A diminutive black belt martial artist, a woman willing to share her personal losses and a strict disciplinarian are among the 20 teachers who share the honor of being selected as 2009 A+ teachers.
Niles Middle School science teacher Gaye Breegle is a small woman who can pack a punch, but also knows when to provide love and compassion to her students, according to the nomination.
A black belt level martial artist, Breegle has never used her fighting skills in the classroom. Instead, she uses her general love for science and for her students to inspire and challenge them to explore worlds they have yet to discover.
"She's got the enthusiasm that's needed to completely enthrall even the most lazy and lackadaisical student into her lesson," wrote Lauren Misik, a student in the Niles Middle school teacher's class. "She makes learning easy because it is apparent that she wants you to do well."
It is not Breegle's teaching ability that makes her stand out, but her caring and compassion for her students, Misik says.
When Misik's father died Breegle went to the grieving student's home, talked with her, cried with her and provided comfort during one of the child's most difficult periods.
2009 Tribune Chronicle A+ Teachers Award Winners
n Gaye Breegle, Niles Middle School
n Judy Brown, Willard Elementary School, Warren
n Audra Buckley, Howland H.C. Mines School
n Beth Conrad, Warren G. Harding High School
n Tom Cornicelli, Liberty High School
n Richard Dixon, Newton Falls High School
n Lisa Grayson, Maplewood Middle School
n Randy Hess, Trumbull Career & Technical Center
n Fred Hoover, John F. Kennedy High School, Warren
n Cheryl Lauka, Mesopotamia Elementary School
n Maria Magiassos, Champion High School
n Carolyn Martin, Willard Elementary School, Warren
n Christine Meeks, LaBrae Intermediate School, Warren Township
n Carol Miller, Roosevelt Elementary School, Hubbard
n Diana Muccio, St. Pius X School, Warren
n Tami Pleso, Bristol High School
n Charles Potashnik, Howland High School
n Dawn Toporcer, Lordstown Elementary School
n Erin Whistler, Chalker High School, Southington
n Patti Wilson, Lincoln Elementary School, Warren
"Not only is she a great educator, but she's also one of the most genuine and caring people I've ever had the pleasure to meet," Misik said. "She truly is an A+ teacher. But she's so much more than that; she's also an A+ mentor, an A+ friend and an A+ person.''
The 19th annual A+ Teachers Award banquet will be held Monday at the Outback Steakhouse, 5555 Youngstown Warren Road. Co-sponsoring the event is the Trumbull County Educational Service Center, the Tribune Chronicle and Outback Steakhouse.
Winners were selected by a panel of business and educational leaders from among 980 letters submitted. Teachers in Trumbull County public, private and parochial classrooms were eligible to be nominated.
Retiring Warren G. Harding High School teacher Beth Conrad inspired Alexis Kalman the first time the two met when the then-7th grader walked into her classroom and saw a series of comical posters covering the walls.
"She made me love English though I'm not the best," Kalman said. "I've had my share of amazing teachers over the years, but Mrs. Conrad takes the cake. She teaches with such passion, just being a student (some of her) passion gets passed on to you."
Ryan Daniels admits believing that school is "over-rated," but he says LaBrae Intermediate School teacher Christine Meeks has made him believe in himself.
"She had to be the nicest teacher I had ever met," Daniels wrote. "Mrs. Meeks made a promise to me saying she would help me pass the eighth grade. She treated me as if I were her own son."
When Daniels became sick with strep throat, Meeks went to the hospital to sit with him everyday.
"Overall I would have to say she made learning the most fun and showed me that not only does she do her job, she also loves her students," Daniels wrote. She taught me how a complete stranger could be the nicest and coolest person if you just give them a chance.
Warren's Willard school has two teachers recognized this year, Carolyn Martin and Judy Brown.
"Mrs. Brown had that special touch of knowing each of her students individually and letting us know how much she cared and how we could talk to her when we couldn't depend on anyone else," Caprina Wade, now a Warren G. Harding student, wrote.
JFK High School English teacher Fred Hoover's teaching skill inspired a '97 graduate to nominate him as a 2009 A+ teacher.
Jillian Phillips, now an advancement director at the school, says she feared Hoover's Honors English class and did not know how she could ever succeed in writing "...the dreaded research paper."
"Mr. Hoover built his lessons while we built our papers and eventually, the work did not loom as an impossible task. Mr. Hoover championed all of us, and I truly believe when we turned in our completed papers, he was as proud of us as our parents were."
Hoover inspired Phillips to major in English literature.
"In high school, I did not understand the depth and commitment a teacher had to seeing their students succeed, how lessons built upon one another would help you learn new concepts and give you the tools to approach tasks inside and outside the classroom," Phillips wrote in her nomination letter.
Champion High School math teacher Maria Magiassos makes the complicated subjects of algebra and calculus easy to understand.
Students Mckenzie Marino, Megan Frantz and Bryce Carson note that Magiassos has the ability to make them want to do their homework so they can get good grades.
"She is like a second mom to all of us students, always looking out for us and always having our backs in time of need," the students wrote in their nomination letter. "Mrs. Magiassos gives her best to us everyday, so that makes us want to neither disappoint her nor slack off."
Magiassos is one of two teachers being honored for a second time as a winner of the A+ Teacher award. She was named an A+ Teacher in 1999. The other teacher is Howland's American history teacher Charles Potashnik,
Potashnik's expansive knowledge of history makes some of his students think he must have been teaching more than the 30-plus years that he admits.
"The consensus among students is that he is actually 700 years old and has been teaching for most of that time," wrote Manish Mehta in a nomination letter. "Ask him about any topic, and he can give the information you need plus several interesting, insightful points of analysis, facts and the like."
In creating difficult, essay-heavy tests that force students to write five- or six-page answers, Potashnik creates more work for himself than his students, Mehta wrote.
"Someone must read all of those essays, understand all of those diagrams, and decipher the various cryptic styles of handwriting," the student continued. "Mr. Potashnik gladly accepts that burden. We have never heard him complain about the work he has to do, and he still always makes it a point to get the graded tests back to us two days after we take it."
Potashnik respects his students, Mehta said.
"He treats students as adults, trusting in their personal responsibility instead of trying to baby them," Mehta wrote. "Few cross Mr. Potashnik - not because we are afraid of punishment, but because we just respect and love him that much."
Newton Falls High School teacher Richard Dixon is admired because he is loud, abrasive, tough and a regulator of the school's rules, a student said.
"Most of all, he is an exceptional teacher, for he is not only one of the greatest teachers I've ever had, but also one of the most influential people I've ever met," Alex Speck wrote. "The value of hard work, self-reliance and giving me the opportunity to excel, I've been able to not only understand his class better, but to also learn what it takes to succeed in life."