Lee Thennes

Position: Principal

School: Wilson Junior High School

School District: Manitowoc Public School District

City, State: Manitowoc, Wisconsin

About the Nominee: Lee Thennes was nominated by Wendy Smith, the parent of two students. Ms. Smith and her family have known Mr. Thennes since 2010, when he taught at Lincoln High School. Her oldest son, Brandon, always spoke highly of Mr. Thennes, talking about how all the students really liked and respected him and about how he connected to the entire school community. Ms. Smith and her family were elated when they learned Mr. Thennes was promoted to principal at Wilson Junior High School, where her other son, Luke, has been attending since 2015. Since that time, they have been extremely satisfied with the dedication and care Mr. Thennes exhibits each and every day.

Luke was diagnosed with autism, anxiety and other health impairments. According to Ms. Smith, Mr. Thennes is a major reason why Luke is enjoying school and is succeeding, both in school and in the community. Luke believes that Mr. Thennes is one of the best principals out there, and that Wilson is one of the best schools he has attended because of Mr. Thennes and the culture of acceptance he creates with his school, staff and students. Ms. Smith can attest to the fact that Wilson, as a result of the efforts of Mr. Thennes and his staff, is a school that accepts everyone, including students with special needs. The staff does everything possible to give special needs students the best possible educational outcome, just like any other child. They even encourage them to be involved in sports and activities, regardless of their abilities, which not only enables collaborations, acceptance and cooperation, but encourages diversity within the school.

Mr. Thennes creates an environment where all students are accepted, appreciated and acknowledged. At Wilson, the staff holds a monthly school forum to recognize students making a difference, both in and out of school. Mr. Thennes uses this opportunity to discuss the importance of giving back, treating others as you want to be treated and being the change you want to see in the world. Wilson is known to hold "fun days" to help local groups raise needed funds and material donations, especially for organizations that the students are involved in or have a heart for.

Every morning, Mr. Thennes is outside greeting each and every student into the school, setting their morning off on a positive note. Long after school is over, he can be seen at after-school activities cheering each and every student on, regardless of ability or activity. He praises the accomplishments of these groups on the school website, on the PA system or by individually recognizing these students. He puts his heart out there for each and every family and student. One example would be this past year, when a student was injured very badly by a bus accident right outside the school. Mr. Thennes asked the entire student body to make cards for her. He called the family daily for updates and tied ribbons around the trees to let the family know everyone was thinking of them until she came back. He also helped raise funds and gift cards for travel and medical expenses. On his own time, he even traveled outside the city to show his support for the student and her family.

Mr. Thennes is always involved and promotes a positive, safe place for all. He makes sure the students' emotional and academic needs are met and promotes a sense of community by leading by example. Mr. Thennes also makes sure staff and parents are on the same page through the website, emails and other methods of communication. According to Ms. Smith, having a son with autism means you always wonder what his future will look like and how the school is preparing him for the real world. Mr. Thennes and his staff not only teach the core and elective classes and try to have each student reach their acadmic potential, but they also teach them life skills such as social skills, teamwork, acceptance, building community, respect and diversity. He does a lot for each student, treating them fairly and genuinely caring about each person in his school. According to Luke, "Mr. Thennes always makes time for anyone with a problem, even when he doesn't have time. Besides he's just a really cool, fun guy."

These are some of the many reasons why Mr. Thennes is a LifeChanger!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="Thennesl@mpsd.k12.wi.us"]

Leann Clayton

Position: Special Education

School: Wilson Jr High School

School District: Manitowoc Public School District

City, State: Manitowoc, Wisconsin

About the Nominee: Leann Clayton was nominated by Wendy Smith, the parent of two students. Ms. Smith has a 13 year old son, Luke, who has been diagnosed with autism, anxiety, depression, etc. Although he has struggled in the public school system, this year is different because of Ms. Clayton. She is a very special educator with whom he has really bonded with and whole-heartedly placed his trust in. It shows in his grades, school successes and his growth as an individual within the school setting.

Ms. Clayton is always caring, yet maintains professionalism with those around her. She spends countless hours before and after school making sure that her students’ needs are met and that she is ready and organized for the next day/week. Luke is currently working on being an advocate for himself, and Ms. Clayton is encouraging him to speak for himself. She works with him and talks him through challenging situations, such as talking to other teachers about things he can't talk through himself. Ms. Clayton always returns emails and phone calls within hours and comes up with ideas to help Luke learn and be social and successful in school. During Luke's IEP this year, she worked with him on his future transition and career plans. Luke sat in his IEP explaining what he needed. The assistant principal even said, “Luke, I am proud of you for knowing, trying and accomplishing your goals and coming up with new ones.”

Ms. Clayton’s work with Luke this year on his goals and helping him gain confidence played a big part in this accomplishment. For the past five years, Luke has struggled with math, so he was put in a math strategies class with Ms. Clayton. She spent extra time working with Luke and was patient and understanding with him. Today, Luke enjoys being in math class and is back on track to not having to take an extra math class next year.

Every night, Ms. Clayton texts Ms. Smith with all of the homework that needs to be done, especially if Luke misses school because of medical appointments. She has worked with him and his teachers to get him back on track. This year, Luke has received A’s and B’s in all of his classes!

Luke also has high anxiety, which sometimes causes him to have physical symptoms, such as the day he had two tests in one day. Ms. Clayton works with him to come up with solutions so that he doesn’t have to miss school. For example, Luke sometimes takes tests in Ms. Clayton’s room or a quiet room, which matters a lot to him and his mother. He has also improved his organizational skills tremendously because Ms. Clayton teaches him some of the best ways to stay organized.

Another thing about Ms. Clayton is that she always asks the student what works best for them, or comes up with solutions for the student and checks in to make sure they’re working well. Whenever Luke has an issue, for example, he asks his mother to drop him off early so he can talk to Ms. Clayton. This is huge, according to Ms. Smith, because she has never before heard Luke say he wanted to go in and talk about his problems one-on-one with a teacher. Ms. Clayton is always positive, no matter what time of day it is, and she always makes time for parents and students. She is a LifeChanger because she goes above and beyond every day in order to change her students’ lives!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="Claytonl@mpsd.k12.wi.us"]

Tim Handrich

Position: Counselor

School: J.R. Gerritts Middle School

School District: Kimberly Area School District

City, State: Kimberly, Wisconsin

About the Nominee: Tim Handrich has served as the school counselor at J.R. Gerritts for 37 years. In many ways, he is the living embodiment of his school's positive, supportive, student-centered, high quality learning environment. Although he's accomplished many things in the past, he still brings his “A game,” each and every day. To start, Mr. Handrich is a highly effective counselor who works with students throughout every moment of the day. In many ways, that is the foundation of what he does - positively impacting his school and community, one student at a time. Many times, the students he works with have parents whom he worked with when they were students. Students and parents know and trust Mr. Handrich; they reach out to him for support on big and small issues alike.

Mr. Handrich also creates broader learning experiences, such as facilitating individualized conferences for 8th grade students that are designed to prepare them for high school and beyond. His school receives overwhelmingly positive feedback because of these conferences. Mr. Handrich also facilities 8-10 different types of student support groups, often running several groups per day. After examining student data, he created a Living With Hope group that teaches coping, healthy living and productive thinking skills to students. This group has been highly effective in helping students minimize or eliminate the impact of depression in their lives.

He also facilitates the Safe School Ambassadors student program, which trains students to recognize and intervene when they see a student being excluded or mistreated. He is the driving force behind the school's career-focused mini-course activities, as well as annual college and technical college visits for his students. Additionally, Mr. Handrich's counseling skills impact students in surrounding districts through his leading role in the Oasis trauma support network. This group enables area districts to share resources with each other in times of need.

Mr. Handrich's influence extends far beyond the school day. He is the driving force behind ROCKS, a drug and alcohol free student group. He can also be seen leading student events such as overnight lock-ins, weekly bike rides, before school breakfast clubs and trips to the Zoo Boo, minor league baseball and hockey games. It’s not uncommon to see Mr. Handrich lead one group event at the end of the school day and meet up with a second group activity later that same evening. In the past, he has served as the high school boys' varsity baseball coach, winning state titles and runner-up trophies as a head coach and assistant. He is the co-author of two books, which are resources for counselors and parents of tweens, respectively. Beyond his school role, Mr. Handrich is the father of three positive, successful adult children. He is also active in his church and Kiwanis, for whom he immaculately maintains the landscaping at a local roundabout. Additionally, he has hiked more than half of the Appalachian Trail, typically spending a week each summer in that pursuit.

Mr. Handrich is the voice of his school's daily announcements, ending each day with words that are perhaps his greatest legacy at JRG: “Be Kind.” One could go on for hours extolling Mr. Handrich's impact and still not have enough space. His colleagues trust him, rely on him and know that their school and community are both better because of him. After 37 years, he still consistently lives and models strong character traits while remaining humble and seeing the humor in life’s many twists and turns. Mr. Handrich is a true LifeChanger in his community!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="thandrich@kimberly.k12.wi.us"]

Bette Drown

Position: School Nurse Assistant

School: Rexford/Longfellow Elementary School

School District: Clintonville Public Schools

City, State: Clintonville, Wisconsin

About the Nominee: Bette Drown was nominated by a friend, Carol Erickson. Nurse Bette, as the students call her, is someone who cares about the staff and students. She always has a smile.

She "heals" scraped knees and can help stop tummy aches. She knows when a band aid will stop tears and when an ice pack will ease the pain of a bump received on the playground. If there is a question about head lice, Nurse Bette is willing to jump in, hands first. Flu season at Rexford/Longfellow Elementary is not difficult for Nurse Bette, as long as she has her disinfecting wipes ready.

She has been in the district for over 30 years and knows the students and their parents. She has knwon their parents since they were also students she helped when they were in school. Nurse Bette seldom takes a day off; she doesn't want to burden other staff members, who are very busy, to give out medication when needed. Nurse Bette is often called to other buildings to help with minor health issues that might come up, which she does with no complaints.

Nurse Bette has many duties throughout the year that need to be "fit" into her day, since sick or hurt students come first. She works with professional staff to complete vision and hearing screenings. Nurse Bette is also the “go to” person for parents if they want to know what immunizations are needed for their student. One could go on forever listing different things that Nurse Bette takes care of for students. She is valuable to her school.

Nurse Bette is hard working, very organized and, most importantly, a great friend.

[nominee_videos nominee_email="bdrown@clintonville.k12.wi.us"]

Rebecca Schoenike

Position: Special Education Teacher

School: Clintonville High School

School District: Clintonville Public Schools

City, State: Clintonville, Wisconsin

About the Nominee: Rebecca Schoenike was nominated by her principal, Lance Bagstad. Ms. Schoenike has been a special education teacher in Clintonville for several years. Three years ago, she began a transition program for special education students who are ages 18-21. This program teaches students life skills that help them transition from a high school setting to an independent setting after they leave. These students learn about financial management, renting/owning a home, the process of getting a job and living independently. The students who have been a part of this program have gained immeasurable confidence in who they are and what they will become.

In addition, Ms. Schoenike has developed programs within the school that teach the students job skills, while providing valuable services to the teaching staff. For example, during this school year, Ms. Schoenike started a copying service for teachers. The students are learning to follow directions, meet deadlines and work with others, while teachers are getting assistance with tasks that can be time consuming and take away from other duties.

Ms. Schoenike has changed how her district helps students transition from high school to adult life, and she has truly changed many of her students' lives. She is a true LifeChanger!

[nominee_videos nominee_email="rschoenike@clintonville.k12.wi.us"]