Iowa Teacher of the Year (TOY)
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The Iowa Teacher of the Year Award was established in 1958 and is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa legislature. The award provides an opportunity to recognize an Iowa teacher who motivates, challenges, and inspires excellence; who is respected by students and peers; who is a dedicated professional that helps nurture hidden talents and abilities; who is a creative, caring individual; who takes teaching beyond textbooks and blackboards; and who is an exceptional teacher helping to redefine American education.
The Iowa Teacher of the Year may serve as the Iowa Ambassador to Education, acting as an education liaison to primary and secondary schools in the state.
Anyone, including school administrators, colleagues, students, parents, college faculty, and associations may nominate teachers for the award. Winners are chosen by a committee that includes representatives of the Iowa Department of Education (DE), the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI), the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), the past Iowa Teacher of the Year, and representatives from higher education institutions.
2015 Iowa TOY Clemencia Spizzirri
Clemencia Spizzirri, whose passion for helping students and families stems from her own childhood in Ecuador, is the 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year.
Spizzirri, 38, has taught Spanish at Merrill Middle School in the Des Moines Public Schools for five years. She is known for helping needy children and families understand the power of a high-quality education and for her focus on ensuring that children learning English as a second language are truly part of the culture of achievement.
Spizzirri also is known as a leader in the school district, the classroom and in the community. She grew up the youngest of seven children in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. Although her family taught her the only way to succeed was through education – Spizzirri’s mother read to her, and her older brother gave her a dictionary so she could read and understand his books – she saw poverty as a barrier to an education for other families.
“I noticed the scores of youth working on the streets, trying to make a living,” Spizzirri wrote in her Teacher of the Year application. “Observing the unfortunate circumstances of the youth sparked my passion to take action in helping the impoverished to elevate them through education. I felt that by becoming a teacher I could make a difference with my belief that education can empower and liberate the people.”
Spizzirri started out teaching English in Quito, where she also earned her teaching degree. The country’s deepening economic crisis prompted Spizzirri to obtain a visa in 2003 to move to the U.S., where her brother already lived.
Spizzirri earned a bachelor’s degree in English as a Second Language from Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja in New York and then moved to Des Moines, where she earned a master’s degree from Drake University.
In her Teacher of the Year application, Spizzirri wrote that she considers working for the Des Moines Public Schools one of her greatest accomplishments, in part because she has the opportunity to inspire student achievement “by developing and sustaining partnerships that have greatly influenced the school culture in the district.”
Spizzirri’s leadership efforts include redesigning Merrill Middle School’s Spanish department and curriculum and developing school district assessments for Spanish.
“Clemencia is a master teacher and leader in both title and in person,” Diane Kehm, vice principal at Merrill Middle School, wrote in a letter of support for Spizzirri’s Teacher of the Year application.
Spizzirri also is credited for nurturing relationships with her students. Abdirahman Omar, a Roosevelt High School freshman who learned English as a second language, said Spizzirri noticed his struggles in her sixth-grade Spanish class and saw to it that he received more English instruction.
“I don’t know if she knows it, but she is the best teacher I could ask for because she understands when students need help and she knows right away what to do,” Omar wrote in a letter of support for Spizzirri’s Teacher of the Year application.
In the community, Spizzirri has taught English and basic life skills to refugees from other countries. She also piloted a dropout prevention program that connects Latino families with resources and information about the U.S. education system and preparing for college. The program is a joint effort between Des Moines Public Schools and Al Exito, an Iowa nonprofit.
“During my teaching practice, I learned that Iowa Latino students face significant barriers to academic achievement,” Spizzirri wrote in her application. “As a Latina, I know that Latino families value education. However, the problem is that many parents have very limited experience with the educational system and what is expected from them. Also, many parents are unfamiliar with common educational terminology and have little or no awareness of the educational options available for their children.”
Spizzirri lives in Waukee with her husband, Robert, and their children Arian, 17, and 3-year-old twins Aidan and Gia.
2015 Iowa TOY Finalists
- Ryan Higgins, an engineering teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School in the Council Bluffs Community School District
- Renee McCombs, a special education teacher at Eastview 8-9 School in the Norwalk Community School District
- Dann Speichinger, who teaches English as a Second Language in grades 6-11 at the Educational Service Center in the Sioux City Community School District
- Tamara Tjeerdsma, a sixth-grade teacher at Crossroads Park Elementary School in the West Des Moines Community School District
- Stan Winquist, who teaches industrial and agricultural education at Glenwood Community High School in the Glenwood Community School District
Past TOY Recipients
**One of four contenders for National Teacher of the Year
*National Teacher of the Year
|Year||Name||Grade and/or Content Area||School||City|
|2015||Clemencia Spizzirri||Spanish||Merrill Middle School||Des Moines|
|2014||Jane Schmidt||8th Grade Literacy and Language Arts||Maquoketa Middle School||Maquoketa|
|2013||Tania Johnson||Kindergarten||Jackson Elementary School||Cedar Rapids|
|2012||Charity Campbell||Physical Education||Norwalk Middle School||Norwalk|
|2011||Molly Boyle||3rd Grade||Brookview Elementary School||West Des Moines (Waukee CSD)|
|*||2010||Sarah Brown Wessling||High School English||Johnston High School||Johnston|
|2009||Linda Heffner||4th Grade||Everette Elementary School||Sioux City|
|2008||Andy Mogle||Family and Consumer Science||Norwalk High School||Norwalk|
|2007||Jan Keese||3rd Grade||Crocker Elementary School||Ankeny|
|2006||Jacqueline Warnstadt||4th Grade||Leeds Elementary School||Sioux City|
|2005||Vicki Lynn Goldsmith||English, Women's Studies, Theories of Knowledge||Roosevelt High School||Des Moines|
|2004||Ernest Lee Schiller||Biology||Central Lee High School||Donnellson|
|2003||Diana Buter||Reading and Language Arts||Grinnell Middle School||Grinnell|
|2002||Jennifer L. Erbe||3rd Grade||Starry Elementary School||Marion|
|2001||Gail B. Wortmann||Anatomy and Physiology & Advanced Anatomy||Ottumwa High School||Ottumwa|
|2000||Thomas H. Paulsen||Agriculture Education||Carroll Community High School||Carroll|
|1999||Maureen Hoffmann||English||A-H-S-T Middle School||Shelby|
|**||1998||Ruth Ann Gaines||Drama||East High School||Des Moines|
|**||1997||Jan Mitchell||English||Marshalltown High School||Marshalltown|
|1996||Jill Olsen-Virlee||French||Marion High School||Marion|
|1995||Jerry Pierce||English||Roland-Story Middle School||Roland|
|1994||Keith Robinson||Social Studies||Maple Valley High School||Mapleton|
|1993||Joan McShane||Science||Jefferson Elementary School||Davenport|
|1992||Nancy Mounts||Family and Consumer Science||North High School||Sioux City|
|1991||David Arthur Hunt||Social Studies||Clarence-Lowden High School||Clarence|
|1990||Pamela Adams Johnson||6th Grade||Carpenter Elementary School||Monticello|
|1989||Anna Mary Mueller||English as a Second Language||West High School||Iowa City|
|1988||Pat Roush||7th - 8th Grade English and Speech||Neal McGowan Junior High School||Knoxville|
|1987||Richard E. Peters||High School Social Studies||Mount Vernon High School||Mount Vernon|
|1986||Linda Pershall Calvin||10th - 12th Grade Social Studies||Urbandale High School||Urbandale|
|1985||Margo J. Chesebro||11th - 12th Grade Language Arts||East High School||Sioux City|
|1984||Sharon June Lee||3rd Grade||Douglas Elementary School||Des Moines|
|**||1983||Gene Ulrich||Biology Teacher & Science Department Head||North High School||Sioux City|
|**||1982||Darlene Frazier||Art Teacher & Department Head||Boone Community Schools||Boone|
|1981||Dan Gogerty||Language Arts||South East Junior High School||Iowa City|
|1980||Howard L. Carter||Multi-occupations Program||Central Lee High School||Argyle|
|1979||Richard A. Wilson||Elementary Physical Education||Centerville Community Schools||Centerville|
|1978||Helen Finken||Social Studies||South East Junior High School||Iowa City|
|1977||Shirley Jean Fouts||Social Studies||South East Junior High School||Iowa City|
|1976||Betty Burres-Youngs||Remedial Reading||Washington Irving Junior High School||Des Moines|
|1975||Alice Elizabeth Piercy||Reading||Iowa City Community Schools||Iowa City|
|1974||Genevieve Treichler Wallace||Woodlawn Elementary School||Des Moines|
|1973||Goldie Michalek||Elementary||Mason City Community Schools||Mason City|
|1972||Jean Bogardus||Elementary||Clear Creek Community Schools||Tiffin|
|1971||John D. Beghtol||History||Centerville High School||Centerville|
|1970||Beulah Anderson||West Elementary School||Emmetsburg|
|1969||Jane Sharp||Kirkwood Elementary School||Des Moines|
|1968||James Lokett||Keokuk Community Schools||Keokuk|
|1965||Betty Jean Hyde||Callanan Junior High School||Des Moines|
|1964||William V. Houser||Science||Roosevelt High School||Des Moines|
|*||1958||Jean Listebarger Humphrey||Elementary||Ames Community Schools||Ames|