BP had named seven Kenai Peninsula Borough teachers as 2013 Teachers of Excellence.
Alan Fields, Principal of Kenai Central High School commented on the work of history teacher Greg Zorbas, who was one of those named…
Fields: “I think it’s really that integration of technology into the classroom that has brought Mr. Zorbas to light a quality teacher. He’s gone above and beyond what the expectation is of teachers and utilizing technology. He’s a leader in that area, not only in our state, in our district, but across the nation.”
Calls to other schools were not immediately returned. Below are biographies on each of the seven teachers…
Donna Austin teaches kindergarten at Chapman Elementary School. After teaching for 26 years, colleagues still refer to Austin as “exceptional” and “amazing.” With kindness, patience and commitment, she inspires her students by taking a genuine interest in each one. She listens to ideas from her students, asks them what they want to learn, and helps them navigate new ideas. She tells her students they can do it, she believes they can, and she then praises their accomplishments. Austin’s kindergarteners participate in community clean-up and school-wide math and science nights. She’s been recognized as a Who’s Who teacher and received the Golden Apple Award from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.
Susan Biggs teaches music at Redoubt Elementary School. For more than three decades, Biggs has been sharing her love of the arts with her students, working to reach them cognitively, emotionally and culturally. As a professional musician, composer, dancer and artist, she brings real life experiences to her classroom. Biggs uses technology to inspire and motivate students with Smart Boards, YouTube, Discovery Education and Finale Note Pad all useful for student composing and demonstration. Biggs also directs two musicals every year, involving as many as 200 students and staging the shows for the entire community.
Myla Liljemark teaches social studies at Seward Middle School. Through promoting self-awareness, student success, and international mindedness, students in Liljemark’s class are provided a student-centered learning environment where they are the drivers of their education. Lilejemark believes the internationally-minded focus is key to helping students see themes of social studies played out around the world. She often brings in guest speakers from organizations such as the local historical society, National Park Service, or a Native tribe to bring real-life perspective to what’s being studied.
Lyn Maslow teaches 4th grade at West Homer Elementary School. Maslow’s goal is to create a classroom where students are willing to express ideas, take risks, learn from each other, and celebrate success. She believes learning comes in a challenging, purposeful, and cooperative environment where different learning styles and passions are supported. A teacher for nearly 30 years, Maslow involves her students in several out-of-class ventures including marine monitoring projects, planting and harvesting community gardens, and building a schoolyard habitat and nature trail. She is also the cosponsor of West Homer Elementary School’s student council.
Renee Merkes teaches math at Soldotna High School. Everyday Merkes assesses each student’s level of engagement, understanding, excitement or frustration with math. She uses what she learns to modify her daily lessons to fit the needs of the students and will even reteach a lesson to provide a more enhanced version for better understanding. Her students participate in state and national math competitions, and she is a member of the District Math Curriculum Committee. In addition to continuing her own math education through conferences and training, Merkes has former students come back each year to discuss what she taught and whether it helped prepare them for life after high school.
Robert Sparks teaches social studies, 10th grade world history and 12th grade government at Skyview High School. Believing education is a 24-hour experience, Sparks encourages his students to discuss information from school at home, and has received numerous comments from parents who say their children are knowledgeable about events and subjects they never had interest in before. Sparks is a co-creator of the Classroom WithOut Walls (CWOW) Program which allows students to use digital devices and mobile technologies to connect with other parts of the world. Through CWOW, students have discussed important historical events with people who lived through them, and have been a part of videoconference lessons with students in Afghanistan, Kenya, Israel, Yemen and numerous states. This global teaching is bringing a new sense of learning and connectedness to the students at Skyview High and across the Peninsula.
Greg Zorbas teaches 10th grade world history at Kenai Central High School. Zorbas is the co-creator of the CWOW program with Robert Sparks and a third teacher. A true innovator, Zorbas says his goal is to make these classes so interesting, students won’t want to miss. To that end, a student diagnosed with leukemia who went Outside for treatment participated in class through the videoconferencing almost every day, and those around the student said it motivated her to get up and get ready. Another student, who had been suspended, asked if he could attend class via video. Zorbas believes in inspiring students by setting high expectations and holding them accountable. His goal is to get young people thinking about how what they learn applies to their lives and how it can be used to help make decisions in the future.