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WI Teachers of the Year

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Meet the 2023-24 Teachers of the Year

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Wisconsin’s five Teachers of the Year for the 2023-24 school year are

Saghar Homayounpour, New Berlin West Middle/High School, School District of New Berlin: Saghar Homayounpour has been a Computer Science teacher at New Berlin West Middle/High School for the last 8 years. She had a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature before receiving a Minor in Computer Science from The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Saghar later continued her studies at the University of Ottawa where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Teachers Education Program. In 2015, she began at New Berlin West as its first Computer Science teacher, and over the next eight years, she established the school’s Computer Science department, which now offers eight different courses. Saghar’s passion is to help expand Computer Science learning opportunities for all students and provide equity in Computer Science education in Wisconsin. She is committed to supporting other teachers and helping other districts grow their Computer Science programs. She has been a Computer Science Teachers Association leader at large (SCTA) for the last three years, and has been part of the “Mentors in CS” program providing guidance and support to teachers new to teaching Computer Science. To increase female participation in Computer Science and address gender equity, Saghar and her students have started a “Girls Who Code” club where they build a community of supportive peers and role models, and learn Computer Science skills through fun interactive activities that solve real-world problems. Saghar also ran a Cyberpatriot club at New Berlin West for three years, and has also served as an AP reader for the College Board for AP Computer Science Principles for four years.

Claudia Heller de Messer, Milwaukee Parkside School for the Arts, Milwaukee Public Schools: Claudia Heller de Messer earned her bachelor’s degree (1-9 Education, Spanish) from the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse and her master’s degree (Bilingual Education, English as a Second Language) from the University of Wisconsin - Oshkosh. She started her teaching career in Coopersburg, PA. Claudia has been employed by Milwaukee Public Schools since 1997. She has supervised and mentored student teachers, taught as an adjunct faculty member at UW - Oshkosh, and facilitated professional development workshops for educators. In 2018, Claudia received the MMABSE Teacher of the Year Award. Claudia was recently selected as a 2023 Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellow. In her current role as an English Learner Specialist, Claudia supports and advocates for her students and their families both in the classroom and throughout the Milwaukee community, as many of her students are recent refugees and immigrants to the United States. Claudia creates a community in which the students and their families feel welcome, have their basic needs met, have guidance in navigating the systems of a new country, and will ultimately ensure that they are empowered. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Claudia holds dual citizenship in Colombia and the United States. She currently resides in Milwaukee, WI with her husband, Kirk, her children, Gabriel and Isabella, and their dog, Kalilli.

Rachel Kumferman, McKinley Elementary, Wauwatosa School District: Ms. Rachel Kumferman has been a social worker for 30 years, the last 21 as a school social worker in the Wauwatosa School District. She split her time between McKinley and Lincoln Elementary Schools, eventually moving to McKinley full-time in 2011. That same year, she also took on the role of the District Homeless Liaison, where she continues to fulfill both positions. Rachel teaches social-emotional lessons in all classrooms, does 1:1 counseling, conducts social developmental interviews for referrals, and collaborates with staff and families regarding behavior interventions and attendance. Rachel has extensive knowledge of community resources, and she facilitates professional development for staff such as trauma informed care, and restorative practices. As District Homeless Liaison, Rachel works with all staff and other districts to make sure needs are met for our most vulnerable students. She helps students with basic needs and coordinates fee waivers, free lunch, and transportation in order to break down barriers so all students can learn. Ms. Kumferman serves on several committees such as School Culture and Student Success, Equity Team, Building Leadership Team, Crisis Team and serves as PBIS coach. Ms. Kumferman coordinates student meetings with our certified therapy dog. She advises McKinley’s student mentoring program, has supervised 14 graduate social work students, and mentors new district staff. Rachel received the Distinguished Services Award from Wauwatosa in 2018. She is a member of the Wisconsin School Social Workers Association and has also served on the Board of Directors for the Milwaukee County Continuum of Care.

Katelyn Winkel - Simmerman, Cedar Grove-Belgium Middle School, Cedar Grove-Belgium School District: Katelyn Winkel-Simmerman has taught fifth grade math at Cedar Grove-Belgium Middle School for eight years. Winkel-Simmerman earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2015 and a master’s degree in teaching and learning (math intervention) in 2019 from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Katelyn loves finding innovative ways to reach and teach all students, but her favorite part of teaching is building relationships with her students. Helping students learn and grow is the focus of Katelyn’s teaching and inspiring students to love learning is a top priority. She believes in building relationships, creating engaging lessons, and utilizing technology to inspire her students in their educational journey. When students see their teacher loving to teach and learn, it inspires them to love to learn, too. As the middle school student council advisor, giving students opportunities beyond the classroom is very important to Katelyn. She works to plan events for students outside of the classroom which provide students the opportunity to socialize with peers and teachers in a non-academic setting. Some of the activities include: snow tubing, 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, glow roller skating, movies, board games, and an all-school end-of-the-year picnic. Katelyn serves on a variety of committees such as the Building Leadership Team, Advisory Committee, and a curriculum adoption committee to help her school better meet the needs of their students. 

Brian Collins, Unity High School, Unity School District: Brian Collins began teaching at the age of 31. Following a career change from wildlife biology, he pursued his licensure through the Master of Science program at UW-River Falls. He was hired to his first licensed teaching job at Unity High School in Balsam Lake, Wisconsin where he remains today. Following Unity’s consistently strong leadership, Brian embraced proactive change, committee work, and community outreach as necessary components of strong education. He chaired the Unity Professional Staff Development Committee for 19 years, and he remains an active co-founder of the Unity Ojibwe Language Revitalization program for 18 years. The Anishinaabe worldview has transformed Brian’s approach to education, increasing his use of humor and relationship-building in his science classes, fully embracing the notion that we are all learners and that we are all teachers at all times. Every aspect of the classroom is based on the notion of interdependence. Brian started coaching early, promoting diversity and inclusion in sport. In 2019, Brian started the Unity Powerlifting Team. The program continues in strength, with numerous State appearances, including another medalist! Brian teaches AP Biology, Anatomy, General Biology, Zoology, Ecology, and Ornithology. His Biology lab extends well into Unity’s school forest, where he uses citizen science to include his students into the growing network of scientists focused on saving biodiversity. Brian strives to generate life-long learners with an appreciation for diversity, a strength of problem-solving skills, and a love of exploration. In doing so, he continues to participate in the learning journey with them, as much a learner as a teacher.