Honor Roll

Laura Tonkin


Position: Eighth Grade Physical Science Teacher

School: Mason Middle School

School District:Mason City Schools

City, State: Mason, Ohio

About the Nominee: Laura Tonkin was nominated by her principal, Tonya McCall.

Ms. Tonkin has been teaching for 13 years, and every year is like a brand new year for her. She is continually looking for ways to modify her course to make it better for her students. Her willingness to learn about her students, their needs and their interests is what separates her from many other educators.

She takes a deep interest in the success of every student and uses her connections with them to deepen their learning experiences. Ms. Tonkin is willing to take risks for her students, mentor their learning and create incredible learning experiences unique to the interest of the individual student. She is a learner and a motivator who is not afraid to try new things, work through an issue and/ or search for a different design or solution. She is a visionary who takes risks, which motivates and empowers others to follow suit. Ms. Tonkin is a natural leader within Mason. She leads with grace and humility. It's never about her or what might make the situation easier, but about how she and her colleagues can make their school and district the best place for students. Some of the examples of her leadership over the last couple of years include:

• Co-leading a collaborative group of teachers who are interested in growing professionally. They get together to informally discuss topics of interest as they relate to students. • Piloting many efforts to move education forward within the district. For example, Ms. Tonkin worked with a colleague on a 3D cookie cutter challenge with her engineering and design students. She was in a unique position to help with this challenge, as she happens to be an accomplished baker with a cookie business. Ms. Tonkin was able to give students insight on the best types of designs that would work well in practice. • Designing lessons for stations at the 2016 Mason/Festo Innovation Day, which involved all of her first semester physical science students. • Taking on coaching responsibilities and mentoring new teachers as they moved into the sports. • Leading one of the houses within her school. Since there are over 1820 students at Mason Middle School, the school is divided into a House System which makes it feel smaller and include a more personalized touch. In addition, she has been a part of the planning team for the House System since its inception. This was a grassroots movement designed by the teachers and supported by the administration. As a House Leader, she meets regularly with the planning team to continually evaluate the program and plan the monthly schedule, as well as special events throughout the year. • Preparing and presenting professional development on a variety of topics around teaching and learning at High Aims, a consortium of public school districts and network of leaders who inspire students and one another to be engaged, high performing learners. She has also presented at the Mason Learning Series, a district professional development conference created to provide learning opportunities for staff, by staff. • Redesigning the Physical Science curriculum to incorporate a standards based grading framework, This year, she transformed it into a personalized learning experience, which was a mid-course adjustment after reading a book recommended to her by a colleague. • Mentoring a new Physical Science Teacher in the department this year. • Donating 500 hand-crafted cookies to the Mason Food Pantry.

Ms. Tonkin is often found supporting her students as a mentor. It is hard to say how many students she has helped through personal struggles, but she is a hero to all of them. She is not afraid to expose her vulnerabilities and admit she may not have the answers a student needs, but she is always more than willing to learn with them.

One of Ms. Tonkin's colleagues shared, “I have never worked with a teacher more committed to ensuring the success of all students. Her classroom is a beacon of hope for all students, regardless of their background. Students know that when they walk into her room, they will be cared for and they will be guided towards a better and brighter future.”

Richard Garland


Position: Business and Careers Teacher

School: North Kingstown High School

School District:North Kingstown School Department

City, State: North Kingstown, Rhode Island

About the Nominee: Richard Garland was nominated by his superintendent, Dr. Michele Humbyrd.

Since his hiring, Mr. Garland has brought the North Kingstown High School to new levels with his work in financial literacy. He created the school's first Early Enrollment Program (EEP) courses, where students earn college credit while still in high school. Under his tutelage, over 300 total students have earned Rhode Island College credits prior to graduation.

Mr. Garland inspires students in the classroom. One student said, “it's his enthusiasm to see me succeed. Whether it's at a DECA competition or just in the classroom, he's always pushing us to fully put ourselves to the test. He always makes sure to praise us, even if we don't come out on top, and seeing him smiling at us with pride makes me want to live up to that. Finally, the fact that he made it to the top ranks of IBM inspires me to show that his teaching skills can do the same for me."

Additionally, a graduate said, "He taught us simple life tricks like believing we could do our best, which led us to win that Bryant Bulldog Challenge. He taught us how to do a S.W.O.T. Analysis on case studies, and in my major [at UMASS] I am still using many of those skills today."

Mr. Garland became the high school’s Webmaster and worked to update the site with current information. He began by redesigning the website and holding multiple sessions for teachers on how to build their site, transfer their materials and create links. Furthermore, he worked with other webmasters in the district to help them understand the new online software. When a new teacher is hired, Mr. Garland meets with them, creates a login for them and schedules a date to help with their page. He sent a new math teacher this email:

"Hi...you can send a mass email to parents alerting them to your website using ASPEN. I send an email to students and parents each Friday on the week's stock market performance."

Where Mr. Garland shines is his ability to leverage community/state support for his students and school. He began with the former state treasurer and current governor, Gina Raimondo, and has extended this invitation to his finance classes. The Bryant University Bulldog Challenge took place four years ago, and Mr. Garland was the first teacher at NKHS to involve the business students. His students earned first place for three years. He has brought his Business Club to DECA Club status, and together, they have won many individual and partner medals. His finance classroom students participated in two statewide financial challenges, and in both challenges, he had a student team that placed second overall. In his Leadership in Business class, Mr. Garland gives students the knowledge and skills to create their own business/product/service. There is a culminating project that involves a Shark Tank-style competition judged by companies such as Arpin, Drupal Connect, JWU and People's Credit Union.

Mr. Garland's relationships with professionals in the industry proved to be most valuable this past year; he was the co-author of a Governor's Workforce Grant for $250,000. Using the grant money, he was able to transform classrooms and jump start his bid for a CTE Program in Finance with “Fast Track” certification from NAF. Parallel to working on the CTE Finance application, he is also working to build the computer science components of the curriculum.

Fortunately for North Kingstown, Mr. Garland arrived with a pedigree from IBM. Long known for creating the world's best professionals, Mr. Garland brought the three key beliefs of Tom Watson’s IBM to his work at NKHS: respect for the individual, superlative customer service and the pursuit of excellence in all tasks.

There have been hundreds of emails written to parents from Mr. Garland on behalf of students. He provides inspiration and hope. In the first year of his Introduction to IT class, he encouraged and promoted every student, but there were only two female students in the classroom. Mr. Garland nominated one of them for a technology award at the Tech Collective in Providence, RI, and she won! She received accolades and was invited with her parents to the evening award presentation. The school received an award, as well.

Mr. Garland embraces a challenge, builds trust, works collaboratively, influences with expertise, continuously transforms and helps all stakeholders to succeed. His traits are also the characteristics of an IBMer, and fortunately for the school and district, he brings his best self everyday. He acknowledges others' contributions and champions their cause, which in turn, gives everyone a strong sense of purpose in an authentic environment. Mr. Garland makes NKHS a better place to learn and work!

Lisa Jensen

Position: Social Studies Teacher / Girls JV Basketball Coach

School: Herriman High School

School District: Jordan School District

City, State: Herriman, Utah

About the Nominee: Lisa Jensen was nominated by a colleague, Crystal Hansen. Every day, in ways large and small, Lisa Jensen (known as Co-J for Coach Jensen) is a LifeChanger in her community. She is not only a gifted teacher who makes an impact in her classroom, but she is also a supportive basketball coach and school leader.

Co-J helped start a program called the CURE at Herriman High, which is intended to unify the student body and prevent bullying. Through this program, Herriman High has become more cohesive, and the program has contributed to a positive climate. Co-J puts her energy toward making a difference and improving lives.

At Herriman High School, CURE stands for “courage, unity, revolution and empowerment.” Co-J works with faculty members and student ambassadors involved with the CURE program to demonstrate and exemplify kindness and inclusion to their fellow students. In addition to having these student ambassadors lead by example, Co-J has put them to work. She has them do things like organizing inspirational assemblies and sending positive notes to students and teachers. They’ve also done fun lunchtime activities to spread their message, and have even nominated fellow students who are doing great things in the school community to win prizes and receive recognition. Additionally, the CURE ambassadors have used small gestures to let other students know they are loved, such as putting up a heart with every student’s name in the library windows.

Co-J has worked hard to further the CURE program, and students want to follow her lead because they respect her. Her classroom conduct also makes a great impact on her school. It isn’t uncommon to hear students talking in the hallways about how much they love her psychology class. One student wrote this about Co-J as a teacher: “She teaches and instructs with a passion that is hard to find in other teachers. When she is teaching, every ear is tuned in, listening for her next few words....she genuinely cares about educating kids, and that transfers into students’ attentiveness.” A colleague of hers added to that sentiment. He commented, “Lisa is one of those teachers that genuinely cares for her students…She is constantly looking for ways to make a better tomorrow, by starting with our youth today.”

Co-J lifts people up at every opportunity, even under the most difficult circumstances. Her school was struck with tragedy last year, when one of their students was killed in a car accident. This young woman was a member of the girls’ basketball team and had worked with Co-J. She reached out to the family after the accident and has done a great deal to provide them with support and comfort through this unimaginably hard time. She has helped the team work through difficulties and grief as well, encouraging the girls to go on and play their best as a way to honor their lost friend.

These are just a few examples of how Co-J is an outstanding individual and a LifeChanger. Her colleague and nominator, Ms. Hansen, has worked with her for nearly four years and can say that she always has a smile and a hello for everyone. Through the CURE program, Co-J has provided exemplary leadership and encouraged the faculty and student body to build a culture of positivity and caring. In her classroom, she shows her students that she cares about their education, and about them as individuals. Co-J makes a great deal of difference at Herriman High School.

Joni Kerby

Position: American Sign Language (ASL) Teacher

School: Ruben S. Ayala High School

School District: Chino Valley Unified School District

City, State: Chino Hills, California

About the Nominee: Joni Kerby was nominated by her principal, Diana Yarboi. Mrs. Kerby has made a difference in the lives of students throughout her 13 year career as a teacher of American Sign Language (ASL) at Ruben S. Ayala High School. Her principal, Ms. Yarboi, can attest to her profound impact on student achievement, sense of self and career readiness, which are the result of the relationships she builds with her students. It’s not only what Mrs. Kerby teaches; it is how she teaches. This powerful attribute of developing close and caring connections conveys confidence and inspiration in her students’ capabilities. Her students confidently use ASL while interacting with the deaf community in society. Another astonishing distinction is the number of ASL graduates that articulate to neighboring Mt. San Antonio College and receive college credit, with her students receiving the highest scores in the county.

Mrs. Kerby is also a role model for developing students. She encourages her students to strive for greatness, live to their fullest potential and to seek the best in themselves. Her students genuinely admire her and learn through her. Because of her work, Mrs. Kerby has been nominated for and awarded Teacher of the Year at Ruben S. Ayala High School.

The ASL program at her school serves as a constructive factor in the school atmosphere. Each year, the students in the ASL program produce a Variety Show featuring songs (in ASL), skits and deaf poetry. It is a popular event, not only for the school, but for the deaf community, and it attracts nearly 1,000 guests. Most notably, Mrs. Kerby connects her ASL students alongside students with severe disabilities at Ayala, and the ASL students teach these exceptional individuals sign language! It is common to find these shining stars in the ASL Variety Show! The compassion and service to others that Mrs. Kerby demonstrates with her students is unparalleled.

Kayla Ruhland

Position: English Teacher

School: Westwood High School

School District: Mesa Public Schools

City, State: Mesa, Arizona

About the Nominee: Kayla Ruhland was nominated by her principal, Shoshana Cleary. Ms. Ruhland is a remarkable teacher. When Ms. Cleary first met her three years ago, she knew after interviewing and hiring her that she would be a great teacher. Ms. Ruhland quickly became a teacher that students talked about. She makes connections and genuinely cares about her students and their lives.

When you walk into her classroom, you immediately feel welcome. Students open up and talk about uncomfortable, sensitive or personal topics in their lives. Ms. Ruhland makes students feel safe by listening and doing whatever it takes to ensure they are successful.

In a recent school-wide student survey in which students indicated who their "trusted adult" was on campus, Ms. Ruhland was chosen by 108 students. This is a true testament to her ability to connect with students. In addition, she is an active, engaging teacher in the classroom. She is always student-centered and reflective in her practice, and she is always looking for strategies to improve her teaching.

Outside of the classroom, Ms. Ruhland coaches the color guard for the Marching Band. Historically, the color guard didn't have many students who wanted to participate. Ms. Ruhland has recruited more students and worked closely with the band director to grow the program. Recently, the marching band placed 2nd in the state. The Westwood High community is beyond lucky and grateful to have a teacher like Ms. Ruhland who truly changes the lives of her students on a daily basis!