A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NKY Education Council, Chamber hosted virtual Excellence in Education awards — here are winners

The Northern Kentucky Education Council and the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce partnered to present the annual Excellence in Education Celebration virtually for the first time in its 11-year history. The pandemic has changed everything — except that NKY always values its educators and students — and the businesses and community partners who support them.

NKU was this year’s title sponsor. They are a steadfast community partner committed to supporting the business and education community. The Award Sponsors were Duke Energy, Gateway Community & Technology College, and Thomas More University. Event Sponsors were Adams, Stepner, Wolterman & Dusing, PLLC and Northern Kentucky Educators’ Federal Credit Union.

These are the winners of the annual awards, presented with all the enthusiasm that can be expressed for all they have accomplished and in appreciation of their hard work, determination and dedication.

Academic All-Star Awards

The Academic All Star Award recognizes Northern Kentucky high school seniors who excel in the most challenging courses available and are engaged in multiple extra-curricular and community service activities. This year’s winners have completed rigorous course loads, are driven to succeed, and rank at the top of their classes.

Alli Gill, Hunter McClurg, Emily Wyland

• Alli Gill, Owen County High School

Alli completed 7 honors classes, 3 AP courses, and 61 hours of dual credit courses through Jefferson Community Technical College, Northern Kentucky University, and Kentucky State University and was involved in BETA, National Honor Society, Student Council, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, O-Club and served as captain of the varsity volleyball team.

• Hunter J. McClurg, Ignite Institute

Hunter completed 19 college courses, including courses at Thomas More University and Gateway Community & Technical College and was involved in the Scott High School Band, National Honor Society, and Delta Alpha Phi. He also served as a mentor to younger scholars in the Computer Science College at the Ignite Institute.

• Emily Wyland, Conner High School

Emily completed 13 AP classes and 4 dual credit courses at NKU and was involved in National Honor Society, Men and Women of Conner, Senior Board, Young Life, and Earth Club.

Career and Technical Academic All-Star Awards

Elizabeth Bridget Fulmer, Abrar Shawkat, Wyatt Richards

The Career and Technical Academic All-Star Award recognizes Northern Kentucky high school seniors who excel in their career or technical field/pathway. This year’s winners are highly motivated, focused, and passionate about their career paths.

• Elizabeth Bridget Fulmer, Ignite Institute

Elizabeth completed the PLTW Engineering career pathway including intensive year-long research projects each year. She completed 16 dual credit courses and was a senior board member of the SWENext Club, an extracurricular opportunity founded by female engineering students for future female engineers. Last summer, she was chosen for the highly sought-after internship at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown.

• Abrar Shawkat, Walton-Verona High School

Abrar has a strong passion for business and entrepreneurship. He is the most decorated Future Business Leader of America student to attend Walton-Verona. He completed AP Calculus, Physics, 6 CTE Business Education courses, and 21 dual credit hours. He was a senior leader of the PTSA Student Ambassadors, participant in Wake-Up Walton, Quest leadership program participant, and member of the varsity track and field team.

• Wyatt Richards, Highlands High School

Wyatt completed 3 different Career and Technical Pathways – Media Arts: Cinematography, Computer Science, and Multimedia Publishing. He owns and operates his own photography, videography, and digital design business, has completed professional film projects for various clients and has won numerous awards for his films and photography.

Student Leadership Awards

Samantha Mason, Anastasia Pohlgeers, Davis Recht

The Student Leadership Award honors Northern Kentucky high school seniors who are visionary, goal-oriented, and serve as role models for their peers. This year’s winners are engaging, civic-minded, involved in countless school and community organizations, and have achieved academic excellence.

• Samantha Mason, Owen County High School

Samantha’s most notable leadership role involves her work in organizing and leading the Civics Club Annual Owen County Veteran’s Day celebration involving approximately 2,000 people and a luncheon for 100 veterans and their families. She has enriched the entire school and community through her efforts.

• Anastasia Pohlgeers, Campbell County High School

Ana recently spoke in the Capitol Rotunda for Children’s Advocacy Day. Ana used her voice to be a champion for all students who have experienced trauma. She kicked off the rally by telling her story, inspiring local leaders to help stop the cycle of abuse. Through her advocacy work and community involvement, she has become a beacon of hope for others.

• Davis J. Recht, Highlands High School

Last year, Davis planned and organized a pep rally for the entire student body to rally around Ft. Thomas community members who were in need of organ donations. He not only helped raise awareness, he also applied for and won a $400 award for his work, which he immediately donated to his guest speaker for medical expenses. His kindness has left a lasting mark on the community.

Against All Odds Awards

The Against All Odds Award recognizes high school seniors who have overcome incredible obstacles, yet never stopped striving for success. This year’s winners are driven, determined, and have excelled in the classroom.

Abraham Araya, Jena Armstrong, Carmela Jimenez

• Abraham Araya, Beechwood High School

Abraham was born in Eritrea, Hadas, a small village in East Africa. During his time in Africa his father was forced into the military, his family lived in extreme poverty, and he experienced the devastating loss of his brother who was bitten by a snake and didn’t survive. In 2014, his family moved to the US and was reunited with his father after 10 years apart. He began school in Washington, D.C., and by the end of 7th grade, he learned enough English to communicate with his classmates and teachers and was beginning to thrive. In the middle of his freshman year, his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky and he felt lost with no one to talk to. Then, his family faced another unfathomable incident – his father was shot in the neck in the corner store that he owned. He survived the attack and during his 5-month recovery, Abraham’s mom worked and cared for the family. The shooter was never found, so the family made the brave decision to move again – this time to Northern Kentucky. Abraham enrolled in Beechwood High School at the start of his junior year. This was the fifth school he attended in 5 years, yet he continued to take his education very seriously. He completed 6 AP classes, honors courses, and dual credit classes and was involved in the Drug-Free Clubs of America. Abraham said that his biggest motivation is his mother and that he wants to be his family’s future. He is determined to succeed and said, “I will work hard no matter how hard things get and get through college and grad school for the sake of my mom, my family, and my future.”

• Jena Armstrong, Holmes High School

At the age of 9 years old, Jena’s only two role models in her life were ripped away – she lost her father to an overdose, and Jena was abandoned by her mother. She now is a part of Project Home and lives with someone other than her legal guardian. Through all of these challenges, Jena has found the internal strength and determination to excel in the classroom. She attended dual credit courses at Gateway Community & Technical College and completed the International Baccalaureate Program, the most rigorous curriculum offered at Holmes High School. She attended her church youth group regularly, participated in National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, and K-Pop Club, worked 25-hours a week to support herself, and finished her high school career first in her class! Jena said, “I believed having parents was necessary for me to flourish, but now I refuse to let the fact that I am fatherless and motherless define the limits of my success. My ability to become self-aware has assisted me in becoming the person I am today.”

• Carmela Jimenez, Lloyd Memorial High School

Carmela came to the United States from the Philippines with her mother when she was only 8 years old. When she arrived in Erlanger, she didn’t speak English and became a part of the ESL program. During her freshman year, Carmela received a diagnosis that changed her life. Lupus, an autoimmune disease, was destroying her body and she could barely walk a few steps. After multiple hospital stays and doctor visits, she began chemotherapy and occupational therapy. Through all of these hardships, Carmela has excelled academically taking the most rigorous classes offered. Her goal is to become a nurse and she is determined to make enough money to help her family who still live in the Philippines. Carmela said, “Lupus has completely altered my life. It is something that could have kept me at my lowest self. I could have let Lupus break me…however, I decided to let it make me stronger.”

Golden Apple Awards

The Golden Apple Award honors elementary, middle, and high school teachers in Northern Kentucky that possess the unique ability to reach each and every student and help them achieve their goals. This year’s winners are respected leaders throughout their schools, districts, and the Northern Kentucky educational community. They do everything in their power to support their students and their peers. They are not only teachers, they are – department chairs, district leaders, community collaborators, coaches, advocates, tutors, and life-long learners. Congratulations to:

• Deshae Barnhorst, 5th Grade Teacher at Thornwilde Elementary (9 years)
• Amanda Bell, MSD Special Education Teacher at Arnett Elementary (12 years)
• Nolan Boone, Math Teacher at Campbell County High School (5 years)
• Dana Childers, Kindergarten Teacher at Southern Elementary (28 years)
• Mary Claire Cockrell, Special Education Teacher at Boone County’s Alternative Center for Education (13 years)
• Troy Clifton, 5th Grade English Language Arts Teacher at Lincoln Elementary (16 years)
• Laura Cole, Math Teacher at Scott High School (11 years)
• Alex Evans, 4th Grade Teacher at Campbell Ridge Elementary (9 years)
• Casey Gesenhues, 1st Grade Teacher at Woodfill Elementary (12 years)
• Jim Graham, Welding Teacher at Holmes High School (30 years industry/6 years teaching)
• Angela Gumm-Buschle, Special Education Teacher, Multiple Disabilities Program at Dayton High School (17 years)
• Brian Harmon, Art Teacher at Campbell County High School (17 years)
• Lindsay Hill, Special Education Teacher at Ockerman Middle School (11 years)
• Sarah Horn, Art Teacher at Walton-Verona High School (15 years)
• Jamie Hubbard, Math Teacher at Conner High School (18 years)
• Rachel Jenkins, 5th Grade Math Teacher at Glenn O. Swing Elementary (15 years)
• Barbara Jones, Middle School Teacher at Grant County Middle School (29 years)
• Susan Kinman, 2nd Grade Teacher, Piner Elementary (22 years)
• Brooke Leffingwell, 4th Grade Teacher at Crossroads Elementary (10 years)
• Regina Holt Melvin, Kindergarten – 5th Grade Music Teacher, Longbranch Elementary (23 years)
• Brandy Lusby Neal, 1st Grade Teacher at Owen County Elementary (15 years)
• Chastity Rohan, Engineering Teacher at Grant County High School (14 years)
• Molly Walter, 4th Grade Teacher at River Ridge Elementary (27 years)
• Christopher P. Welch, Spanish and German Teacher at Dixie Heights High School (17 years)

A.D. Albright Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award

Jim Graham

The A.D. Albright Outstanding Teacher of the Year award is given to the highest scoring Golden Apple Honoree. Dr. A.D. Albright, a former NKU president, was a true visionary. Dr. Albright demonstrated great wisdom, insight, and humility which allowed the university to develop and flourish under his leadership. This year’s winner worked in the welding industry for 30 years and has been teaching for the last six years. He not only challenges his students in the classroom but also provides opportunities for students to showcase their skills throughout the school and community. His students say he is “the best teacher at Holmes.” “He pushes me to work my hardest.” “He is the only reason I come to school every day.”

Jim Graham, Welding Teacher at Holmes High School

A.D. Albright Outstanding Administrator Award

The A.D. Albright Outstanding Administrator Award is presented to an individual that leads others in a positive manner to promote education and set an example of professional excellence, is creative, visionary, and works with community partners to advance student success.

Greg Duty, Superintendent, Southgate Independent School District (20 years)

Greg Duty

Greg has worked in education for 20 years serving as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and now superintendent. He is a community connector, an inspiration, and is everyone’s cheerleader. He has forged relationships with the police department, local churches, community businesses, and city government officials to create positive public relations for the district and to build partnerships that bring opportunities to students and teachers. Under his guidance, the Southgate has been awarded several grants that focus on literacy, professional development, technology, STEM, preschool, and homelessness. He helped establish full-day preschool and kindergarten, Born Learning Academy, One to One Reading program, Me and My School Summer Learning program, Artful Reading Program, and more. You can also find Greg working with students as a One to One literacy coach, and also coaches both cross country and basketball. He “makes good things happen for kids” and is willing to go above and beyond to see that they are given every chance for success.

Student Services Award

The Student Services Award recognizes faculty members that have been responsible for counseling innovations or further development of programs to support the academic, social/emotional, and career development of all students. These individuals demonstrate leadership, advocacy, and collaboration in their work and promote equity and access to opportunities and rigorous educational experiences for all students to maximize student achievement.

Gina Sorrell Byrd, Family Resource and Youth Services Center Director at Lincoln Elementary (34 years)

Gina Byrd

Gina has worked in the Dayton Independent School District for 34 years and served as the Family Resource and Youth Services Center Director for 24 years! She coordinated programs that provided an abundance of support for students and families, literacy development for both adults and students, assistance with health and social services, employment assistance for high school students and adults, just to name a few. This past year, prior to her retirement, she set a goal to provide every student at Lincoln Elementary with Christmas gifts, as one last way to show her love and devotion to each of them. With the support of the local community, she achieved this goal! Her hard work, dedication, and love will be never be forgotten.

• Jon Hopkins, Guidance Counselor at Holmes High School (26 years)

Jon Hopkins

Jon has 26 years of experience and has served at Holmes High School for 15 years. He utilizes his skills to help guide and encourage students and staff daily in their classrooms, personal lives, and in sporting arenas. He created an innovative, individual plan for each senior to help them reach the requirements needed for graduation. He also collaborates with coaches throughout the school to create post-secondary plans for student-athletes. Jon is also an assistant football coach and the head track coach for Holmes and spends endless hours encouraging student-athletes. He sees the potential in all students and does whatever he can to help them experience life events as if there were no limitations.

Extraordinary Service Award

The Extraordinary Service award recognizes a non-administrative, non-certified, or classified support staff that exhibits extraordinary service, makes a positive difference all day, has a heart for people, and leads by example.

Peachy Taylor

• Peachy Taylor, Head Custodian at Newport High School (15 years)

Peachy exemplifies what it means to be a true team player – she is always willing to jump in and help teachers, office staff, students, and anyone else that needs assistance. Building relationships with the students is important to her and her team. They buy snacks for students when they meet testing goals, help buy tickets for dances, and one year, they pitched in to help a student rent a tux for prom. Peachy is a proud graduate of Newport High School and personifies the qualities and characteristics they strive to instill in the students.

• Dustin Wollam, Paraeducator at Collins Elementary (8 years)

Dustin Wollam

Dustin will do absolutely whatever it takes to ensure his students have a positive school experience while learning and growing. He sits with them at lunch and makes a point to learn about them as individuals. He dresses up in costumes to support lessons, school events, and holidays. His light-up shoes and flashy dress jackets put a smile on everyone’s face. Dustin shows up early, stays late, greets students every morning at the buses, and also coaches boys’ and girls’ basketball teams at Collins. He is truly a selfless educator with natural instincts and a wonderful attitude.

Business Engagement of the Year Award

The Business Engagement of the Year Award is presented to an area business engaged with a Northern Kentucky school, dedicated to improving student achievement through high impact partnership activities. Congratulations to Velocity Bike & Bean and Bosch.

Velocity Bike & Bean – Mark Ball, Owner

Velocity Bike & Bean, a coffee and bike shop located in Florence, KY, under the ownership of Mark Ball, has gone out of its way to adopt Boone County Schools’ Alternative Center for Education. Mark uses his bike shop to help students create a sense of purpose and positivity. They have served the students through project-based learning, collaborating with staff and students in the building and manufacturing of bikes. He worked with students to create bike-pulled parade floats that were featured in the Florence Memorial Day parade and won the award for best in show. They also engineered floats for the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day parade. Mark has gone above and beyond to help support “at-risk” students and restore their positive relationship with education.

• Bosch – Kathleen Owsley, President

Bosch has been an incredible education partner. In 2019, the Bosch Community Fund awarded Boone, Grant, and Kenton County School Districts a combined STEM grant valued at more than $600,000 to support teacher training, engineering programming from “Project Lead the Way,” and dual credit scholarships for underrepresented populations. This award helped provide more than 70 scholarships for students to help them begin their work towards Associates Degrees from Gateway Community & Technical College. In addition, Bosch has been one of the largest financial supporters of the Ignite Institute PiBotics Team and donated robotic arms and other equipment to the Ignite Engineering Program. Bosch employees have also volunteered at Ignite helping students learn the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.

Robert J. Storer Business-Education Champion Award

The Robert J. Storer Business-Education Champion Award is presented to an individual that has contributed to the Northern Kentucky education community by participating in ongoing education initiatives, advocating for a world-class educational system, or sharing generously of resources, knowledge, and skills.

• Dr. Jean Loftus, Loftus Plastic Surgery Center

Jean Loftus

As co-chair for the Northern Kentucky Education Council’s Business Engagement Action Team now the Engaging Business in College and Career Readiness Coalition, Dr. Loftus has been steadfast in her leadership about the critical importance of fostering business engagement in our schools. She has a deep understanding that the collaboration between business and schools is a key factor in driving successful outcomes for students.

Dr. Loftus consistently advocated to increase business engagement in schools by:

• developing a School Tour Resource guide,
• facilitating more than 35 school – business tours,
• convening focus groups for business and educators to revise the Work Ethic Diploma into the Work Ready Toolkit,
• promoting the “Be the Catalyst” Business Engagement Toolkit,
• leading the effort to collect data on business engagement with Business Engagement Toolkit program partners,
• serving as a liaison for the Council to the Chamber’s Board of Advisors, and
•recognizing business engagement each year at the Excellence in Education Dinner.

Lifetime Achievement Award

This year’s Lifetime Achievement Awards recognize three individuals that have dedicated their lives to education in Northern Kentucky.

• Dr. Kathy Burkhardt, Erlanger-Elsmere Independent School District

Kathy Burkhardt

Kathy Burkhardt served as superintendent of the Erlanger-Elsmere School District from 2004 to 2020.

She is widely respected for her leadership and her commitment to students. She leads a community district with seven schools, including Lloyd High School, and 2200 students, where, she has said, “We hold high expectations for our students and our staff and work to maximize student learning and student achievement.”

She was chosen as an example of model leadership for the “Leaders Matter” initiative, a national campaign for the School Superintendents Association.

As a leader, Burkhardt has always credited the “team” as the key to the success of the school system. “Student success is the top priority of every action taken by this wonderful team of people,” she wrote in her letter to the board.

Burkhardt grew up in Warsaw, attended Berea College, and earned her master’s at Eastern Kentucky University. She earned several certifications at Northern Kentucky University and her doctorate at the University of Kentucky. She taught in Franklin County and in Boone County where she served as a curriculum consultant and principal.

• Polly Lusk Page, Northern Kentucky Education Council

Polly Page

After 46 years in education and 10 years of service as Executive Director of the Northern Kentucky Education Council, Polly Lusk Page retired last June. She was instrumental in creating opportunities for education, business, and community leaders to collaboratively align and create impactful programs that change the odds for children and youth in Northern Kentucky.

Under her leadership, the Council focused on three priority goals for the region: Every child on grade level in reading and math by the end of 3rd grade; increase the number of youth who are hopeful, engaged and thriving; and increase the number of youth and young adults that are prepared for college, career, and life.

Northern Kentucky was awarded the Ready by 21 Community designation and received more than $200,000 in financial and technical support.

Northern Kentucky was chosen to host the Ready by 21 national meeting with representation from more than 38 states.

She led the development of the Resiliency Poll and Resilient and Ready by Design Initiative.

Page created the successful One to One: Practicing Reading and Math with Students and the Parents as Partners initiative.

Prior to her role at the Council, Page was the Director for Community Engagement and Education Initiatives in NKY with the Partnership for Successful Schools where she developed sustainable school and community partnerships that focused on accelerating student achievement. She also served as the literacy specialist for the Kentucky Department of Education and taught at both the elementary and post-secondary levels for more than thirty years.

She has been recognized for leadership, engagement and outstanding contributions by The Congressional Conference on Civic Education, the recipient of the 2013 Kenton County Public Library Foundation’s Mary Ann Mongan Literacy Award, the 2014 Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky Helen Carroll Lifetime Leader in Education Award, the 2015 Imagining Tomorrow Award for Leadership and Vision from Children, Inc., inducted into the Lloyd Memorial High School Alumni Hall of Fame, 2017 and most recently, the Covington Foundation announced Page as their 2019 Person of the Year.

Carl Wicklund, Kenton County School District

Carl Wicklund

Carl Wicklund has served on the Kenton County School Board since 1991. As the current Chairperson on the Board and former vice-chair (over 12 years), he continues to bring expertise and leadership to the sixth-largest school district in the state. He exhibits leadership, commitment, and service to equity and opportunity in education for ALL Kentucky children at school, community, and state levels.

Wicklund also shares his talents with the region and state of Kentucky, holding positions on the Chamber’s Education Policy Committee and the State School Curriculum, Assessment & Accountability Council (SCAAC). Wicklund was named the 2002 recipient of the Warren H. Proudfoot Award for Outstanding School Board Member. He has also served on the Kentucky School Board Members Advisory Council.

He has a deep concern for the education of Kentucky’s youth and a desire to see all students succeed. He has taken the lead in professional excellence for education in his role as a board member by making tough decisions, setting policies for the district, and creating conditions that enable success for our students. He is a strong leader who works with a team to set clear expectations, engage the community, hold the system accountable, and provide support for the Kenton County School District.

In 2011, Wicklund served on Kenton County’s Career and Technical Redesign Team, which yielded the establishment of the Kenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology (KCAIT). Today, hundreds of students are benefiting from his dedication to engage students in meaningful careers. Through his leadership, the district has built one of the most energy-efficient schools in the state and renovated others to allow the district to receive the EPAs Energy Partner of the Year award, three consecutive years.

It is difficult to summarize a lifetime of commitment Wicklund has brought to our Northern Kentucky region. He has demonstrated strong leadership skills, bold determination, and perseverance in an effort to improve the education for all students. He has built incredible relationships with local and state learners because he truly cares about what is best for students.

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