Williams Student Wins $500 in Westar Contest

Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet 5th grader Lilly Windsor received $500 check from TPS corporate partner Westar Energy in a ceremony this morning. Lilly was awarded the check thanks to her successful performance in a Westar wind car race.

This year, Lilly, along with eight fellow students, took part in the Westar Corporate Bigs program. As part of the program, they met with their "Bigs" (Westar employees) at the utility's corporate office each week to receive mentoring and participate in STEM-related activities. Recently, the "Littles" each constructed cars that could be propelled with a fan, and Lilly's unique double-sail construction launched her car across the room, making her the winner.

Westar VP of Operations and Administration Jerl Banning and State Treasurer Ron Estes presented Lilly with her giant check this morning outside Westar's corporate office. "The Wind Car Project not only provided students an opportunity to be creative and practice problem-solving, it fostered a greater excitement for learning in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” said Estes.

The $500 will be put into a Kansas Learning Quest 529 plan for Lilly's education.

Two TPS Teachers Selected to Become Kagan Trainers

Topeka Public Schools utilizes teaching methods created by Kagan Professional Development in each of our classrooms throughout the district, from pre-school through 12th grade. These teaching methods are designed to engage students in the learning process, through everything from the way desks are arranged to the way students respond to a teacher’s questions. The Kagan method is research-based and has proven to be a highly effective way to increase student participation and achievement.

Topeka Public Schools is proud to announce that two of our teachers have been selected to become Kagan trainers. Sara Gering and Lauren Peel, along with just 18 other educators, were selected out of hundreds of applicants from across the nation.  The utilization of Kagan Cooperative Learning is the district’s longest-running initiative and we’re thrilled to have not just one, but two of our educators accepted into the coveted program this year.

Topeka Public Schools already has one Kagan Associate National Trainer on staff: Angela Dick. When she’s not serving the district as Cooperative Learning Coordinator, Angela trains fellow educators on the use of Kagan methods, both within the district and throughout the nation. In addition to providing training and assistance to our teachers, Angela has traveled the country extensively over the past four summers to educate teachers in Kagan practices. She is extremely well-versed in cooperative learning methods and will be able to help guide Sara and Lauren in their new roles.
Angela Dick

Sara Gering, a Literacy Coach at Highland Park High School, will become a Kagan School Level Trainer once she completes a week-long training in July. This will prepare her to train fellow HPHS teachers to use the Kagan teaching methods.  While a classroom teacher, Sara used Kagan structures for active engagement flawlessly.  Since transitioning to her role as a literacy coach, implementation at HPHS has skyrocketed under her continual support and leadership.  Sara is not just a building level leader when it comes to effective instruction, but a district leader as well, being called on frequently to provide professional development on a variety of topics,” Angela said.
Sara Gering

Lauren Peel, a Language Arts Teacher at Eisenhower Middle School, will become a Kagan Associate National Trainer and will be qualified to train as many as 200 TPS certified staff members each year. She had applied to become a Kagan School Level Trainer, was accepted into the program, and then received a call inviting her to become an Associate National Trainer. Once Lauren completes her training with Kagan Professional Development, she will be called upon to present Kagan methods to teachers across the country and will help Angela provide this training to TPS staff. “Lauren's passion for helping students and providing effective instruction are evident the first time you meet her,” Angela said of Lauren. “She uses Kagan structures seamlessly throughout every lesson and while she provides professional development for staff district-wide.  Lauren provides phenomenal in-building support for her colleagues by coaching them and leading them through learning new Kagan structures.” With the addition of Lauren Peel as an Associate National Trainer, Topeka Public Schools can now proudly say that we employ more Associate National Trainers than any other school district.

Lauren Peel

Sara and Lauren will continue to serve Topeka Public Schools in their existing roles. They will function as Kagan trainers outside of their duty time with the district.

Congratulations, Sara and Lauren!


For more information about Kagan Structures, visit http://www.kaganonline.com/

Williams Principal to Retire After 40 Years with TPS

Most elementary school principals spend the last part of each school year preparing for the one that lies ahead. They make schedules, assemble class lists, coordinate summer projects for the building… generally prepare for the upcoming school year. This year, however, one long-time building principal will be doing something a little different: packing up his office. After a 40 year career in Topeka Public Schools, Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet Principal Marty Gies is preparing to retire.

Gies grew up in Tecumseh, Kansas and graduated from Shawnee Heights High School in 1972. He then attended to Washburn University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science and later his Master of Education degrees. A career in education seemed a perfect fit for the young Gies, whose father, Jack Gies Sr., was principal of Quinton Heights and whose mother, Bette, worked at both Highland Park High School and at the TPS administrative building. Gies’s brother, Jack Jr., was also an educator, having taught special education in Topeka Public Schools before retiring just three years ago. In fact, even Gies’s wife, Pam, worked for Topeka Public Schools at one time.

Though Gies is retiring as a principal, he began his career as an elementary P.E. teacher in 1976. He taught at Linn, McEachron, Shaner and Lungren elementary schools. He also coached wrestling and tennis at East Topeka Junior High and Eisenhower Junior High, and coached wrestling and football at Highland Park High School. After several years as a teacher and coach, he became Robinson Middle School’s activity coordinator. He followed that up with a stint as assistant principal at Eisenhower Middle School before becoming principal of Ross Elementary. Fifteen years ago, he landed at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet, where he has been the principal ever since.

“I have enjoyed watching students grow up and learn the skills necessary to become productive citizens,” Gies said of his time in education. “I have also enjoyed working with wonderful teachers and staff.” After four decades in public education, Gies said dealing with No Child Left Behind has been one of his biggest challenges. “To have one test decide if a child and school is successful has been hard.”

After decades of looking after others, Gies’s retirement plans are appropriately indulgent: SCUBA diving, bike riding, golfing, traveling and spending time with his wife are all on the agenda. Thank you, Mr. Gies, for your many years of service to Topeka Public Schools. We will miss you!

Avondale West Students Offer a Helping Hand

What started out as a class discussion about setting goals turned into a donation of over $1,200 for the Helping Hands Humane Society.

Earlier this year, Alyssa Gleason’s 4th grade class at Avondale West Elementary learned about setting and achieving goals as they worked to raise money for the local animal shelter. Their goal was to raise $500 for the center and, when they quickly reached that goal, they raised it again to $1,000. Bake sales and school penny wars generated $1,230 dollars, which was recently presented to Helping Hands. Gleason’s class was in attendance for the donation and enjoyed a tour of the facility before heading back to school.


The kids had a great time raising money for a wonderful cause, while learning that, with a little hard work and some help from friends, they can accomplish anything!

Way to go, students!!

Robinson SRO Hollar Honored

Congratulations to Robinson Middle School SRO Ron Hollar—today he was honored by the Topeka Downtown Optimist Club with the Respect for Law Award. The award was established in 1965 as a way to recognize outstanding law enforcement members in our community for the work they do each day to ensure safety and positive relationships with law enforcement in their communities.

His colleagues in the TPS Police Department, as well as Robinson Principal Tammy Hazelton and Assistant Principal Todd Berry, were all on hand to congratulate him.

Way to go, Officer Hollar

Kindergarten Academic Preparation Program

McCarter 1st Graders Celebrate Their Fathers

Father's Day is still a month away, but that didn't stop McCarter Elementary 1st grade teacher Cherie Garrett from throwing a dad's day party. Yesterday, the students' fathers attended a baseball-themed soiree in their honor, complete with a performance by the students, who sang, "Take Me Out to the Ballpark." They enjoyed rootbeer floats, peanuts, sunflower seeds and books written by the kids especially for the occasion. The students had a great time hosting their dads!


Hope Street Student Receives Scholarship

Congratulations to Hope Street Academy junior Kelly Nemechek-- she has received a scholarship to attend the Youth Civic Leadership Institute this summer. It will be held at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics on the campus of the University of Kansas. Only about 60 incoming seniors from across the state were selected to attend this program, which is designed to enhance leadership skills and encourage public service.

Kelly is very excited about the workshop. “I’ve never done anything like this before,” she said. We think she’s going to have a wonderful time! Congrats, Kelly!

TPS Employee Makes Healthy Changes, Transforms Life

They say everyone has a breaking point. Trapped in her own body, which tipped the scales at over 380 lbs., Topeka Public Schools Account Clerk Jana Dreher knew she had to make a change. In March of 2015, she was enjoying a girls’ weekend with her friends in Branson, Missouri when the group decided to tour one of the region’s many caves. Too heavy to descend the 125 steps into the cave, Jana had finally reached her breaking point. As her friends toured the cave without her, she thought about all the things she was missing out on. “I came back from that weekend and decided that I’d had enough. Right then, I changed my whole life.”

Jana Dreher, before and after her dramatic weight loss

Jana’s journey toward a healthier life began that March. Since then, she has lost over 180 lbs. and has completely transformed her life. She started by cutting out sugar, a decision she made when recent bloodwork indicated she was borderline-diabetic. “I used to eat whatever I wanted. My go-to food was candy, especially chocolate. There were times that I would just eat a big bag of Snickers bars for dinner.”  But a month after the trip—and a month after cutting out sugar—her bloodwork indicated that she was in the normal range and no longer at risk of developing the disease.

The following month, Jana joined Weight Watchers. “I felt that if I had to weigh-in in front of people, it would hold me more accountable,” she said. She started going to meetings each Thursday, where she found other people who were facing the same challenges she was. “We’re kind of like a family because everyone motivates each other. When I leave, I’m pumped and ready for the next week.”

Jana used what she learned in Weight Watchers to make changes in her diet. She switched from guzzling six 16.9 oz. bottles of Diet Pepsi each day to sipping green tea. She began to make better choices at mealtime, too. For example, a typical breakfast now includes a protein shake or hard-boiled eggs; lunch contains a turkey wrap, banana and yogurt; dinner consists of grilled chicken, brown rice and steamed veggies. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t indulge occasionally, however. “Sometimes I crave burgers—I’m a cheeseburger girl,” she laughed. “I’ll say to my husband, ‘Let’s go to Five Guys,’ and we’ll split a burger and small fries. We don’t need a lot of food. When we leave (the restaurant), we’re not stuffed and feeling sick.” In fact, Jana said she doesn’t deny herself any of the treats she wants; she simply eats less of them. “I call my husband my garbage disposal because I’ll eat a little and give him the rest,” she joked.

In addition to making better nutritional choices, Jana also began to focus more attention on physical activity, and her exercise schedule would impress even the fittest of athletes! Jana takes two, 15-minute, brisk walks each day during her breaks at work. She has teamed up with a group of Burnett Center employees who meet three times a week during their lunch break to exercise with a 30-minute video. She also goes running after work twice a week with Gary Menke, the district’s General Director of Fiscal Services, as she prepares for her first 5k run. Additionally, she attends a couple of fitness classes at Heat Up Topeka and works out at her gym, Great Life, several times per week. Jana also observes “Sunday Fun Day” with her family each Sunday, where they get together to enjoy mini golf, batting cages, a walk around the lake, or any other physical activity. In total, Jana exercises as many as 20 times each week.

Jana’s children, Allison, age 20 and a library para at McCarter Elementary; Kaitlynn, age 17 and a junior at Topeka High School; and Dylan, a 15 year old THS sophomore, are very proud of their mother’s transformation. Jana, never heavy as a child or young adult, initially put on extra weight thanks to a medication she took following the birth of Allison. A year later, she went off the medication, but the weight stayed with her, and she continued to gain from there. After watching their mother battle her weight for their entire lives, they’re thrilled with her success. Jana’s husband, Chris, a Frito-Lay employee, is also proud of her hard work. “He loved me at my heaviest and he loves me now. I actually weight less now than I did when we got married, so it’s like he’s got a whole new wife,” she laughed. In fact, her transformation has been so dramatic, that people who haven’t seen her since her weight loss don’t even recognize her. “They don’t realize it’s me. It’s pure shock on their face when I tell them who I am,” Jana said, smiling.

Jana’s life has really changed in the past year. No longer limited to plus-size stores, she now loves to go shopping and can shop anywhere she wants. When she reaches her goal weight, just 35 lbs. from her current weight, Jana plans to treat herself to a new wardrobe. She is also traveling more. A trip to San Antonio with Chris is on the horizon and Jana is excited to be flying there—something she wasn’t able to do before she lost weight. That won’t be her first trip, however. This past September, Jana returned to Branson, where she successfully toured the cave-- stairs and all-- that she wasn’t able to see on her first trip. “I made it all the way down into the cave and back up those stairs,” she said proudly.

Now Jana hopes to help others. She is considering going back to school to become a nutritionist. “When you’re heavy, you don’t necessarily want to talk to someone who is really skinny because they’ve never been in your shoes. I have been in their shoes and I can help those people,” she said. In the meantime, however, Jana is happy to share her story with others and enjoys helping people begin their own journey toward a healthier life. “If I can help even one person, that would make me happy. I am more than willing to sit down and talk to anyone and motivate them.”

Jana Dreher is a true success story. She made crucial changes in her life and is healthier, happier and more confident than ever. She was able to stave off diabetes, a potentially deadly disease, by reducing her sugar intake. She was also able to incorporate physical activity into her daily routine by utilizing her work breaks to exercise. Substituting high-calorie, high-fat meals for nutritious fare helped her shed about 13 lbs. each month. As summer break nears, Topeka Public Schools hopes that our staff members are inspired to continue practicing good nutrition and exercise habits in their own lives. For more information about leading a healthier, more active life, visit the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas website at http://www.bcbsks.com/BeHealthy/HealthWellness/HealthyLifestyles/

HPHS Dance Team Members Sign Letters of Intent

Yesterday was an exciting day for five of Highland Park High School’s Rhythmic Belles dance team members as they signed letters of intent to dance at the college level next year.

Zora Green, Ajanea Gunby, Zhane Rainey and Brittany Sowell all plan to take their talents to the Coffeyville Community College Red Ravens dance team.

Asianah McCracken will share her skills with the Ottawa University Braves dance team.

With lots of friends and family in attendance, the girls thanked those that helped them achieve their goals.

Congratulations, ladies! You’re going to have a great time dancing—and learning—in college!


TPS Students Receive Westar Scholarships

Westar Energy recently awarded the 2016 Westar Energy/Haines –Weber Scholarships and four were awarded to Topeka Public Schools’ students. The students each received a Community Scholarship, which provides a $2,000 scholarship, renewable for four years, for a total of $8,000. The students will also receive campus mentoring support and will be honored at a recognition dinner.

Trey Austin, Topeka West High School, will be attending Kansas State University and plans to study computer science.

Eric Hoyt, Topeka West High School, plans to study nuclear engineering at Kansas State University.

Jirani Smith, Topeka High School, will attend Washburn University and plans to pursue a degree in actuarial sciences.

Skylan Wagner, Topeka West High School, will attend Kansas State University and hopes to study computer science.

Congratulations, Trey, Eric, Jirani and Skylan—have fun and study hard!

Scott Students Visit Washburn University

Sixteen members of the Scott Magnet MALE (Males Achieving Lifelong Education) Group recently visited Washburn University. Led by Scott’s Community Liaison Leo Cangiani, the students had the opportunity to visit with WU football players Bryce Chavis (senior, wide receiver), Kyle Emerick (redshirt freshman , linebacker) and  Jackson Kirby (redshirt freshman , fullback) and defensive line coach Skyler Parker. The players told the students about the skills they would need to be successful students, athletes and young men. The kids had an opportunity to ask lots of questions and think about how they could apply what they learned to their own lives.


After their meeting, the coach and players took the students on a tour of the university’s weight room and football locker room. The boys loved hanging out with the college students and were very excited at seeing the possibilities their futures hold.

Thanks for a great tour, guys—our students had a fantastic time!

2016 Friends of Education Recipients Recognized at Board Meeting

The 2016 Topeka Public Schools Friends of Education recipients were honored at the May 5th Board of Education meeting. Thank you to the following honorees for all you do for TPS students and staff:

School Volunteer Category: Rev. Tony and Dr. Rita Stanley
Nominated by: Rebecca Morrisey, Principal of Eisenhower Middle School

Rev. Stanley can frequently be found volunteering in the Eisenhower cafeteria, visiting with students and assisting staff. As he makes his way through the lunch room, he takes time to stop at each table to ensure he has made a connection with every group of students. “His guidance has led to improved behavioral choices and celebrations for success for many of Eisenhower’s students,” said Principal Rebecca Morrisey. “He provides a positive male influence for students who may not have a father figure in their lives.”

While juggling the demands of a physician’s schedule, Dr. Stanley still makes time to contribute to the Eisenhower Middle School community. She often provides health-related activities that teach students how to make wise nutrition choices. Working with the school’s cafeteria manager, Dr. Stanley applied for a grant to fund a six-week after-school program. The grant was awarded and Kids in the Kitchen kicked off, providing students with an opportunity to prepare and sample new recipes.

The Stanley’s They also work with their church group to provide an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the neighborhood. Three years ago, when the dinner was offered for the first time, over 300 community members were fed. The past two years has seen that number balloon to over 800 dinner guests each year. The Stanley’s have worked with Highland Park High School to provide student entertainment for the event, allowing our high school students an opportunity to perform for the public and stay connected to their former middle school community.


Ongoing Partnership Category: Young Life
Nominated by: Juli Watson, Assistant Principal of Highland Park High School and by Mike Haire, Principal of Jardine Middle School

Each day, volunteers from Young Life visit Highland Park High School, joining students for lunch, helping out with after school programs, and helping students reach their academic and personal goals. The volunteers help students complete the work necessary to graduate, support the students with struggles with their families, and offer guidance to kids who may have gotten off track academically.

Young Life volunteers are eagerly welcomed by Highland Park students and staff, who look forward to the mentorship the organization provides. Juli Watson, Assistant Principal at HPHS, said, “They have not only helped multiple students to achieve their goals, but they are creating student leaders in our building.  Many students have gone on to become role models who support each other and keep their peers on track. Young Life volunteers believe in our students when our students feel hopeless, and they help those students spread that support to others.”

Young Life is also active in TPS middle schools, and visit them regularly. Lunchtime bonding sessions happen each day at Jardine Middle school. Volunteers connect with students, forming strong relationships and providing positive experiences for the students. Through their work, they bring together diverse groups of kids for activities during lunch and for activities outside of school.

When Young Life volunteers sign up to spend time with our students, they don’t just agree to have lunch with them, they really go above and beyond to provide fun activities that establish a strong bond between mentor and mentee. For example, Young Life holds before-school activities twice a month, plays basketball with the kids, takes them to concerts, restaurants and parks, and many other activities. Jardine Middle School Principal Mike Haire notes that, “These positive relationships change lives and impact academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs within our schools. Young Life volunteers are pouring their hearts into the students of Jardine.”


Community/Civic Organization Category: Oakland United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church
Nominated by: Sarah Sharp, Principal of State Street Elementary

Each week, church volunteers spend time at State Street, listening to children read and helping them with their studies. However, much of their volunteer work takes place before and after school. They supervise students before school on Late Start Fridays, have held a summer dance camp, organized and hosted a Trunk or Treat event, and planned activities and worked at a summer book swap.

The church volunteers’ generosity doesn’t end there, however. They have also operated State Street Elementary’s after school theater program for over ten years, in addition to building props and making costumes for the students’ productions.

Oakland United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church also provide many items to the school’s students and teachers. They donate hats and mittens to the school nurse for distribution among the students. They purchased new tennis shoes for all the girls participating in the Girls on the Run program, at a cost of over $1,000. Additionally, the churches funded a field trip that allowed 5th graders in the after-school club to attend Kansas State University’s Open House.

Their generosity toward State Street Elementary isn’t limited to students, however. The churches also show their support for the school’s staff members by providing cookie trays at the beginning of each new school year. They donate gift cards to all certified staff each August, as well.

Robinson Students Learn How to Ride the Bus

The students in Robinson Middle School's after school club learned a practical new skill recently: how to ride the city bus.

Topeka Public Schools's photo.

Representatives from Topeka Metro stopped by to give the kids a lesson on how to board and exit the large vehicle and how to load their bikes onto the bus's bike rack, among other things. The students also had the opportunity to sit on the bus and to ask questions about navigating the city. The information they learned will serve them well this summer, as Topeka Metro offers students free riding privileges while school is out.
Topeka Public Schools's photo.

Thank you, Topeka Metro, for all you do for our students!

Janice Dean the Weather Machine Visits Quincy

New York-based meteorologist Janice Dean visited Quincy Elementary School yesterday. There, she read the childrens book she authored, "Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado" to the students. She also talked to the kids about storm safety and developing emergency storm kits. Through her work as a television meteorologist, Dean has covered Hurricanes Rita, Wilma, Katrina and Sandy and the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado.
Topeka Public Schools's photo.

Thank you for visiting Quincy Elementary, Janice-- the kids loved having you!

TWHS Student Collects Books for Ross Elementary

Ross Elementary students will enjoy nearly 200 new books thanks to the efforts of Topeka West High School senior Lacey Clark.

Lacey was the first student at TWHS to pursue completion of the Teaching and Training Pathway. As part of the coursework, Lacey was required to complete a service project and she chose to collect books for Ross Elementary. She was able to acquire nearly 200 books, which presented to the school yesterday.

Thank you, Lacey, for the hard work it took to collect so many books. The students at Ross will enjoy them for years to come!

TPS Student Demonstrates Woodworking Skills in Competition

Congratulations to TPS student Michael Ramirez-- he is being recognized for his hard work on a Toys for Tots community service project.

Michael is a Topeka Public Schools and Washburn Tech student who has been studying cabinetry and millwork. He and two Washburn Tech classmates competed as a group in the Kansas State SkillsUSA competition recently, where they presented their Toys for Tots project. They received a gold medal and will be headed to Louisville, Kentucky in June to compete at the national level!

According to the Washburn Tech newsletter, "In the SkillsUSA competition, contestants work against the clock and each other while proving their expertise in occupations such as computer technology, cabinetmaking, precision machining, baking and advertising design. It is designed to showcase the best career and technical students in each state and eventually in the nation."

Congrats, Michael-- your talent and dedication to your craft will take you far!

TPS Students Win Art Contest

The Topeka Bar Association recently hosted a coloring contest as part of their 2016 Law Day celebration, and five of the six winners are Topeka Public Schools students! Their work was displayed in a full-page ad in a recent edition of Topeka Capital-Journal. The winners will also be recognized at the TBA’s May membership luncheon on May 6 at the Topeka Public Library. Each of the winners will receive a $25 gift card.

Congratulations to all the talented winners:
1st grade – Ivan von Soosten, State Street Elementary
2nd grade – Ricky Adkins III, Ross Elementary
3rd grade – Devez Oliver, Whitson Elementary
4th grade – Addison Brooks, Whitson Elementary
5th grade – Jaliyah Hill, Highland Park Central Elementary

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