Two DMPS Educators Finalists for Teacher of the Year

Teacher of the Year finalist Kristi Wickre has dedicated her 20 year career at DMPS to helping students at Smouse Opportunity School.

Each year the Iowa Department of Education names finalists for the state’s Teacher of the Year award. This year two of the six hail from Des Moines Public Schools, and between them they vividly demonstrate the exceptionally wide spectrum of opportunity that the district offers to students.

At Smouse Kristi Wickre teaches special education. Maybe a better way to say it is that she’s a special educator.

Her entire 20-year career has been at Smouse which she describes as “a very positive, caring place,” thanks in no small measure to her.

Kristi was nominated by her longtime classroom associate Kristen Van Dyke who’s been so inspired by her mentor that she’s returning to school to get her own degree in special ed. There’s no recognition that’s quite so flattering as that bestowed by teammates.

Kristi attributes her own teaching aspirations to Mrs. Nielsen, her 3rd grade teacher back in Linn Grove, IA.

When Kristi started at Drake University she was a Psychology major with vague intentions of law school but summer jobs at Childserv and memories of Mrs. Nielsen steered her in a more necessary direction. She got a job as an associate at Ruby Van Meter and a master’s degree in education at Drake with certification in special ed. While long term subbing at RVM the job opened at Smouse that’s been hers ever since.

Elaine Wolf, a finalist for Iowa Teacher of the Year, has turned the Culinary Arts program at Central Campus into one of the top-ranked programs in the nation.

Her room brims with attention-getting appointments. Heck, the whole solar system is on display with Jupiter and Saturn looming on the ceiling and the sun over there on the far wall, beaming almost as brightly as Kristi’s ever-ready smile, the energy source in this space. One can imagine that it’s as powerful as gravity to her students.

Like an old fashioned school marm presiding in a one-room schoolhouse, Kristi welcomed her class of six ranging from grades 1-6 on a recent morning. Later on a field trip for Special Olympics bowling was planned but first the kids had some classwork to do. On the screen at the front of the room was their writing prompt for the day:

I am a student who…

“…goes to school,” wrote one.

“…reads books,” wrote another.

“…has a great teacher,” they might all have written.

Teacher of the Year? How about Teacher of the Last Twenty?

Lots of good things are always cooking at Central Campus so no wonder Chef Elaine Wolf, who heads up the award-winning culinary arts program there, was also recognized as one of five finalists for Iowa Teacher of the Year by the state’s Department of Education.

Chef Wolf holds a degree in Restaurant Management from Miami University of Ohio and has a wide-ranging career background in the field that runs the gamut from institutional food service to fine dining. She’s been at Central Campus since returning to teaching from the private sector in 2004. Her TOY nomination letter reads like a full-course menu of credentials and achievements. She has elevated the culinary arts program to one where students can earn up to a full year’s credit toward a degree from DMACC’s Iowa Culinary Institute and also forged partnerships with more than 50 area food industry professionals as an additional means of generating opportunities for her students.

Heck, the program even has its own trophy case in the hallway outside the state of the art teaching kitchen that was included in the recent renovations at Central Campus and partially equipped through grants written by Chef Wolf.

Asked to share the recipe for the success of her apprentices, Chef Wolf describes herself as equal parts mentor, manager, adviser, cheerleader and coach.

And good luck getting a table when the program’s Central Campus Café reopens for lunch on Friday, November 1. The views of Western Gateway Park are breathtaking and the chef is now officially recognized as one of the best in her business.

“I absolutely love my job,” said Chef Wolfe. No one doubts her.

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