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Mitchell names teacher, classified staff member of the year

There were superheroes in Mitchell on Wednesday. Decorations celebrating some of the world's most famous superheroes adorned the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy as part of the theme for this year's Teacher of the Year and Classifi...

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Mary Pranger, at center, a paraeducator at L.B. Williams Elementary School, and Cindy Gerlach, at right, who teaches FACS at the high school, talk to L.B. Williams Elementary Principal Becky Roth, at left, during an awards ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy. (Sarah Barclay/Republic)

There were superheroes in Mitchell on Wednesday.

Decorations celebrating some of the world's most famous superheroes adorned the Mitchell Career and Technical Education Academy as part of the theme for this year's Teacher of the Year and Classified Staff of the Year awards presentation for the Mitchell School District. But, they weren't the focus of the day.

Mitchell High School Principal Joe Childs, emcee of the event, said superheroes often fit into different categories-there's the superhuman ones, like Superman; the "Chosen One," like the Green Lantern; or the lucky accident, like The Flash.

"But the superheroes that I'm most fond of, and that I found the most fascinating, are the pure-will heroes," Childs said. "A pure-will hero is a mere mortal that's able to achieve great competence through a combination of extreme training, ability and native ingenuity."

He listed pure-will heroes like Batman, "and of course, Mitchell's finest educators."

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Mary Pranger, a paraeducator at L.B. Williams Elementary School, was chosen as the first-ever Mitchell School District Classified Staff of the Year. Cindy Gerlach was named the Mitchell School District Teacher of the year.

Each school in the Mitchell School District selected a teacher of the year and a classified staff member of the year, according to L.B. Williams Principal Becky Roth, who were also recognized during Wednesday's events. Pranger and Gerlach were then chosen by a selection committee as the district-wide winners.

It's the first year the district has given out Classified Staff of the Year awards, but Roth said the district has been considering it for a while. In her first year heading the selection committee, Roth said organizers decided this was the year to make it happen.

Roth said "classified" staff refers to hourly employees, while teachers are "certified" employees. She said the classified staff members provide crucial supporting roles for the district.

"They're not directly teaching the kids, but they're indirectly doing a ton of things for the kids," she said. " ... we have so many talented support staff that go above and beyond to make our schools run efficiently and build relationships with our students ... we wanted to celebrate all of those individuals, too."

Pranger has worked for two years as a paraeducator at L.B. Williams, and said she considers the award an honor. She also works with children who have special needs, and said it's rewarding to watch those students progress and achieve goals.

"My passion in life is for children," she said. "I love working with them. I love helping them learn, I love helping them grow into their own individual personalities."

More than once, she said her work in the school district is "not a job"-it's an honor.

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"When you love your job and love the people that you work with, it's great going in every morning and being with them," she said.

Gerlach, who teaches family and consumer sciences at the high school, echoed Pranger's sentiments. Gerlach has taught for 25 years, eight of them in the Mitchell School District. In addition to her role as a teacher, Childs said Gerlach has served on numerous committees throughout South Dakota.

The veteran teacher graduated from South Dakota State University with a bachelor's degree and then later earned her gifted education endorsement from the University of South Dakota in 1992.

While family and consumer sciences encapsulates a broad range of topics, Gerlach said she focuses on the culinary, nutrition and dietetics (applying knowledge in food and nutrition to improve and maintain good health).

As someone passionate about teaching and food service, Gerlach described her role in the Mitchell School District as the perfect fit.

"This was like the most awesome job to get and be able to do both of them together," she said.

Gerlach teaches culinary arts for MHS in the MCTEA building, and her students provided the food for the afternoon awards ceremony. She said the menu tried to incorporate the superhero theme, from a pizza shaped like Captain America's shield to pretzel rods that emulate light sabers. Gerlach said events like Wednesday's are a great opportunity for her students to test their skills.

"They get to do real, hands-on learning," she said of the program.

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She is now in the running for the regional Teacher of the Year Award, and, if selected, would be a nominee for the South Dakota Teacher of the Year. But, Gerlach said she's just excited to be doing what she loves.

"I walk into this building and I really never say, 'I have to go to work,' it's always, 'I get to go to school,' " she said.

2016 Teacher of the Year candidates

• Sara Schultz, Middle School Teacher of the Year. Schultz has taught sixth- and seventh-grade math and computers for the past three years at the middle school.

• Sarah Fosness, Gertie Belle Rogers Teacher of the Year. A Dakota Wesleyan University graduate, Fosness is a second/third-grade looping teacher and has taught at G.B. Rogers for three years.

• Kim Brenden, L.B. Williams Teacher of the Year. Brenden is a DWU graduate and teaches fifth grade at L.B. Williams.

• Kristina Starr, Longfellow Teacher of the Year. Starr has been teaching at the Rockport Colony School in the Mitchell School District for five years.

2016 Classified Staff of the Year candidates

• Donna Ellingson, High School Classified Staff of the Year. Ellingson has worked in the high school office for 26 years.

• Mark Moore, Middle School Classified Staff of the Year. Moore works in the technology department at the middle school and L.B. Williams.

• LeeAnne Williams, G.B. Rogers Classified Staff of the Wear. Williams has spent three years as a paraeducator working with special needs students.

• Judy Freeman, Longfellow Classified Staff of the Year. Freeman has worked for four years as a paraeducator working with special needs students.

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“We had a ton of nominations this year for all the awards,” Davison County Sheriff Steve Harr said of all the employee nominations.