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06-19-14: Teachers of the Year honored for dedication and passion
06-19-14: Teachers of the Year honored for dedication and passion
Posted on 06/18/2014


Coralie "Corky" Gustafson, who teaches music at Sunrise Elementary, and Jeanna Kooser, who teaches social studies at Kalles Junior High, are this year's Puyallup School District Teachers of the Year.


Both learned of their awards this spring with surprise announcements during impromptu school staff meetings.


The school board honored them in April with engraved plaques and a standing ovation before a room full of their colleagues, family, and students.


Gustafson is Teacher of the Year at the elementary level, while Kooser is recognized at the junior high and high school level.



Coralie Gustafson

Sunrise Elementary


"Phenomenal. Fun. Enthusiastic. Passionate. Energetic. Dedicated. Organized. Compassionate. A role model for children."


Dozens of students, parents, colleagues, and former students submitted nominations suggesting why Sunrise Elementary music teacher Coralie "Corky" Gustafson should be named Teacher of the Year.


"Mrs. Gustafson is an amazing teacher," wrote sixth grader Heaven Humiston. "She uses hands-on skills to teach us the fun of music. I mean, what would the world be without music?"


Glacier View Junior High band teacher Allison Spray, who remembers Gustafson as her music teacher at Sunrise Elementary, also nominated the long-time educator.


"Without the guidance and teaching of Corky Gustafson, I would not be where I am today."Image


Spray continued, "Mrs. G. opened my eyes to all of the amazing possibilities that music has to offer. She has a way of making each child feel treasured and respected."


There is no place Gustafson said she would rather be than teaching music at the elementary level.


"This is where it all begins," Gustafson said. "My hope is to get students excited about music and instill enough confidence so that one day they can dance to the beat at their wedding, rock and sing lullabies to their babies, and simply be moved by beautiful music."


As she looked around her classroom filled with marimbas, Tubano drums, barred instruments, Boom Whackers (lightweight tuned percussion tubes), and other percussion instruments, she smiled and said, "This place is where the magic happens.


Gustafson has spent the past 34 years teaching music - all at Sunrise Elementary.


She also leads the school chorus and is a firm believer that every child who wants to sing should be able to participate, whether or not they can get a ride early to school for weekly practices. Half of Sunrise Elementary students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch based on family income.


For those who struggle to find transportation, Gustafson has created a group of "choir angels" - parents willing and approved to drive choir students to rehearsal.


"I can't tell a student, 'you can't participate because you don't have a ride,'" Gustafson said. "It just doesn't work for me."


The veteran teacher is known for regularly coming to school early and staying late. She often drops by her classroom on weekends as well, especially before grade-level school concerts, to wrap up last-minute planning details.


Gustafson routinely incorporates math by including math vocabulary and various counting activities; literacy through storytelling, poetry, sound stories and reading song lyrics; and social studies by sharing music and instruments from other countries and cultures.


As often as possible, Gustafson also adds movement in her music classes. This was evident one morning last month when she asked students to line up facing each other and then gallop "down the river" in pairs of two as they sang an American river chantey. At the end of the line, all students took a turn playing tambourines while the class continued the singing game.


"I want them to sing, move, and have multiple sensory experiences every day," she said. "I want them to want to come back for more."


In addition to teaching music, Gustafson coordinates "Fabulous Friday" school assemblies, volunteers at PTA events, helps judge and score science fair projects, and plans music movement activities for the school's annual triathlon fundraiser.


For the past two years, Gustafson and Fruitland Elementary music teacher Marjorie Timm-Harrison have directed the districtwide elementary Honor Chorus, which performed last month along with the Honor Band and Honor Orchestra.


Gustafson also serves on the Sunrise Elementary Comprehensive School Improvement Plan committee and is a Puyallup Education Association school representative.

"Corky's energy is difficult to match," said Sunrise Elementary Principal Lisa McNamara.


In addition to teaching at Sunrise Elementary, Gustafson's music career has included playing percussion with the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra, Tacoma Concert Band, Northwest Sinfonietta, and Pacific Lutheran University. She has a bachelor's degree in music education from Washington State University.


Gustafson said she has learned much from her numerous colleagues, past and present, as well as from her students.


"I'm truly thankful and immensely grateful to everyone with whom I've worked. Because of all of them, I've become the educator I am today."


Jeanna Kooser

Kalles Junior High


"Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be."


In his opening remarks at Puyallup's Teacher of the Year celebration in April, Kalles Junior High Principal Guy Kovacs referenced the above quote by the late Rita Pierson, a 40-year educator from Texas, to describe social studies teacher Jeanna Kooser.


"Jeanna is indeed a champion for children," Kovacs said. "If I could describe her in one word, it would be 'connection.' She connects on a number of levels."


Kooser has been teaching the past 13 years, all of them at Kalles Junior High. She began as a student teacher and was quickly hired on full time after graduating with her bachelor's degree in American Studies, and a minor in International Studies, from the University of Washington, Tacoma.


Kooser went on to earn a master's degree in education and is working this year on National Board Certification - the highest honor in the teaching profession.


She has taught students at every skill level, including those with special needs who are infused into general education classes. Kooser has also worked with remedial students who needed skills intervention; Puyallup Accelerated Gifted Education (PAGE) highly capable learners; general education, honors, pre-Advanced Placement (AP), and AP online students; and high school students enrolled in the district's credit retrieval program.


"At every level, she is successful because she truly believes that education is the answer," said Kooser's team teacher, Lisa Kreiger.


This summer, Kooser and Kreiger will travel to Washington D.C. to participate in a week-long Library of Congress Institute. The event is partially funded by a Library of Congress Institute grant.


"In my current role as her team teacher, I often watch her and immediately think, she makes me want to be better," Kreiger said.


Kreiger continued, "Ms. Jeanna Kooser is indeed a master teacher who mentors young teachers while continually refining her own craft."


Kooser is Kalles Junior High School's social studies department chair and a member of the school's Comprehensive School Improvement Program committee.


She has also served on numerous districtwide or state curriculum adoption and alignment committees and was a key player in helping to develop the PAGE program for highly capable junior high students.


"The amount of time, energy, and commitment she has shown in developing the program, and in continually challenging these students, is beyond significant," said librarian Krista Scioli.


Whether she is teaching about the women's rights movement or gender roles, Kooser said she tries to engage her students, often by making lessons relevant to what is important in their teen years.


"I like the challenge every day brings," Kooser said, "and I try to keep my pulse on what they are talking about and how that will shape our conversations in the classroom."

Kooser is a firm believer that a child's background should never dictate who they become.


She lost her mother at an early age, lived in poverty, emancipated herself as a teenager, and worked hard to get to college.


Kreiger summed up Kooser's ability to connect with students in this way: "She pushes them because she knows it is their way to a brighter future."


It comes as no surprise, then, that many of those who submitted nominations for Kooser to be selected as Teacher of the Year are her current and former students.


Puyallup High School senior and former Kalles Junior High student Emily Hurst described how she felt more prepared than most when she entered high school.


"Many times I remember attributing my successes in AP social studies courses to the critical techniques and strategies she taught me," Hurst said.


Ninth grader Claudia Speakes said, "She has shown me that I am capable of so much more than I originally thought by demanding more of me."


Classmate Mackenzie Kinsella explained Kooser like this: "She is the type of teacher you will tell your kids about when you become an adult. You will tell them how she molded you and how your character is better because of her."