HONOLULU (Oct. 26, 2012) — Karen Kutsunai, a Kailua Intermediate teacher, is Hawaii’s 2013 State Teacher of the Year. Governor Neil Abercrombie and Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe made the announcement this afternoon during a ceremony honoring seven District Teachers of the Year at Washington Place.
Before entering her classroom, Karen reflects on a saying by a former principal: “I control the weather in my classroom. What kind of weather shall we have today?”
Karen creates an environment where students shine. They are not afraid of making mistakes, and learn and grow from their experiences. She promotes resiliency in each student and has personal conversations with those whom she knows are struggling.
Her genuine care for students extends to the entire school community, as Karen has established monthly Ohana club socials for faculty to discuss issues and improve relationships.
Karen models lifelong learning by always seeking and sharing new technology and tools to make lessons come alive. In the words of a colleague: “Karen has often commented to me that I am her mentor, but her genuine enthusiasm inspires me.”
Karen has a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education with a Social Studies emphasis from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She also earned a Master of Education in Curriculum Studies with a Middle Level emphasis at UH.
She has taught at Kailua Intermediate since 1999.
The State Teacher of the Year is selected from among Hawaii’s seven District Teachers of the Year. Karen was the Windward District TOY. The following information on the other District Teachers of the Year is from the District and State TOY presentation ceremony script as presented today:
VICTORIA COFFIN – Leeward Oahu District, Keoneula Elementary: Victoria’s goal as a teacher is “to build a community” in her classroom. At Keoneula, she has been a catalyst for bringing teachers, students, and parents together.
Victoria started a Kids Initiating Change service club as one way to make learning meaningful. She energetically leads hands-on projects through which students and the community have promoted traffic safety, recycling, and energy conservation.
This summer, Victoria attended a Fulbright Japan-U.S. Teacher Exchange Program for Education in Sustainability Development in Hiroshima, Japan, to share her initiatives and learn from other educators. Victoria offers unlimited support and encouragement to engage students and ensure they all succeed.
TRACIE HIGASHI – Central Oahu District, Hickam Elementary: Tracie believes fine artists have a responsibility to serve their school and community through their talents. At Hickam Elementary, Tracie’s passion and commitment to excellence is evident in breathtaking student performances.
Under her guidance, students perform in a 9/11 Remembrance Assembly, Hickam Officers Spouses Club, and the Radford Complex Music Festival. Tracie has worked tirelessly to establish partnerships with the Hawaii Opera Theatre, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts, where students interact with Academy teachers and produce wonderful art pieces.
Tracie has included all grade levels in the music program, and adapted the curriculum for students with severe disabilities. From the direction to lighting and set design, Tracie always puts in the extra time for students. Tracie exemplifies the highest standards to students, faculty, and the community.
PAUL HOLWEGNER – Kauai District, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle: Paul brings science concepts to life using 21st century resources that help speak to the digital language of our students. He engages students with technology in a game setting, or creates a crime scene “CSI” lesson that makes the mysteries of science relevant, understandable, and practical.
His teaching philosophy is simple: education is necessary for people to thrive in a modern society.
Paul can be regularly seen training colleagues on the latest technology, helping students in the afterschool program, organizing career day, attending fundraisers, and speaking at parent nights.
Paul models responsibility, character, and work ethic, and he allows students to take ownership of their learning.
AARON LOQUE – Maui District, Maui Waena Intermediate: As a high school student, Aaron would spend his summers working with children at local youth programs. In college, he volunteered his time reading to grade school students and coaching at baseball clinics. When it came time for Aaron to pick a career, teaching was a natural choice.
This highly-organized Social Studies teacher is constantly refining and sharing effective teaching practices with Maui Waena’s curriculum leadership team. Aaron supervises summer credit recovery classes, develops schoolwide transition plans for students, and serves on the accreditation committee.
In class, Aaron establishes clear expectations for students, who in turn feel prepared and confident that they can achieve daily goals.
AMOREENA NESTMAN – Hawaii District, Kealakehe Elementary: Amoreena’s love for teaching began when she was just a second grader. After being asked to peer tutor other students, she says she “felt a spark within my soul.”
An English language learner inclusion teacher, Amoreena says her biggest strength is being part of the school’s Instructional Leadership Team. She views every classroom as an extended family, which makes team collaboration key for students to feel supported and be risk takers at each grade.
Amoreena focuses on character building by incorporating the values of respect and responsibility in and outside classroom walls. Her passion and positive attitude is contagious and a powerful influence for students and staff.
MARCUS POTTENGER – Honolulu District, Hokulani Elementary: As a boy scout, Marcus loved to be a fire tender – the one in charge of starting the fire and keeping it going. As a teacher, he believes each child has a unique spark, and his job is to nurture that spark into a flame.
Described as a driven teamplayer who is always smiling, Marcus measures the reward of teaching by the success of his students, the growth of the staff, and the continued improvement of the school community.
He is an enthusiastic advisor to the Student Council and Yearbook Committee; a member of the School Community Council; the curriculum coordinator for grades 3 through 5; the AVID coordinator; the school’s webmaster, and the master of ceremonies for student assemblies. As one coworker remarked, “His positive attitude is infectious, and his demeanor is comforting. Marcus makes everyone around him, teacher or student, better.”