a kid, my dad never missed a chance to moo at cows. One day, he read in the paper that they were holding a mooing contest at the Wisconsin State Fair. He put on his Holstein hat and cowbell and ended up mooing his way into second place. A cute 7-year-old dressed as a cow won, but our family still got free cheese and two Subway footlongs every week for an entire next year.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that I have ever seen is: My dad used to get paid by a karaoke company to be their planted ice-breaker. We were watching one night when a frail, hunched man came shuffling in with a walker, a Korean War hat and a fiery woman on his arm. He was immediately handed the mic, the DJ cued up Paul Anka’s “Diana,” and he brought down the house with his stunning performance. Dumbfounded by his transformation, I asked my mom what was going on, and she explained that they had broken him out of hospice because he wanted to sing for his wife one last time. Andy died of cancer a few days later, with his wife, Diana, at his side, and that song will always remind me of what is truly precious in this world.
- You’re in your car, listening to the radio. Which song makes you turn the volume up, and which song makes you turn the radio off? Turn it up: “Let Your Love Flow” by The Bellamy Brothers. Turn it off: Anything Luke Bryant. No … just no. You want me to start a dance party? Elvis – “Such a Night” or Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.”
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. I feel like I should have a more meaningful answer here, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say Teddy Roosevelt. The man fascinates me. I make my neighbor celebrate his birthday with me each October, and I may have a drawer full of Teddy Roosevelt clothing from my days as a history teacher.
- If you weren’t involved in education, what do you think you would be doing as a career? There’s no doubt in my mind that I would own a little diner in a small town. It would only serve breakfast, lunch and a Friday fish fry, but it would be the type of place where you can talk to me behind the counter while I’m making your food.
Neal Boys - Parker High School
- Position and school: Earth Science Teacher, Parker High School.
- Hometown: Pardeeville, Wisconsin (also Random Lake and Sauk Prairie, WIsconsin).
- Education: Bachelor of Science, Education, UW-Madison; Master of Science, Interdisciplinary Education, National Louis University.
- Awards and Honors: Parker High School Teacher of the Year (2013).
- Family: Wife, Rebecca; daughters, Brianna and Naleah.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? I would either play backgammon with my daughter, play card games with my family, or go outside for a good family nature hike.
- When did you decide you wanted to be a teacher? I decided I wanted to be a teacher during my senior year in high school. I had a great earth science teacher that sparked my interest in the subject and helped me see that I would also have an interest in teaching. Also, I knew I was interested in coaching, and I felt teaching would provide the avenue for this. At Parker, I coached shot put and discus for a few years and football for nine years. I also continued to help the program for several years after that.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched? I enjoy listening to some podcasts, specifically Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey. As far as movies, we have been watching some of the iconic pop culture movies like “Forrest Gump” and “The Princess Bride.”
- What was the very first job you ever had? During high school, I was a stocker and bagger at Sentry Foods. Shortly after, I worked maintenance at the local golf course.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a teacher? I find it rewarding to share something related to science and see the light bulb click in my students. It is like they finally understand why something works the way it does. It frustrates me when some students are satisfied with mediocrity and do not strive for their full potential.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I would train to be an astronaut because I would love to take a short trip into space. I feel it would be amazing to experience weightlessness and see the vastness of the Earth from afar.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I have always enjoyed outdoor adventures including hiking across the Grand Canyon, running a couple of marathons and a 50K. During summer, I painted for the district for quite a few years and realized I was more interested in getting outside and getting young people interested in the outdoors. I started two summer school classes that have students exploring the outdoors and learning survival skills. Through one of these classes, I ended up being approached by the parent of a BVI (blind and visually impaired) student to work on IDATA (Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy). This program developed a software that helps BVI individuals experience deep-space objects. Most recently, I was co-lead author on the software manual.
- You were part of NITARP (NASA/IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program), a prestigious program partnering scientists with high school educators for astronomical research. Can you briefly describe that experience? Through NITARP, I was paired with a NASA research scientist and a group of teachers and students from across the country. Our research goal was to map the size of active galactic nuclei (which are like black holes). We started by reading research papers from similar research projects and creating a research proposal. Then, we created a list of sources and ultimately checked if more than 500 potential sources would be candidates. The last step was to create a research poster that was presented at the January 2021 virtual American Astronomical Society meeting, and another poster for the January 2022 American Astronomical Society meeting (which was postponed to June). I was lead author on the second poster.
- What initially sparked your interest in space? When I was a mere lad, a childhood bedroom had rocket wallpaper, and I thought it was the coolest thing. Then, at some point, I was able to see Saturn through a telescope for the first time. I was amazed by what you could see, and I knew I wanted to explore it more.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Frozen fruit, but I couldn’t decide on just one, so it’s a three-way tie. You can never have too much mustard: dijon, stone ground, horseradish … Frozen fruit, blueberries in particular, make a great healthy evening snack. Then, you can never go wrong with smoked salmon. I like to make it myself, but sometimes it’s a lot easier to get it all ready to go.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I would do a European river cruise to see our family's heritage countries. I would also love to go to Iceland in order to see the Northern Lights.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: My wife and I had the goal to take our daughters to all 50 states. We went on an Alaskan cruise the summer of 2019 for our 49th state, and then I was selected to be part of the NITARP team that fall. The first meeting was in Honolulu, Hawaii, in January 2020. We made it a family trip and all hit our 50th state together.
- Name one person from history you would most like to meet. I would most like to meet Neil Armstrong. I feel like going into space would be such a neat experience, and I would like to know more about how he felt being the first human on the Moon.
- If you weren’t teaching science, what would you be doing for a career? After visiting many national parks around the U.S., I think working as a park ranger in a national park would be very interesting and enjoyable.
- If you were given the opportunity, would you like to travel into space, or do you prefer to study it from down here? I would like to go to space to experience it for a short period of time, but for the long-term, I would like to study it from down here.
Luke Hanewall - Marshall MIddle School
- Position and school: School counselor, Marshall Middle School. (Update: Hanewall transferred to Craig High School in 2023 to become one of the school's counselors).
- Hometown: Janesville, Wisconsin.
- Education: Bachelor’s degree, Social Work, UW-Oshkosh; Master’s degree, School Counseling, Concordia University.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? If it’s outside of the months of December and January, there is a really good chance I will be playing or practicing disc golf.
- You’re an accomplished disc golfer. How did you get into the sport, and what are some of your greatest achievements? I played a couple of times in high school, but I joined the college disc golf team the first week at UW-Oshkosh (where I attended college). They had a table during orientation week, and I signed up. Fifteen years later, here we are. I had several wins over the years, but the highlight would be winning the state championship and heading down to Emporia, Kansas, for Nationals.
Who is your favorite Muppet? Fozzie Bear is the best because he remains positive and continues to try despite multiple failures. He is also a great friend to others on the show.
- What was the very first job you ever had? I helped my brother with his paper route, but my first job was at Culver’s.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I think I would pick video editing. I think it can be fairly complex to learn all of the details and possible options you can do, but I think it would be a useful skill in my daily life.
- What was your favorite subject in school? The simple answer would be to say Phy Ed, which I did enjoy. But if I dive a little deeper, I enjoyed a lot of sociology classes that I had over the years because of the discussions that would happen.
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I have only ever attended one concert in my life. It was back in eighth grade at Riverfest in Beloit. I believe it was Shinedown and Evans Blue.
- Who is the person in history you would most like to meet? I think people always go with someone famous, but I think we know a lot about most of those people already. Therefore, I would pick someone in my family that I never got a chance to meet – my grandpa (my mom’s dad).
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. I’m a big fan of Combos. They tend to be my go-to snack.
- When did you decide you wanted to be a school counselor? When I had my internship during my undergrad. I worked with students that were often tardy or absent from school. After that experience, I knew I wanted to work in the schools, and I thought becoming a school counselor was my best path.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about being a school counselor. I think what can be rewarding is to see some of the positive changes that students can experience with your support. I think the frustrating part can be that, sometimes, students move on to high school, and you often lose touch with them.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? I would go to Norway, because I am Norwegian. It looks amazing, and they also have lots of disc golf.
- Share the last good book you read or the last good film/TV show you watched. “Moon Knight” on Disney+. That has been one of the better shows I have watched in the last few years.
- What is your favorite food and your favorite place to get it? Mac & cheese from Noodles is my quick, go-to meal.
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: Several years ago, I was able to win a small jackpot in Las Vegas, which was pretty exciting on a $5 wager.
jILL rEIFSNIDER - youth services center
- Position and school: Counselor, Youth Services Center, School District of Janesville. (Update: Reifsnider transferred to Parker High School in 2022-23 to become the school's Dean of Students).
- Hometown: Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.
- Education: Master of Science in School Counseling, UW-Whitewater; Master of Science in Community Counseling, Substance Abuse Counselor, Marriage and Family Therapist, UW-W; Bachelor of Science in Sociology with minor in Family and Health Studies, UW-W.
- Family: Son, Cooper.
- You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Pack it full of tasks. There is nothing more fulfilling than getting things done. I enjoy yard work and home projects both for myself and for others.
- What was the first job you ever had? My cousins owned and operated a family-run carnival business that provided amusement park rides and games for fireman’s picnics and other small-town events. Working for them was my first job. I made $25 a DAY.
- You are a professional snowboarder. How did you get into the sport, and what do you enjoy about it? I was introduced to snowboarding through an adaptive program called BOLD–Blind Outdoor Leisure Development. My career in snowboarding expanded from there. I became driven to advance the world of adaptive sports while pursuing my own professional riding. The joy of helping others that often didn’t have the same accessibility as able-body athletes fueled my love of snowboarding. As much as I enjoy snowboarding myself, the most satisfaction for me comes from being part of others’ snowboarding experiences.
- You are also an Air Force veteran. Have you always been interested in joining the military, or was there a particular reason you signed up? Watching 9/11 unfold as a middle school student had a profound effect on me. Since then I have wanted to serve my county and be a part of something larger than myself. The honor and pride of wearing the uniform is something that you feel through your whole body, and my service is something that I am very proud of.
- You spend a great deal of time volunteering to work with other veterans who take part in adaptive sports. Explain what adaptive sports are and why they are so important. Adaptive sports are competitive or recreational sports for people with disabilities. Adaptive spots often run parallel to traditional spots. However, they allow modifications and adaptations necessary to assist a person’s disability area. I feel passionately about adaptive sports because I believe it is a therapeutic tool. My mental health background helps me see that adaptive sports programs aid in rehabilitation, improve mental and physical health along with promoting healing and a supportive recovery process.
- If you could learn to do one thing, what would it be? I would love to learn Spanish. I have tried a few times with no success. If anyone has a sure-fire way to learn, please send it my way!
- What was your favorite subject in school? Physical education! Who doesn’t love to play dodgeball?
- Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. I have an irrational fear of snakes. I’m positive they have extreme athletic abilities and can bite me even when I am on my mountain bike.
- Who is the person in history you would most like to meet? Harriet Tubman. The impact she made on our country is noble, and she is someone I would cherish speaking with.
- Share one item at the grocery store that goes into your cart whether you need it or not. Pringles. It’s always a need.
- When did you decide you wanted to be a school counselor? I worked in the mental health sector for some time before recognizing my passion was working with at-risk youth. After only three years in the mental health field, I returned back to grad school to pursue my master’s in school counseling. My desire was to start interventions earlier with the goal of promoting healthier adults.
- Share something you find rewarding and something you find frustrating about your job. I absolutely love the students I work with and having the ability to build connections with them. One frustration I have is only being able to do so much for them. Students are at a vulnerable age – one that needs consistent and reliable support.
- If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Ireland. I have been there but hope to return. It felt like around every curve it became more and more beautiful.
- What is your favorite food and your favorite place to get it? I love Chinese food, and really any place will do! I am open to suggestions!
- When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: Teaching my son to snowboard, though he has a few things to learn. For 3, he’s tearing it up!