Washington Elementary, JCHS teachers chosen as Geary County Schools 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year nominees

JUNCTION CITY, Kan. — Geary County Schools USD 475 on Wednesday announced Jennifer Fallin, fifth-grade teacher at Washington Elementary School, and Samantha Kruse, ACSS teacher at Junction City High School, as its nominees for the Kansas State Department of Education’s 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year Award.

The Kansas Teacher of the Year Award “recognizes and utilizes representatives of excellent teaching in the elementary and secondary classrooms of the state,” according to the Kansas State Department of Education’s website. “Its mission is to build and utilize a network of exemplary teachers who are leaders in the improvement of schools, student performance, and the teaching profession.

“It is our honor to have Ms. Fallin and Ms. Kruse be our nominees for the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year Award. Both of these phenomenal educators are incredibly hardworking and are truly deserving of such recognition,” Geary County Schools Superintendent Dr. Reginald Eggleston said.

Jennifer Fallin began her career as a teacher in 2010 and has been with Washington Elementary since 2013, serving as the Intermediate Building Team Leader, a mentor to new teachers at the district and Kansas State University, as well as a member of the Leadership and Foundations Team.

As an educator working in a Title I school, Fallin strives to show her students that there are endless opportunities beyond their neighborhood by exposing them to numerous experiences, such as the Rock Springs Ranch, Kansas State University, and the Milford Fish Hatchery.

“Families are a critical component to close the opportunity gap that exists in our school. Parents are an essential part of students’ lives. I am passionate about helping the community that surrounds my students,” Fallin said. “I’ve helped parents in their pursuit of a G.E.D., coached parents in finding a tutor for their child, as well as understanding how to effectively advocate for their child’s needs. When you empower parents and help them pursue their dreams, we are helping break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.”

Fallin hopes to use her platform as the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year to emphasize how rewarding and important being an educator is to youth and to society at large. As the stresses of COVID-19 immersed, and the teacher shortages grew nationwide, the perception of being a teacher was damaged, according to Fallin.

“The importance of our profession has been lost and I hope to share the message that teaching is a valuable profession. We as educators have a constant, positive impact in students’ lives,” Fallin said. “We provide students with a safe environment supported by routines and relationships, where we can build a passion for learning.”

Samantha Kruse came to Junction City High School’s special education department in 2017, tasked with a large duty in helping create and implement a project combining functional life skills and an autism resource classroom. This became the ACSS program, which has since been adopted across the district, yielding high academic achievement, higher retention of math and reading concepts, and decreased problem behavior. Additionally, Kruse has established a committee of low-incidence teachers from across the district in multiple grade levels to design a modified curriculum based on standards reference grading to align programs from the beginning, early childhood, until the end, high school.

2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year Nominee Samantha Kruse.

In her classroom, Kruse uses the vocationally-focused program TEACCH, which encourages independence and discourages the students’ dependence on adults.

“One of the best experiences for my students’ learning has been through creating naturalistic vocational settings that foster student independence and ultimately allow students to become more confident, dependable, and valued,” Kruse said. “Each opportunity has been significant in students’ vocational experiences so that they are prepared when it is time to go out into the community to work.”

Kruse hopes to use her platform as the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year to promote the importance of equitable and accessible education and curriculum for all students, regardless of disability, race, socioeconomic status, and social-emotional status.

(From left) Junction City High School Special Education Coordinator Casey Bell, Executive Director of Special Education Nathan Downs, 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year Nominee Samantha Kruse, Junction City High School Principal Merrier Jackson, and Assistant Director of Special Education Courtney Eichhorn.

“One size does not fit all and for all students to be successful, they need for teachers to understand where they are at in all aspects of education, including socially, academically, and culturally,” Kruse said. “Students need teachers that care and that want to help all students succeed. Every student has the right to access a curriculum that is accessible and equitable.”

Fallin and Kruse will be recognized at the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year regional banquet in March, where the regional finalists will be announced. The 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year will be announced in September.

For media inquiries, please contact Lindley Lund, marketing and media specialist for Geary County Schools USD 475, at lindleylund@usd475.org.