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Iowa Teacher of the Year (TOY)


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The Award
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.

Iowa Teacher of the Year Nomination Form

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.

See photos from the 2015 Iowa Teacher of the Year announcement ceremony.

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


Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on June 25, 2016 at 10:27am.