Dr. Scott Spurgeon

Position: Superintendent

School: Riverview Gardens School District

School District: Riverview Gardens School District

City, State: St. Louis, Missouri

About the Nominee: Dr. Scott Spurgeon was nominated by a colleague, Tamara Granger. Dr. Spurgeon has been working in education for over 25 years. He spent the greater part of a very successful educational leadership career in the “mainstream” of public education. The beginning of Dr. Spurgeon's career suggested he was somewhat of a “prodigy”. He demonstrated the seemingly innate gifts of an analytical mind for data, the dissection of the theoretical frameworks of pedagogy and its impact on the cognitive webs of learning. What was more uncanny was his natural ease with translating those deep understandings of the systems and the people he led through developing deep-rooted cultural norms. His ability to lead buy-in and group genius appeared relational in a way that is usually seen in motivational speakers or a few faith-based leaders of today’s mega-organizations.

In 2013, Riverview Gardens was struggling academically. That's when Dr. Spurgeon stepped in. He brought all of the knowledge and skill of his 18 years of educational leadership, as well as a proven track record of school and district success. Could this gifted and genuinely personable educator successfully “turn the ship” around in Riverview Gardens? With a pace not yet chronicled anywhere else in the nation’s story of urban transformation, and with a strategic plan that is both simple, yet deliberately intentional, Dr. Spurgeon set a foundation of successful urban transformation.

Even as Dr. Spurgeon led Riverview Gardens to a synchronized paddle to “turn the ship”, he could not disassociate his district’s work from the impact of unexpected student transfer legislation. Additionally, Mike Brown's death and the subsequent aftermath occurred within the district's boundaries, which added to the impact. He forever solidified a partnership with the community when Riverview Gardens, whose attendance site contains the Canfield apartments, became a dependable provider of resources, food banks and support services. These services not only included the district’s local health and social service partners, but the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Non-Violence Education, as well.

Dr. Spurgeon recognized the needs of his district did not mean a “give me,” an excuse or a “hand out,” but rather an equalization of resources, access and the “playing field.” Dr. Spurgeon's charges to his staff were to eradicate barriers to success. When perceptual data indicated a barrier to school attendance was the absence of clean clothing or transportation issues, his remedy was simple. He asked his team members to solidify meaningful connections with external partnerships. By the end of his third year, Riverview Gardens' partnership with Whirlpool had put washers and dryers in eleven of the district's thirteen schools. The Assistance League provided school uniforms and filled book bags for every child. Lastly, the Children’s Education Service Fund had placed a wealth of wrap-around community services and support personnel at every school site.

Dr. Spurgeon’s theory was that if anything served as a barrier to student success, such as attendance, the district should “equalize it, and get it done. Fair enough?” The data over his first three years tells that story:

-The attendance rate increased from 69.6% in 2012-13 to 84.2% 2015-16 -Disciplinary incidents have decreased by 58% reduction -The graduation rate increased from 69% in 2012-13 to 85.2% in 15-16. -The district's report card received 111 points in 2015 and 104 points in 2016, enough to earn accreditation.

Dr. Spurgeon's greatest impact, however, has been the story as it comes off the paper. Graduating seniors in 2016 received more than $4.1 million in college scholarships, an increase of more than $1.5 million in three years. Due to his work, Dr. Spurgeon received the prestigious NAACP Legacy Award in 2016, and the 2016 East/West Gateway Outstanding Local Achievement Award for Exemplary Accomplishment.

Few-to-none have done the same amount of work facing the same variables, with the same steadfast grace and humility, and certainly not with the same promise of success as Dr. Spurgeon. His uncompromising conviction in regaining accreditation became a reality when the Missouri State Board of Education voted unanimously to provisionally accredit Riverview Gardens, effective January 4, 2017. This achievement is nothing short of spectacular and speaks to Dr. Spurgeon's work as a LifeChanger in his community!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="sspurgeon@rgsd.k12.mo.us"]

Jessica Carter

Position: Kindergarten Teacher

School: Windsor Elementary School

School District: Windsor C-1 School District

City, State: Kimmswick, Missouri

About the Nominee: Jessica Carter was nominated by her principal, Denise Funston. The question should really be, how ISN'T Ms. Carter a LifeChanger? According to Principal Funston, Ms. Carter has been a kindergarten teacher at Windsor Elementary for as long as she has known her. Ms. Carter is kind, compassionate, thoughtful and driven. She is a single mom to three children, aged 15, 13 and 9. Being a single mom does not stop her from going above and beyond, not only for her students, but for her community.

Ms. Carter created a clothing drive for students who struggle with having enough appropriate clothing. She spearheaded this drive herself and has reached out to different organizations to help supplement the drive, raising about $500 each year. This provides many of her students with gently used clothing, as well as new shoes, pajamas and undergarments. Ms. Carter serves as a respite care volunteer for students who are in foster care. Even though she has three children of her own, Ms. Carter has willingly provided respite for three other children on several weekends in order to give their foster families some alone time. Ms. Carter does what she does for others; she consistently puts other before herself. Principal Funston states that Ms. Carter is someone who she hopes to be like someday.

[nominee_videos nominee_email="jcarter@windsor.k12.mo.us"]

Sarah Rottler

Position: First Grade Teacher

School: North Elementary School

School District: Jackson R-2 School District

City, State: Jackson, Missouri

About the Nominee: Sarah Rottler was nominated by the parent of a student, Cristal Backer.

A Superhero! Ms. Rottler is a LifeChanger because teaching is her superpower. She is a teacher who helps children live up to their fullest potential. She shows exemplary leadership in her roles as a team member on North Elementary School’s Building Leadership Team and mentor in Children Always Love Books (CALB). Whether it's through founding her school's current Summer Reading Program, teaching students health and life skills in her school’s first ever running club (We R.U.N. Club) or showing students how to make a volcano at science night, all of her efforts build a better community, one child at a time.

A Giving Heart Ms. Backer's daughter was in Ms. Rottler’s classroom two years ago, but because Ms. Rottler volunteers in so many leadership roles within the school, she continues to be a part of Ms. Backer's daughter’s life. Ms. Rottler inspires every student to work harder and do better, which is every parents’ wish for their child. Forty percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch assistance. With a socioeconomically diverse student population, Ms. Rottler works diligently to narrow the achievement gap and encourages all students to achieve academic excellence and build character.

Saying “No” to the Summer Slide Ms. Rottler leads the school's Summer Reading Program, which is tailored to every grade. She is a true innovator in her approach to expand student literacy rates; the program has grown from 108 students participating to half of the school (157 participants) enrolled. Every year, her goals for the program are to increase student accountability, improve comprehension and writing skills and of course, create lifelong fans of reading! Ms. Rottler’s program is integral to her students' literacy successes.

Reach your goal. Unleash your potential. Never give up. Ms. Rottler spearheads the We R.U.N. Club. For 12 weeks, girls in grades 3-5 learn about forming healthy habits, exercise, nutrition, lessons of self-growth and overcoming obstacles. According to a study from the Dove Fund, 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough. She generously donates her own personal time to ensure that these students develop a high self-esteem and see the potential within themselves.

Serving a Community through Youth Development Ms. Rottler's We R.U.N Club culminates with her school district’s community 5K run. All proceeds benefit the Backpack for Friday Program, which provides weekly food and books to families in need. The students’ efforts help families within the school and the region. Feedback from a parent included, "My daughter participated this year and loved it - she was excited and able to complete it thanks to this group!”

Leading by Example All the programs Ms. Rottler leads are free to students. Being an exemplary ambassador for North Elementary, she strives to ensure that students are not limited by financial limitations, so she reaches out to community partners to fund these projects. Ms. Rottler has passion and initiative, and her professionalism keeps children focused and ready to learn. She serves on North Elementary’s Building Leadership Team, which plans events, coordinates professional development for teachers, etc. She is also part of the Professional Learning Community that meets to coordinate district-wide measures. Ms. Rottler challenges students to reflect on whether they are making good choices, and she is a role model to parents and teachers on how one person can change the world!

Igniting Students’ Love of Learning Ms. Rottler works to integrate STEM during school events and is always a friendly face at North Elementary's science night. She ignited a love of science in Ms. Backer's daughter, and it was wonderful to see them working together to create a volcano eruption, according to Ms. Backer. Ms. Rottler is a good sport and worked the dunking booth at field day. For Dr. Seuss’ birthday, she dresses up as Thing 2 from the Cat in the Hat. She is also a mentor in Children Always Love Books (CALB), which tutors students in reading twice a week for three hours. It is a huge commitment, but Ms. Rottler embraces challenges as opportunities.

Bringing a Community Together During North Elementary School's annual fundraiser, which the community is invited to attend, Ms. Rottler creates the most incredible auction basket. The fundraiser always has a packed house thanks to baskets like Ms. Rottler’s.

Meeting the Needs of Her Students The week before Ms. Backer submitted her nomination, another parent told her their child, who is in Ms. Rottler’s class, has become more self-expressive in describing her day of learning. There are students with various emotional and/or behavioral needs within her class. For students whose home life is not as stable, her class environment means stability, security and love.

Miss Rottler is Wonder Woman! Ms. Rottler is a LifeChanger to her students, their parents, other educators and the community. She shapes not only the minds of her students, but North Elementary School's future. As Henry Adams said it best, "A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops." Ms. Sarah Rottler is a LifeChanger, and teaching is her superpower!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="srottler@jr2mail.org"]

Madeline Burkemper

Position: Fourth Grade Teacher School: Little Blue Elementary School

School District: Raytown Quality Schools

City, State: Kansas City, Missouri

About the Nominee: Madeline Burkemper was nominated by a colleague, Alex Tompkins.

Alex Tompkins says that in the five years she has been teaching, she has never met anyone like Madeline Burkemper. That she is, by far, one of the hardest-working, most supportive and positive teachers one could ever meet!

Ms. Burkemper started at Little Blue Elementary School two years ago. She has only completed two years of teaching, but she is already remarkable. In fact, she has been an amazing teacher since day one. Ms. Burkemper is a LifeChanger in so many ways to her students, coworkers and the parents of her students. No matter what she does, she gives 100%. Here are a few examples of some ways Ms. Burkemper has changed the lives of her students:

Ms. Burkemper does not ask for a lot. Her school principal is more than willing to give teachers whatever they need, but she will always be cautious and caring about what she asks for, simply because she wants her coworkers to have extra money to spend. She will spend hours coming up with something to save the school money before ever thinking to ask for it herself. For example, many Little Blue teachers have switched to a "flexible seating" environment in their classrooms. This means that students are able to sit where they feel comfortable (bean bags, exercise balls, etc). Ms. Burkemper went out of her way to write a special grant this year so that her students could have some fun places to sit, without the school having to pay for it out of their budget. She raised awareness and got the grant funded in less than 24 hours! She knew she wanted her students to have the special seating, but she also didn't want it to come from the school budget, so she thought outside the box and still made it happen.

Another way Ms. Burkemper has been a LifeChanger for her students is the way she creates relationships with them. Ms. Burkemper can tell you anything and everything about her students. She knows their likes, dislikes, fears, motivators and so much more. She is the epitome of a dedicated teacher! Ms. Burkemper will analyze every situation so that she can do what is best for her students. She has so much fun with them, but also holds them to high expectations. Therefore, she sees great results.

Ms. Burkemper is a remarkable teacher and human being. She is a Lifechanger because of the hard work that she displays every single day!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="Madeline.burkemper@raytownschools.org"]

Erica VanNess

Position: School Counselor School: Underwood Elementary School

School District: Lee's Summit R-7 School District

City, State: Lee's Summit, Missouri

About the Nominee: Although Erica VanNess has only been at Underwood Elementary School for two years, her influence has been immeasurable. In her short time at Underwood, she has changed the lives of students who were emotionally struggling. Whenever Mrs. VanNess hears about a student who needs help, she quickly does the following: - assess the situation for safety/security - offer school and community resources to the student and their family - notify local agencies - collaborate with medical professionals treating the child - check in with the student throughout the school day.

Because of this, Mrs. VanNess has great relationships with the students at Underwood. There was a time when a student was in a dire situation and that student's friend felt comfortable enough to contact Mrs. VanNess immediately. Mrs. VanNess quickly took action to get the student the help they needed in order to keep the situation from escalating, likely preventing a tragedy.

This is just one example of the influence Mrs. VanNess has at Underwood. The stories are endless. Mrs. VanNess is not only a LifeChanger....but a life saver!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="erica.vanness@lsr7.net"]