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Linn-Mar LIONS & Volunteer Award Recipients Honored

The 2017 LIONS and Volunteer Award winners were announced during the April 10, 2017 Board of Education meeting. The recipients will be honored at a reception held Wednesday, May 3rd. The following recipients were honored:

LIONS Award Winners

2017 Linn-Mar Lions Award Winners - Group Photo with Keith Ponto, Sara Hofer and Karla Koenen, Rachelle Haker, Brian Johnson and Nadine Grieder

(Left to Right) Linn-Mar’s 2017 LIONS Award Winners Keith Ponto, Nadine Grieder, Sara Hofer, Karla Koenen and Brian Johnson — not pictured Rachelle Haker

L – Living Legend Award for Excellence in Leadership – Keith Ponto

I – Innovator for Excellence in Positive Change – Sara Hofer & Karla Koenen

O – Optimizer for Excellence in Teamwork – Rachelle Haker

N – Newcomer for Excellence in New Ideas – Brian Johnson

S – Service for Excellence in Superior Performance – Nadine Grieder

We Are Linn-Mar horizontal logo



(Left to Right) Linn-Mar’s 2017 Volunteer Award Winners Jessi Pfaff, Sue Harkness, Beth Graves and Rachael Kumoto)

Volunteer Award Winners

Above & Beyond Volunteer Award – Beth Graves

Above & Beyond Volunteer Award – Rachael Kumoto

Making a Difference Volunteer Award – Jessi Pfaff

Unsung Hero Volunteer Award – Sue Harkness






Here’s what Linn-Mar staff said about the LIONS Award winners:

L – Living Legend Award for Excellence in Leadership: Keith Ponto
4th grade teacher at Bowman Woods Elementary
Nominated by Jill Brockschink

According to Jill, Keith’s quiet nature keeps the Bowman Woods staff “calm in the eye of the storm.” He’s seen it all and lived to tell the tale. We depend on him to steer the ship, and to give us wisdom that only he can provide, learned over three decades of experience. Keith consistently demonstrates a spirit of teamwork, cooperation and respectful treatment of others at Bowman Woods. He takes a leadership role in making sure things run smoothly and tasks are accomplished. He makes every staff member in the building feel valued. He is a consummate team player and quiet leader.

Tina March, Bowman Woods principal, says that Bowman Woods is “losing a hero next year and that hero is Keith Ponto. He is a champion of doing the right thing and looks out for all of our students and staff. He leads without fanfare and collaborates daily to make a difference for our school.” Keith will be retiring at the end of this school year and will be greatly missed.

We appreciate all that you have done for Linn-Mar! Congratulations, Keith!


I – Innovator for Excellence in Positive Change: Sara Hofer & Karla Koenen
Instructional Coach and Technology Integration Coach at Indian Creek Elementary
Nominated by Betsy Bushlack & the entire 5th grade team at Indian Creek

Sara and Karla are a dynamic team that exemplifies the spirit of teamwork and creates positive change. They lead collaboration for the teachers at Indian Creek and are always eager to share their knowledge and go above and beyond to help all the teams accomplish tasks that help meet district objectives.

This year, Indian Creek become a Seesaw Building. This means that K-5 have implemented the use of Seesaw as an educational tool for showcasing student learning and communicating student learning with parents. Karla and Sara have helped Indian Creek students become visible learners. They have collaborated with parents to help connect them with their child as a learner. Karla and Sara have collaborated with students to help them become visible learners and reflective learners.

Sara and Karla are a collaborative team. They maintain open communication and have a clear understanding of the district goals and mission. Their positive collaboration inspires the staff, students and teachers at Indian Creek. Specifically, their collaboration this year on the Seesaw project has created positive change regarding teacher collaboration and teacher effectiveness at Indian Creek.

Linn-Mar recognizes that your contributions have enormously created positive change at Indian Creek! Congratulations, Sara and Karla!


O – Optimizer for Excellence in Teamwork: Rachelle Haker
School Counselor at Excelsior Middle School
Nominated by Mike Shipley

Mike says “Rachelle is a uniter, someone that has the ability to bring groups of unique and diverse people together. She is always positive and optimistic, refusing to give up on a student who may be struggling, a family who may not be cooperating…or a teacher that needs guidance.”

Rachelle’s work with diverse students and groups like GSA, GALS, GUYS and Mentor create a climate of equality, acceptance and understanding and makes the Excelsior family very strong. Rachelle’s efforts to create those communities for students are unprecedented.  For Rachelle, the student always comes first. She recognizes the impact teamwork plays when making decisions for students. This involves collaboration with administration, staff and parents. Students, parents and fellow staff members look to her to guide them through the difficult times. She is a leader and a team player.

Your dedication to our Linn-Mar students is unparalleled! You are invaluable at Excelsior! Congratulations, Rachelle!


N- Newcomer for Excellence in New Ideas: Brian Johnson
Media Specialist at Linn-Mar High School
Nominated by Julie Birely & Darlene Johnson

“Brian has transformed …the library…into a warm, inviting and casual environment.” There is a long list of all the things that Brian has implemented since being hired this past Fall, which include: the development of the High School Library Website – which is innovative, creative and has a lot of information for both students and staff; designed Break Out EDU cases; grant writing to help pay for a Maker Space in the library; as well as making a movable Green Screen that he literally built himself. Brian also organized a new computer laptop check out system for students that allows students that don’t have access, the ability to do school work, projects and experiment with the many educational opportunities that the internet offers. Providing access throughout the building for all our students is a priority for him.

Brian works to make the library a place where students can feel their ideas and interests are valued and validated. He has personally selected more than 500 new books this year based on student interest. He routinely polls the students to get their feedback on his initiatives and for guidance on future investments.

Your innovation and creativity are greatly appreciated and valued here at Linn-Mar! Congratulations, Brian!


S – Service for Excellence in Superior Performance: Nadine Grieder
District Mail Delivery Coordinator from Operations & Maintenance
Nominated by Gayla Burgess

“Nadine’s job is strenuous as she moves not only district mail, but boxes, printing orders, and operation supplies across the district. Nadine is the sole person in the district that covers this responsibility and does so with a smile every day”. Nadine has been with Linn-Mar since 1996, and has dealt with the district growth exceptionally. The enrollment when she began doing daily deliveries to the buildings was 4,377 and the number of schools to which she made deliveries was six. The number of staff members was less than 500. Today, she provides the same expedient service across the district serving more than 7,000 students, just over 1100 staff, 10 schools, the LRC and the Aquatic Center – with a smile.

There may be no one else within our district that has a more physically demanding job, who has more requests for help in one day, and who meets all the demands (expected and unexpected) of the job on a daily basis and does so with a smile and positive attitude. Nadine’s dedication to others’ needs is the hallmark of who she is. Her energy and total commitment to doing things right every day contribute immeasurably to how efficiently the district operates.

Your exceptional and superior performance in service is inspirational! Congratulations, Nadine!


Here’s what Linn-Mar staff had to say about the Volunteer Award winners:

Above & Beyond Volunteer Award – Beth Graves

Beth is an individual that accepts the responsibility to lead people. Beth has already served Novak Elementary as a volunteer coordinator for two years.  Currently, she is supporting Excelsior Middle School as their school Volunteer Coordinator. Her leadership roles have helped to support the students and staff in both of those schools.

In these leadership roles, Beth has shown initiative to ensure staffing for volunteer events, provided communication to volunteers and efficiently planned, implemented and sought the volunteers required. She has helped to build a team of volunteers that continue to meet the needs at Excelsior Middle School.

Beth does a fantastic job in her role as a volunteer coordinator here at Excelsior, said Associate Principal Steve Starkey. She shows exemplary skills in organization, planning, and follow-through. She takes the initiative to get volunteers lined up for activities long before I have started planning for them. I am always confident that everything will be organized prior to the event and she will take charge during the activity to ensure that things runs smoothly. Beth continually demonstrates great leadership, commitment to the students, and is a valued member of our school community.


Above & Beyond Volunteer Award – Rachael Kumoto

Rachael Kumoto is a volunteer leader in our school district and a deserving recipient of the Above & Beyond award.  Rachael has volunteered at Novak Elementary and now, supports Excelsior Middle School with her time.  Rachael has served as the Novak PTO chairperson, for two years, and has now completed two years of service as the school Volunteer Coordinator for Novak.  Her leadership has been obvious at Novak in only six years.

Novak is lucky to have Rachel Kumoto, said Principal Carol O’Donnell. Rachel is frequently at Novak in a variety of roles. As a volunteer coordinator, Rachel does a great job of knowing what the teachers need and placing the volunteer to meet that need.  She successfully communicates with both school personnel and volunteers.  Rachel effectively led the PTO, serving for two years as the PTO chair.   She has been a member long enough to have the “historical perspective.” She is involved in every event either organizing, serving, or both.


Making a Difference Volunteer Award – Jessi Pfaff

Jessica Ellison-Pfaff has quietly made an impact at Indian Creek Elementary. Since her children began school there she has worked to support students and staff.  Jessi is currently working weekly as a Read Natural volunteer by helping students to improve their reading fluency. Jessi has supported the district for nine years, volunteering in multiple schools at Linn-Mar.  She has not only supported Indian Creek, but Excelsior, volunteering for fundraising, student Olympics and the Camp Wapsi field trip. She has also been an active vocal music volunteer this year at the high school giving time to support the Show Choirs.  Jessi has shared more than 1200 hours with the district outside of her employment.

Jessi is such a gift to the staff and students at Indian Creek, said Principal Marilee McConnell. She works hard behind the scenes all year long in preparation for our Silent Auction. No one could possibly know the amount of time and energy she gives to our school. Her dedication is sincere and from her heart. There is nothing she would not do to enhance our school.


Unsung Hero Volunteer Award – Sue Harkness

Sue Harkness is our Unsung Hero recipient. Sue is such a part of the Little Lions classroom that she supports, it is hard to tell her from the staff.  A former employee of Linn-Mar, who after only a week of retirement, came back to serve the children she had known as their custodian.  Sue’s love of children and the students of Echo Hill, had her reconnect with Little Lions Preschool teacher, Peggy Wakefield.  They have now worked together for the last three years with Sue coming daily to support some of our youngest students.

Ms. Sue spends her entire day in our Little Lion’s Classroom, said Little Lions Teacher Peggy Wakefield.  Sue is a valued member of our team.  Sue spends her time being with the children, and children love having her attention.  Her energy is unending and her love of the children and being in the classroom is evident!  She makes our days brighter and easier.  We love having her as part of our Little Lions family.


Congratulations to all the 2017 LIONS and Volunteer Award Winners!