• Duneland School Teacher and Employee of the Year 2024

    2024 TEACHERS & EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR


    The Duneland School Corporation is proud to announce the winners of the 2024
    "Teacher of the Year" and "Employee of the Year" Recognition Program.

    The winners are: 

     

    ELEMENTARY TEACHER OF THE YEAR

    Breinne Ramker

    BREINNE RAMKER - Liberty Elementary School

    Breinne Ramker is a first grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School (LES). She graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education with a Kindergarten endorsement, and her Master of Science in elementary education in 2008 from Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, IN.

     

    After graduating in 2005, Breinne spent her first three years teaching as a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln Elementary in East Chicago, IN.

     

    In 2008, she accepted a teaching position at Duneland Schools and has spent the majority of the last 16 years teaching first grade at Liberty Elementary School. In 2016, she embarked on a new challenge and became Liberty Elementary’s reading specialist. For two years, she worked with students in kindergarten through fourth grade who had deficits in reading. She planned, developed, and implemented lessons to help students improve their reading skills. During those two years, she was able to help a wide range of students while growing her skill set as a educator.

     

    When she returned to the first grade classroom, she was soon faced with a challenge that encouraged her growth as an educator and an individual. For the 2020-2021 school year, she taught first grade fully remote from home. She had to find new ways to build relationships and connect with her students while teaching through a screen and had to develop new strategies to keep six and seven year olds engaged while being around so many distractions at home. Ultimately, it was one of the most challenging but rewarding years in her teaching career. She had to push herself to find new ways to motivate students, deliver quality virtual instruction, and support the needs of her students and their families. After returning to in-person learning, she had many parents commend her on her ability to effectively teach remotely and keep their child engaged.

     

    Currently, Breinne serves as the first grade team leader and is responsible for leading her grade level Professional Learning Community (PLC). During her years at LES she has served on the Guiding Coalition and school improvement team to review data for the school and make informed decisions to benefit all learners.  She has hosted numerous cadet teachers from Valparaiso University and Purdue Northwest, worked on various committees that benefited the school and students and served as a mentor teacher for new teachers to LES and the district.

     

    Outside of school, she also serves her community as a volunteer YMCA soccer coach, Boys & Girls Club volleyball coach; religious education teacher and Girls on the Run coach.

     

    “Breinne is the one that every parent hopes that their child has as a teacher,” said LES Principal Heidi Hennigar. “She is loving, but firm, and holds her students accountable for learning at high levels. Her background as a former reading specialist is a huge asset, as she is able to consider a variety of ways to instruct students on reading. Every time I walk into Breinne’s classroom, I know that I am going to see three things: Students who are actively engaged in meaningful learning, Breinne interacting with students in a kind and positive way, and an environment that is buzzing with expectations. The students in Breinne’s classroom are taught not only curriculum, but she imbues in them a love of learning through the environment she creates.”



    SECONDARY TEACHER OF THE YEAR

    Patrick Ward

    PATRICK WARD - Chesterton High School

     

    Patrick Ward is a math teacher at Chesterton High School (CHS). He graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis in 2002 with Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education mathematics, and his Master of Science in secondary mathematics education in 2022 from Western Govenor’s University in Salt Lake City, UT.

     

    After graduating in 2002, Patrick spent his first two years teaching math to grades 7-9 at Ben Davis Jr. High School in Indianapolis. In 2005, he was hired by the Duneland School Corporation to teach all subjects from grade 7-12 at the Duneland Alternative Learning Center.  After four years, he transitioned to CHS to teach math.


    Since joining Duneland School Corporation, he has had the privilege of witnessing
    firsthand the transformative power of education. “Through my roles as both a teacher and a coach, I have been fortunate to engage with students in various capacities, fostering their intellectual growth and supporting their personal development,” said Ward. “It has been a pleasure to come to school each day to contribute to the continued success and excellence of our educational community.”


    His commitment to academic excellence is reflected in his contributions to the field of education, including being published in "5 Easy Steps to a Balanced Math Program" for his innovative Algebra and Geometry projects.


    One of the aspects of teaching that he finds most rewarding is the opportunity to collaborate with
    colleagues and contribute to the wider educational community. He has actively participated in various committees at the high school, including most recently the School Improvement Team.  


    In addition, he is involved in extracurricular activities, such as running the SAT/ACT/PSAT club and volunteering to assist students with standardized test preparation. He has also coached four state swim championship teams, including one national championship, one runner-up national championship, one runner-up state championship, 29 DAC championships and close to 600 wins. He is currently the CHS boys’ head golf coach.

    “Outside of the classroom and over the course of his teaching career, Pat’s leadership has been an essential part of our school's success,” said Robert Blumenthal, CHS assistant principal. “In addition to his extensive and successful coaching career, his role as a data-driven educator has been invaluable. He continues to lead the math department to align the curriculum to the skills students will need to be successful on the SAT. Additionally, he extends this opportunity to students seeking his expertise to improve their scores on this high-stakes exam.”


    Blumenthal went on to explain Ward’s impact as a classroom teacher, how he ties mathematical concepts to real world applications and then connects those concepts to the many activities that his students participate in outside of the classroom. “Earlier this school year, I can clearly recall Mr. Ward teaching his students a very challenging concept in College Algebra. The students were immediately fascinated,” said Blumenthal. “This is just one example of how Mr. Ward ties challenging mathematical concepts to the world outside of CHS.”


    EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR

    Kim Balas

    KIM BALAS - DSC Transportation - Bus Driver

    Kim Balas, a 1986 graduate of Elston High School in Michigan City, has worked for Duneland School Corporation for the past 24 years. Prior to joining DSC in 2010, she was the boys’ and girls’ head swim coach at Michigan City High School from 1995-2003, and co-owner of Classic Construction Inc from 1993-1995.

     

    Balas has spent her career helping people and providing the best customer satisfaction possible. She prides herself on completing every task with the utmost importance and accuracy. 

     

    Kim started working at the age of 14 teaching gymnastics to 5-8 year olds. She also gained experience and knowledge by working in the field of finance and construction, as well as serving as a head coach to rebuild the swim programs at Michigan City High School.

     

    In 2003, she began having a family and spent the next seven years at home with her children. Later one day, while registering her daughter for school at Jackson Elementary, she saw a sign advertising for school bus drivers at the Duneland Schools. She told herself, "I can do that!" She spent the next three years driving a Duneland school bus, and yet again, creating relationships with students.

     

    In 2014, she was promoted from bus driver to the office position of Operations Coordinator. “This position is exciting and challenging,” said Balas. “Every day I juggle something different. I absolutely love it!” 

     

    One of her greatest rewards in this position is working with new hires. Kim developed a 6-8 week training program that gets drivers ready to transport Duneland students. “Helping someone through Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) training and seeing their face when they pass the test makes it all worthwhile,” she said. She appreciates being acknowledged by other department staff for her efforts in helping make their jobs easier. She has to laugh when people refer to her as a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and the ‘Einstein of transportation.’  “All of this is why I love my job,” said Balas. “Every day helping people, and keeping everything running smoothly.“

     

    Ben Armstrong, her supervisor and the director of Transportation, expressed that Kim is the type of employee every employer wishes they had, and how the department depends greatly on her expertise. She genuinely enjoys her job and has proven herself to be a vital, foundational employee. She has a positive influence on everyone and is readily available to communicate and discuss ideas with the members of the transportation department. In addition, she helps to create a work environment that permits mutual trust and confidence and consistently demonstrates care and concern for everyone. He said, “I find it difficult to summarize all that Kim Balas does for the Transportation Department and the Corporation. I am proud of her dedication and commitment to her role as Operations Coordinator.”

     

    Balas credits her success to the support of her director(s) and co-workers both in the office and in the field. She believes in mutual respect, saying good morning and good night to everyone she sees, and always carving out time to listen. She prides herself on having built inspirational relationships that continue to strengthen the transportation team.




     

     

    The winners were awarded at their respective school/work locations by DSC administrators.

    Each of the winners received a $500 monetary award from the following local sponsors:

    Lane One Foundation – Elementary Teacher of the Year
    1st Source Bank – Secondary Teacher of the Year
    Ellis Electric Inc. – Employee of the Year

    Thank you to 2024 sponsors

    The 2024 winners will be recognized at the May 6, 2024 School Board meeting, Beginning of the Year Programs in August, in DSC publications, website, and social media and on a plaque displayed at Central Office. Winners will also receive a classroom/office door banner along with a monetary stipend of $500. Thank you to First Source Bank, Lane One Foundation, and Ellis Electric for sponsoring the recognition program. In addition, both the elementary and secondary winners will represent Duneland teachers in the Indiana Department of Education’s statewide Teacher of the Year Program.

    Link to the announcement with winner and finalist photos: Special DuneNews Edition 

     


     

    2024 TEACHER & EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

     

    ELEMENTARY TEACHER OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

     

    Nick Bamber

    Nick Bamber

    Liberty Intermediate - Physical Education

     
    Katie Curiel

    Katie Curiel

    Brummitt Elementary - 2rd Grade

     
    Maureen Hurst

    Maureen Hurst

    Westchester Intermediate - School Counselor

     
    Cheryl Marrs   

    Cheryl Marrs

    Bailly Elementary - 1st Grade

    Britni Psimos

    Britni Psimos

    Jackson Elementary - 1st Grade

    Breinne Ramker

    Breinne Ramker

    Liberty Elementary - 1st Grade

    Ashley Smith

    Ashley Smith

    Yost Elementary - 1st Grade

     

    SECONDARY TEACHER OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

    Zeke Clark

    Zeke Clark

    Chesterton Middle - English

    Tina Clindaniel

    Tina Clindaniel

    Chesterton Middle - English

     
    Natalie Kaczmarski

    Natalie Kaczmarski

    Chesterton High - Math 

    Jordan Otto

    Jordan Otto

    Chesterton High - Math

    Kirsten Reed

    Kristen Reed

    Chesterton High - English

    Patrick Ward

    Patrick Ward

    Chesterton High - Math

     

    EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

    Kim Balas

    Kim Balas

    DSC Transportation - Operations Coordinator

    Bill Bowen

    Bill Bowen

    DSC Buildings/Maintenance

    Kelly Karriman

    Kelly Karriman

    Chesterton Middle -ExL Aide

    Ron Wahl

    Ron Wahl

    DSC Buildings/Grounds

    Betty Wheeler

    Betty Wheeler

    Westchester Intermediate - Head Custodian

    Robert Williams

    Robert Williams

    DSC Technology - Chesterton High 

    Quint Yarber

    Quint Yarber

    DSC Buildings/Maintenance