Honoring Our Gold Star Teachers

Cassie Graff

AJ Cassidy receiving his award during the 2017 ceremony. Photo courtesy of Waterloo Community Schools.

McElroy Trust honors 10 outstanding teachers each year with the Gold Star Award for Outstanding Teaching to help recognize teachers in the Cedar Valley and the superstars that they are. As a winner of the Gold Star Teacher Award, recipients receive $1,000 cash, along with $1,000 for their classroom.

Every year, nominations open up in January and close in late February. In May, there is an awards ceremony to showcase the recipients from that year.

After a teacher has been nominated, they are asked to fill out an application. After filling out this application, nominees are evaluated by a volunteer committee. This volunteer committee looks into the references the nominee listed on their application, and then from there, they choose the 10 superstar teachers who will receive an award in May.

West High currently has three Gold Star Teachers who are still current teachers at West High. Recently, we asked these three teachers the following questions:

  • How did you like the experience?
  • How did the experience affect you as a teacher? As a person?
  • What is one word or phrase to describe your thoughts and feelings about being named a Gold Star Teacher?

Johannah Nanke was a recipient of the award in 2021 and is an English teacher at West High. Nanke’s response to the following questions was: “I really enjoyed the experience! It felt so validating to read the recommendations that students wrote, and of course, it was nice to get funds to buy books for my classroom library. I always knew this, but as I was reading the recommendations, it really reinforced the idea that students are hyper-aware of how you treat and instruct them and it really makes a difference in their lives. I hope they know that they make a difference in mine. As a person, it’s always nice to be recognized and rewarded for the hard work you have put into your career! Fortunate- there are lots of other amazing teachers out there who work just as hard, if not harder, who don’t win awards!”

Alex Conyers was a recipient of the award in 2020 and is a Science Department Chair here at West High. Along with being the Science Department Chair, he also is the Debate Coach and the Nerd Team Sponsor. Conyers’ response was “It was during the pandemic year so there wasn’t much fanfare. I did have a filmed segment on KWWL which was cool. Old professors and acquaintances contacted me to congratulate me. What was most significant and important was the letter I received from the nominating student and her comments during the video they produced. Made me feel more confident. Encouraged me to be more of a leader. Boosted my self-esteem for a while.” One word that Conyers used to describe the feelings and thoughts associated with being named a Gold Star Teacher was “recognized”.

AJ Cassidy was a recipient of the award in 2017 and is an English teacher here at West High. Along with being an English teacher, he is also a volleyball and basketball coach. He also is the Link Crew leader and helps organize many different student events here at West. Cassidy’s response to the following questions was: “It was definitely a unique experience. Believe it or not, I’m not always that comfortable being in the spotlight, and the whole goal of the program is to make teachers feel like rock stars. I had fun meeting the other area award winners and the other Gold Star recipients in our district. The ice cream bar at the reception was the stuff of dreams. In all honesty, I never really thought about it while I was in the moment until they put the student interviews up on-screen. Everyone always talks about the impact teachers have, and I’d never really thought about it until I saw my students up on screen describing their experiences and perceptions of me as a teacher. It was an enlightening and humbling experience, and I’m glad I got to experience it.” One word that Cassidy used to describe the feelings and thoughts associated with being named a Gold Star Teacher was “humbling”.

Thank you to these teachers, and all of the other teachers here at West High for being superstar teachers. If you feel there is a teacher at West High who deserves to be nominated to receive The Gold Star Award for Outstanding Teaching, don’t forget to fill out the nomination form in January!