Swartley receives Gold Star teaching award

In recognition of his excellence as an educator, physics teacher Kenton Swartley was named one of the 10 recipients of the 2012 Gold Star Award for Outstanding Teaching.

The program, first developed in 1989 by the R.J. McElroy Trust and KWWL-TV, formed as a way to honor outstanding educators as well as inspire other educators to continue pursuing excellence. Since its creation, over 350 of Black Hawk County’s greatest teachers have been recognized and celebrated for their admirable achievements. Over 1,700 nominations were submitted this year, ultimately whittling down to 10 elite instructors. All recipients receive $1,000 and public recognition at a ceremony in the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center.

This year, Swartley received the distinction and joined the ranks of nine fellow outstanding recipients for the teacher appreciation award. “I had no idea I’d won. I knew I’d been nominated because teachers have to submit their own essays once nominated, so I knew I’d be considered but didn’t expect it. Dr. Powers stopped by my office Tuesday morning to say he had some visitors to bring by third period, and I didn’t think much about it. Class had just started when he stopped by with the visitors, and I first had an idea about what was going on when I saw a gold star balloon,” Swartley said.

The pruning process for selecting 10 honorees requires a nomination from any individual familiar with the teacher’s role in the classroom as well as out. Submissions may be taken from current and former students and parents, fellow teachers, administrators and staff members, community members and even teachers who self-nominate. From there, nominated teachers still interested in receiving the award must complete a self-evaluation, reflecting on specific examples of successful moments in the classroom, unique methods of teaching and ways in which support is offered to fellow teachers. “Whoever wrote my nomination must have done a very good job because I didn’t think my own form was outstanding. It’s just so difficult to write about yourself. At some point, I do believe I get to find out who nominated me and see what they said.”

Though not necessarily the nominator, junior Brandon Dix reveres the quality instruction and dedication Swartley provides as a classroom teacher and robotics team leader for the SWARTdogs. “He spends time helping the next generation. He works a ton with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), just really believes in their personal message and he helps people become better thinkers to solve problems.”

The same effort put forth into the award-winning extracurricular group still clearly prevails during class time. “Swartley makes quite an effort to make sure you’re engaged, whether it’s through random jokes to pull you in or by checking to make sure you’re not dipping off a little bit. He consciously pulls people in to make sure they’ll have the best possible chance to do well.”

Having a clear effect, Swartley’s dedication to improving students beyond classroom walls lies at the core of his mission as an educator. “One of the most important things a teacher can do is to develop relationships with students. I’ve done some coaching before and have been involved with the robotics team, and extracurriculars of any kind are so good because they allow you to get to know your students a little bit better, which helps you figure out the best ways to provide encouragement. It’s important to help student pursue success when at all possible.”

As a committed educator working to actively involve students, Swartley’s efforts provide basis for the accolades associated with the award. However, he’s quick to recognize the hard work, achievements, and equally exemplary work of his colleagues. “Several weeks ago, an announcement was made about all who had been nominated, and there were so many teachers on that list, all of whom were outstanding. Whoever wrote my nomination must have done an outstanding job.”

The awards ceremony will take place May 21 at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Tickets are free and can be acquired through www.goldstarteacher.com.

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