Homer teacher honored for work

One of five Kenai Peninsula Borough teachers named as this year’s “BP Teachers of Excellence,” Barbra Ann Veeck of West Homer Elementary School, has gone a step beyond and been named “Teacher of the Year”  for the district. The award was announced at a reception at Alaska Christian College in Soldotna on April 30.

Katie Bynagle, another WHES teacher, was among the peninsula’s five “Teachers of Excellence,” that also included Terry McKnight of Seward Elementary, Sheilah-Margaret T. Pothast of Soldotna Middle and Amy Utecht of Redoubt Elementary.

The awards were presented by David Lachance, BP vice president of reservoir development, and Dr. Steve Atwater, superintendent of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Described by BP as “an exceptional teacher, a tireless advocate and one who works with her heart and soul,” Veeck has a bachelor of science degree in elementary education and a handicapped learner norm through the University of Oregon and is certified K-8 elementary education and K-12 special education (learning disability) in the state of Alaska. 

Following her course of study at the University of Oregon, Veeck completed 74 additional credits in academics, behaviors and updated information on all areas of disabilities. This is her 33rd year of teaching.

Prior to coming to West Homer, Veeck taught K-12 special education/quest at Nikolaevsk, Seldovia, Mentasta Lake and Klawock, and worked with Fireweed Academy as part of her caseload for several years. She is currently West Homer’s special education resource room teacher for grades 3-4. 

Veeck said she felt honored to have been nominated by West Homer’s “very motivated staff,” colleagues, parents and students.

“I also think that receiving the recognition speaks highly to the quality of West Homer Elementary, and also speaks well for the (Kenai Peninsula Borough School District) Pupil Services Department,” said Veeck, also expressing her appreciation to BP.

In support of Veeck’s nomination for the award, one parent noted that Veeck “continues to encourage kids years after they have left her care. … She remembers them, asks after them. She’s a remarkable person. … One of the people my kids remember fondly even though they’re now in high school.”

Among those at the awards ceremony was WHES Principal Raymond Marshall, who has worked with Veeck since Marshall came to the school four years ago.

“During this time, I have found Ms. Veeck to be an extremely effective teacher with students and colleagues, a strong team player-leader and a reflective educational practitioner,” said Marshall.

In Veeck’s role, Marshall said she has developed a large repertoire of instructional strategies and interventions for assisting students.

“(Veeck) is a motivated team player who effectively utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach to collaboration within our West Homer learning community,” said Marshall. “She acts to bridge communication between general education teachers, special education teachers, the school psychologist and school administration to focus on the learning needs of students and to improve the educational performance of students. As a result of her efforts, students with learning disabilities are successful in academia and life beyond the school doors.”

Veeck establishes her connection with students before they begin classes at West Homer. 

“This time of the year, part of what I do is help bridge the transition for my students from Paul Banks to West Homer,” said Veeck. “I visit Paul Banks in the spring, meet the students and find out what support they may need at WHES. Then, I set up my programs for them … and work with staff to try and make the transition as smooth as possible. … All the third-grade teachers participate in transition plans for the students moving from Paul Banks to West Homer; but as the special education teacher, you are looking more closely at individual students.”

Veeck’s dedication and enthusiasm for teaching is evident in the learning taking place in her classroom, according to Marshall.

“(Veeck’s) love of teaching is apparent in her interactions she has with students and the excitement she exudes in her classroom daily,” said Marshall. “(Veeck) truly understands what it takes to engage students in the learning process and provides them with high quality learning experiences. She is an outstanding educator and stands out as one of the finest teachers I have had the privilege to work with in my career.”

Bynagle teaches a combination fifth- and sixth-grade class at West Homer, where she said she “teaches students the skills of cooperative learning (and) independence to maximize classroom time.” The five years she spent in the small Cook Inlet village of Nanwalek was an opportunity for her to learn how to teach multiple grade levels and multiple abilities within one classroom. 

In the 19 years of BP’s Teacher of Excellence program, West Homer teachers have frequently been among those named. In addition to Veeck and Bynagle, they include:

1999-2000: Shirlie Gribble;

2002-2003: Caroline Venuti;

2007-2008: Karen Murdock;

2011-2012: Melissa Cloud and Shelli Worsfold;

2012-2013: Lyn Maslow.

“I am frequently asked why I think West Homer is such an exceptional school and I simply reply, ‘It is because we have an exceptional staff,’” said Marshall. “The general follow-up question is, ‘You think it is that simple?’ and my reply has consistently been, ‘Can you imagine an exceptional school without an exceptional staff?’”

Marshall said it is a combination of having a “gifted staff combined with “very well prepared students” from Paul Banks that have made West Homer a “high performing school.” In 2012, WHES was named a “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence” by the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program. In 2013, the school was recognized with a Legislative governmental proclamation that noted the school’s “gifted teaching staff” and “students’ dedication and enjoyment of learning.” In 2013, WHES also was one of six schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to receive a five-star rating by the state of Alaska and one of 19 schools in Alaska to be honored as “high performing” and “high progress.”

“I am honored to be on the West Homer education team and I feel blessed that my children have the opportunity to attend such fine schools,” said Marshall.

Each of the five teachers selected as BP Teachers of Excellence received a $500 gift card and an award certificate. Each of the teachers’ schools received a matching $500 grant. As Teacher of the Year, Veeck also received a $1,500 scholarship for continuing education and a bronze sculpture by Alaska artist Mary Regat.

In the past few years, Veeck has acquired more information on working with students who may be on the autism spectrum, students previously labeled as having Aspergers’. She plans to use her scholarship toward more training in that area.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.