Faces of 501: Dr. Joy Grimes

Dr. Joy Grimes is the principal at Avondale Academy, she is in her fifth year of working for Topeka Public Schools. Avondale Academy is in its first year of existence, and Grimes has worked on the program since its start, calling it one of the “most challenging positions that I have had in education.” In addition to her principal duties, she is a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army, where she serves as a Military Police Battalion Commander. 

“My father, William Grimes, was an educator, working as a teacher, principal and superintendent for schools in Iowa and Kansas, and he served in the military. I really ended up following in his footsteps. There have been many instrumental coaches and teachers in my life that took the time and gave so much to others that I wanted to emulate their humanitarian service. 

“This is my 27th year in the Army, I joined because of patriotic duty and I wanted to see if I was up for the challenge. I’ve been on active duty and deployed to Germany, Iraq, Kosovo, Qatar and had short duty stays in Panama, Italy and Haiti. “There are similarities in both careers, both have structure, high expectations, personal advancement and teamwork. But there are differences too, education allows more flexibility for individual differences and is open for all to experience. The military has less tolerance for failure to comply to the standard and is not for everyone. 

“Both fields are noble, honorable, yet challenging professions. To those students interested in a military career: learn how to take standardized tests. The higher you score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, the more opportunities and choices you will have available. You also want to understand U.S. domestic and foreign policy, as you will be likely become an instrument to carry out that policy. 

“If you are thinking about becoming an educator: Future educators need to understand the hidden challenges behind teaching in a public school, the social and governmental constraints, the complexity of emotional and mental challenges students face all while attempting to develop young minds in a constantly changing environment. This wonderful career takes a creative, intuitive, dedicated and persistent individual that has the courage to keep fighting all the barriers students unknowingly bring to school. It is the most rewarding career that impacts every aspect of our future!”

Faces of 501: Wayne Sherman

Wayne Sherman is the building operator at Topeka West High School and has worked for Topeka Public Schools for the past 17 years. Sherman has pride in his job at the school and often wins ‘cleanest building’ for him and his team’s work. Before working for TPS he had a 20-year career in the U.S. Army. He was stationed in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Georgia, three different times in Germany, Bosnia and retired from Fort Riley in Kansas.

“I graduated from Highland Park High School in 1980 and joined the U.S. Army right out of high school as an infantry solider. This job is similar to the military, they both require you to be responsible with your work area and your time. Our school has won ‘cleanest building’ for several years, I think it’s because of my ethical behavior that ensures that our work is completed with integrity and honesty. I always adhere to the policies and rules, while working to meet the goals of the district. The times we’ve won the award is truly an honor. I have a great team working with me.

“For the students that might see this: Stay focused. And never stop reaching for your goals.” 

Faces of 501: Diane Mosher-Kimsey

Meadows fourth grade teacher Diane Mosher-Kimsey, right with student Alexis Vincent go over Vincent's 'booksnap,' during a recent class. The students take a photo of a favorite quote from a book, illustrate the quote and share it with their 'Global Read Aloud' community.

Diane Mosher-Kimsey, is a proud graduate of Topeka Public Schools and is in her 33rd year of working for TPS. She started in 1985 as a second grade teacher at Potwin Elementary, moving to Meadows Elementary as the technology coordinator when the school opened. Currently she teaches fourth grade at Meadows, it’s her favorite grade to teach. She loves to use technology in the classroom where she is always learning something new from and with her class.

“I’ve always enjoyed gadgets. I started teaching with an Apple 2e computer. The kids loved playing Oregon Trail, Math Blasters and such. I just love how technology has developed and changes daily! Technology allows us to go global! My kids are doing video chats with students in Singapore, they talk weekly with our skype pals in Ontario, Canada! We have watched turtles on beaches in Australia, visited with National Park forest rangers at three parks, and learned about the Amazon Rainforest through skype chats! It’s just incredible how technology has developed and lets us explore the world from the comfort of our classroom. Kids love the technology! This is their world! Mine was a fat pencil and a Big Chief tablet with ditto papers! We have to teach kids where they are and where they’re going - not where I was and went!

This semester my students took part in the ‘Global Read Aloud.’ (GRA) It’s part of a global phenomenon that where classes all over the world read the same book and discuss. The GRA community has written and shared more lessons and ideas then you would believe! I share one lesson to the community weekly. It’s beyond a thrill to see other states and countries join my class on padlets, flipgrids and more! Our very first day to do the GRA we heard from Singapore, Malaysia, Sydney, four Provinces of Canada and 30 States. Talk about going global! My kids and I were hooked!! A friend, Tara Martin created this idea of #booksnaps. My class loves to annotate their reading by doing #booksnaps! The kids are begging to read, begging to create, begging to write! That’s what we want isn’t it; kids who WANT to read, write and learn!

We also are studying penguins and Antarctica. We’ve been watching, via a webcam, penguins in Antarctica on a daily basis and recording information. The highlight was when we connected with scientists in Antarctica and discussed their work and research with them, over skype. This all goes along with the work that we’ve been doing as we’ve compared and contrasted the research and with the fiction book, ‘Mr. Popper’s Penguins!’
Kids are naturally curious! They love to dive in on projects and share their thoughts on what we’re doing. It’s their education. It’s their future! They want it to be relevant to them! I’m a huge follower of Dave Burgess, who wrote ‘Teach Like a Pirate.’ He has said many things that jump out at me as I make my daily plans. One of my favorites is, ‘Don’t just teach a lesson, create an experience.’ I hope I do that daily, for my kids! Technology makes it easier to do that since kids are curious and want to explore!

The advice that I have for students is this: Own your education, don’t rent it for the moment, own it for a lifetime! Focus on where you are going. Never settle on ‘it’s good enough!’ READ, READ, READ! Daily, READ! And always get a good night’s sleep.” 

Faces of 501: Fred Willer

Fred Willer has worked for Topeka Public Schools for the past 12 years as a social worker at Highland Park High School, but before that was stationed at the school as a social worker through the Family Resource Center. On an average Willer makes contact with dozens of students a day, driving them to appointments, helping them find jobs, feeding them or just taking the time to talk with them. Recently, he has taken on an additional role with the district as director of the new Millie Murphy Community Cupboard, which operates out of the Quinton Heights Educational Center. 

“This idea started back in the 1980s with community volunteer Millie Murphy running the original Topeka Public Schools clothing bank located at the Holland Center, and it ran successfully until the early 2000s when Murphy retired. We restarted the clothing bank at Highland Park in 2005, where it was located until this last school year. It has been expanded into the Community Cupboard, which in addition to the clothing bank we now have a food bank and provide hygiene supplies. The idea behind the Community Cupboard is to provide resources to students and families that if not provided may pose a barrier to school success.”

“The most surprising thing to me has been the groundswell of community support through donations. Harvesters has been a great partner by donating food supplies, Silverbackks provides us with hygiene supplies and we have gotten thousands of donations of clothing and canned food this semester from community members. The district’s social work interns have spent countless hours organizing the Cupboard to make sure supplies are easy to find. If you need to access the Cupboard reach out to your school’s social worker or counselor, or you can call me directly at 274-6026 to set up a time to visit. I’ve learned that students can overcome difficulty in their lives, just don’t be afraid to ask for help and we are here to provide that help.” 

Willer, right, accepts a donation from Tisha Schmidt and the ENT department at Stormont Vail Health. 

Faces of 501: Stephanie Karrer

French Middle School eighth grade math and algebra teacher Stephanie Karrer is in her eighth year of teaching for Topeka Public Schools. This past summer Karrer was named a Kansas finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest honor in the nation for math and science educators.

“I really enjoy teaching and it’s a lot of fun. Teaching can be one the most rewarding jobs, like parenting, it’s hard work and stressful at times. You are making a difference for kids even if they don’t see it right away. It’s neat to hear that former students went down a math field as a career. And it’s great when a high school student comes to you when they need help with their math work, you know that they trust you.”

“It seems that a lot of students come in with lots of baggage when it comes to math, they don’t like it or they think they aren’t good at it. I tell all of my students that we start where they are right now and your brain is only truly learning by making lots of mistakes. There are relatively new research findings which state the brain grows when mistakes are being made. This research is behind the push about the importance for a growth mindset, especially in math. Having a growth mindset gives students an ‘I Can’ attitude towards math rather than ‘I Can't.’ The growth mindset gives students and teachers the ability to focus on the learning, the why and/or the how versus the normal right or wrong approach. Growth mindset classrooms allow for safety and risk taking where math is concerned. Often times students have a sense of feeling they are either good or bad at math, but when classrooms are growth focused students begin to see everyone is good at math-- we just master concepts in our own time.”

“In my classroom, I use the word YET.  When I hear students say ‘I don't get this’ or ‘I can't do this’ or ‘I'm not good at this,’ I coach my students to add YET to the end of their statements. 'I don't get this... YET,’ it seems to empower students to persevere and allows students to feel more successful.”

“Looking back, the only profession of interest to me was teaching. I can remember playing ‘school’ with my friends and cousins—I was always the teacher. In third grade, I recall struggling with delayed grief from the loss of my mother. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Morris was amazing. I don’t remember everything she did or said; however, I know I always felt safe, cared for, listened to, important and loved. Not only did Mrs. Morris teach me reading, writing and math, she also displayed strength, independence and how to care for others. Once I had settled on teaching as a career, I gravitated towards becoming a mathematics teacher because math was always my favorite subject in school.”

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