By Samantha Dietel, Current Staff
The surprise was nearly spoiled for Michael Lewandowski.
Lewandowski, a social studies teacher at West Bend East High School, was named Teacher of the Year by the Rolfs Educational Foundation after school Monday in the East library. His family, having been notified in advance, was invited to join the event and support him as he accepted the award.
However, one member of his family nearly ruined this surprise for him.
“My dad, my dad’s 80, he let it slip a couple times,” Lewandowski said. “He was a little nervous because he thought that I had picked up on it, but I didn’t because I wasn’t even thinking about that kind of stuff. I said, ‘I’ll see you on Thursday’ and he said, ‘I’ll see you in a couple days’ or something like that. And I didn’t even put two and two together. I wasn’t even thinking about the awards.”
Lewandowski is grateful to be recognized as Teacher of the Year.
“It’s humbling to win the award, it really is, because there are a lot of great teachers in the building that I have a lot of respect for and admire,” he said. “So to be singled out, kind of elevated above them, is really humbling actually, and a little bit intimidating. I don’t like to be put out in front, someone who’s any different than anybody else, because I think a lot of people in the building do the same thing that I do.”
Many feel that Lewandowski has rightfully earned the award.
“I told Mr. Lew that he would deserve that award every year,” East principal Darci VanAdestine said. “He continually leads with his heart whenever he’s working with students, or with teachers or administration.”
East sophomore Emily Larson, one of Lewandowski’s global studies students, also believes that he deserves the special recognition.
“I think he deserves it,” she said. “He works really hard to make it easy for us to learn. He’s not unreasonable, he tries to work with us, but he still treats us like adults.”
Lewandowski’s distinction as Teacher of the Year did not come as a shock to East social studies teacher Michael Kieser.
“After Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, nothing would surprise me anymore,” Kieser said with a straight face. “So Mr. Lew’s election here doesn’t surprise me whatsoever. They’re not on equal footing, Mr. Lew is a much greater individual for sure.”
All joking aside, Kieser believes that his colleague is a deserving winner of the Rolfs award.
Every spring, the Rolfs Educational Foundation recognizes four district staff members. One teacher is selected from each of the three levels of education: elementary, middle and high school. A support staff member, such as a social worker or school guidance counselor, is also considered for the award.
Teachers and support staff can be nominated by any community member outside of their immediate family, but it is the Rolfs Foundation committee that makes the final decisions when choosing the district’s outstanding educators. Recent recipients from the high schools include Mark Drake, Donna Goetz, Jessica Flitter and Karen Wysocky.
Lewandowski emphasized his appreciation for many of his colleagues at the high schools.
“I have taught this way as far back as I can remember,” he said. “There are a lot of people in this building that do great things. All it takes is for a motivated group of people to get that person nominated. In other words, I didn’t do anything special last year or this year to earn this. I just want to acknowledge the fact that there are a lot of great teachers that I work with, bounce ideas off all the time, and I appreciate it. I love working here.”
(Photos and videos taken Monday by Samantha Dietel, Current Staff. Edited to clarify quote attribution.)