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Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Teachers' efforts in and out of classroom prove excellence

Last Sunday, I introduced you to the 2013 winners of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award. They are Steven Nedlik, a teacher and athletic director at Willoughby South High, and Deanna Elsing, an English teacher at Eastlake North.

Today, I will expand on the reasons why they were chosen by their peers for the prestigious award, which carries with it a $500 stipend and a handsome, engraved plaque to be placed on display in the schools.

To recap, the award was first given in 2000 to honor a much-admired Latin teacher who taught primarily at the former Willoughby Union High School and then at North.

One of her students back in the 1930s, Dr. Wesley J. Pignolet, came up with the idea for the award as an appropriate way to pay tribute to a teacher who impacted many lives while instilling in them the joys of learning a language that most of them regarded as a very difficult but necessary prerequisite for going to college.

The first award in 2000 went to a teacher at North and the second in 2001 to a teacher at South. They were rotated in that fashion until 2005, when enough money was raised to honor a teacher from each school.

Steve Nedlik, this year’s South winner, has taught physical education and health in the Willoughby-Eastlake Schools for 21 years, including stints at Willowick and Eastlake middle schools, Longfellow Elementary and North and South highs.

He and his wife, Ellen, have five children. He has held the athletic director post at South for the past six years.

Steve has also been a volunteer youth coach for more than 20 years and enjoys camping and the outdoors with his family whenever possible. He describes himself as a diehard Cleveland Browns fan.

He was recreation director for the City of Willowick for 12 years and a recreation department employee there for 24 years.

His teaching philosophy is to try his very best to make a difference in his students’ lives, both short-term and long-term.

Now a resident of Mentor, Steve is a member of St. John Vianney Parish and a volunteer usher.

One of his greatest civic accomplishments was to organize an areawide basketball fund-raiser last year that included the South and North communities. Proceeds of more than $35,000 were given to Chardon High School as a memorial to its slain students.

Working with other coaches and friends, he helped boost the spirits of people in the Chardon area.

“People are looking for a platform to show support for our friends at Chardon High, and they want to contribute to a good cause,” Steve said at the time. His efforts galvanized that cause.

Deanna Elsing, this year’s winner from North, went through the Mentor Schools system and graduated from Kent State University, with a master’s degree from Ashland.

She started her career at Villa Angela St. Joseph in Cleveland and joined the faculty at North in 2005.

She is always one of the first to volunteer for new and innovative projects. She is a volleyball announcer for home game at North, has been a co-chair of the English Department, and wrote a model curriculum for grades nine through 12 for the new common core standards for the Ohio Department of Education.

She contends she “felt fortunate that this profession found me and called my name,” but admits she “fought being a teacher” because for years she watched her father, a middle school science teacher, come home late after coaching one of the three sports he took on to support his family, “and he still needed to lesson plan and grade papers.”

But she confesses that after being “bribed,” along with her sisters, to grade multiple-choice sections of tests, she found it inevitable that she would “catch the teaching bug from her dad,” who is now retired after 30 years of public service.

She credits working with former Adele Knight Award winners Mary Slak, Lorraine Gauvin and  Sherry Wagner in the English Department at North for motivating her to “teach with passion and compassion,” adding that “last year’s winner, Pat Kwaitkowski, leads by example day in and day out with a teaching philosophy involving the rigors of academic freedom that is contagious and has rubbed off on many of us at North.”

So there you have Steve Nedlik and Deanna Elsing, two more outstanding — and deserving — winners of the Adele Knight Excellence in Teaching Award.


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