Teachers of Excellence
Fridley Public Schools is proud to recognize the 2021-2022 Teachers of Excellence!
Five teachers, who represent each of the district's schools (including an Area Learning Center/Fridley Preschool group), were recognized at the annual staff Opening Workshop held Monday, August 29, 2022.
Each of the teachers selected are representative of our excellent teachers who work hard every day to deliver high-quality education to all students enrolled at Fridley Public Schools.
Expand the panels below to read about each of our Teachers of Excellence.
- Casey Leasure - Hayes Elementary School
- Christa Sanders - R. L. Stevenson Elementary
- Kelsey Knutson - Fridley High School
- Jessica Rifley - Fridley Middle School
- Ariel Chang - Fridley Preschool/ALC
Casey Leasure - Hayes Elementary School
Congratulations to Casey Leasure, Hayes Elementary School’s Teacher of Excellence! Leasure, a special education teacher, shines in her passion for teaching, courageously loving her scholars and bringing positivity to the community.
“In working with her students and establishing clear and consistent expectations with a whole lot of love, [Casey’s students] feel safe, empowered to lead others within their space, and most importantly positively re-engaged within our community,” said Principal Gaeli Iverson.
The example she sets as a teacher and ability to connect with students was noticed not only by her department, but also by teachers and staff across the building.
Casey is a champion for our scholars and community. Congratulations to Casey Leasure on being named the Teacher of Excellence for Hayes Elementary!
Christa Sanders - R. L. Stevenson Elementary
Congratulations to Christa Sanders, Stevenson Elementary School’s Teacher of Excellence for the 2021-2022 school year! Sanders is Stevenson’s school counselor and a leader on the PBIS team.
“Christa is humble, has an incredible skill set, and is passionate,” said Principal Veronica Mathison. “She helps children when their emotions overtake them, makes uplifting Stevenson Scoop videos, provides classrooms with lessons in social and emotional learning, and so much more.”
A colleague shared, “Her contributions are a huge part of what makes our school such an amazing place to be. I don’t know what I would do without her.”
Thank you, Christa, for your resiliency, commitment to success, and positivity. Congratulations on being named Stevenson Elementary’s 2021-2022 Teacher of Excellence!
Kelsey Knutson - Fridley High School
Congratulations to Fridley High School Social Worker Kelsey Knutson, who has been named the 2021-2022 FHS Teacher of Excellence! Knutson demonstrates a passionate commitment to her students and their families, and is a dedicated colleague and friend to the entire community at school.
“Kelsey is there for each and every student; she is responsive, caring, compassionate, and kind,” said Principal Patty Hand. “She always makes time in her day to take walks with students, process with them, do check-ins, and build relationships.”
A colleague shared that “Kelsey works tirelessly to provide for our students and truly listens. She has her ‘thumb on the pulse’ of the basic and emotional needs of our students.”
“When thinking of ways in which she supports our staff, Kelsey stands out as a leader in staff development, creating lessons around supporting social and emotional learning that staff members can turn and use in their classrooms,” Hand said.
Congratulations, Kelsey Knutson, on being named the 2021-2022 Teacher of Excellence at Fridley High School, and thank you for your positive presence that supports our whole community!
Jessica Rifley - Fridley Middle School
Congratulations to Jessica Rifley, Fridley Middle School’s Teacher of Excellence for the 2021-2022 school year! Rifley is a sixth grade math teacher who is noted for being an exceptional teacher and colleague.
“Jessica loves her students deeply, and works hard to build and maintain strong relationships,” said Principal Amy Cochran. “She is someone who goes above and beyond to ensure her students feel valued, are advocated for, have engaging activities, and feel safe at school. Her collaboration, flexibility, drive, and leadership are unmatched on the sixth grade team.”
A colleague described her as “inspiring, kind, and a light on the cloudiest of days.”
Thank you, Jessica, for all your hard work, and congratulations on being named Fridley Middle School’s 2021-2022 Teacher of Excellence!
Ariel Chang - Fridley Preschool/ALC
Congratulations to Ariel Chang, the Fridley ALC and Fridley Preschool’s Teacher of Excellence for the 2021-2022 school year! Chang is an instructional leader and a teacher and coordinator for English learners (EL). She is insightful and always has a smile on her face, even in the most stressful times.
“I have seen Ariel take on many tasks in the pursuit of supporting students and staff as an instructional leader and EL coordinator,” said ALC Principal Kelly McConville. “Her passion and dedication to student success across the district has left an indelible mark on Fridley Public Schools.”
“Ariel never fails to bring her wisdom and well-timed sense of humor to those hard moments,” said Alaina Dehnke, a school social worker and colleague. “Ariel knows the impact we have on our students' lives and is always looking for ways to enrich their experience.”
Thank you, Ariel, for all your hard work, and congratulations on being named the Fridley ALC and Fridley Preschool’s 2021-2022 Teacher of Excellence!
Former Teachers of Excellence
2019-20 Teachers of Excellence
- Sarah Armstrong - Hayes Elementary School
- Ashton Brask - Fridley Preschool
- Brittany Breitbach - Stevenson Elementary School
- Alisa Lowry - Fridley High School
- Drew Reiter - Fridley Middle School
Sarah Armstrong - Hayes Elementary School
Congratulations to Sarah Armstrong, the 2019-2020 Hayes Elementary School Teacher of Excellence! A 2nd grade teacher at the school, Armstrong is lauded for her intellect, willingness to go above and beyond in leadership within the school, and how she stepped up to become a teacher leader during the pandemic.
Hayes principal Gaeli Iverson recalls Armstrong’s hard work in strategizing and helping implement distance learning during the 2020 spring pandemic school closures.
“And after finding out that we were going to have to quickly shift into distance learning, I called Sarah explaining the sudden change we were facing and how we needed to continue to best support our scholars,” said Iverson. “And Sarah responded with ideas and plans. We were going to pull together a group that weekend and start digging into how we were going to get this done.”
At Armstrong’s invitation, Iverson and a team from Hayes met Armstrong in her home on a Sunday to begin the work of shifting instructional and support delivery models from in school to distance learning.
“We were able to work together throughout the day, to really have a concrete set of plans for our teachers, that we would kick off the following week,” said Iverson. Iverson strongly believes that without Armstrong’s leadership in that work, it would have been difficult to organize as quickly and be able to present and communicate concrete plans to teachers the following week on how the school and staff were going to best serve its students.
During the pandemic and distance learning, Armstrong spent many hours supporting Hayes teachers by leading the way in good teaching practices online, serving our teachers from a professional development standpoint, and helping individuals troubleshoot solutions to family concerns that may have come up.
As the school continues to learn and grow in what distance learning and hybrid learning looks, we are appreciative of Armstrong’s service. Her dedication in helping students and staff to become 21st century leaders will help ensure a successful school year.
“I am confident that, with her on my team, we have the ability to teach our students and serve our families well, whether they are in-person, or online,” said Iverson, adding that she is very grateful to Armstrong for all that she does for students and staff at Hayes. “Thank you Sarah,” said Iverson. “ I just want you to know that I really, really appreciate all that you have done and will continue to do for us.”
Ashton Brask - Fridley Preschool
Congratulations to Ashton Brask, the 2019-20 Fridley Preschool/ALC Teacher of Excellence! Brask is a teacher in the Fridley 4-year Preschool program, where she provides the district’s youngest learners and their families an excellent start to their educational journey.
“I have witnessed her growth over the last few years, and I can tell you, she is already a master preschool teacher,” said Dr. Jason Bodey, principal of alternative services. “She is always innovating and finding new resources to better our students’ experience, not only for her classroom, but for our whole school,” said Bodey.
Brask stepped up to help staff learn new tools during distance learning, and goes above and beyond expectations supporting staff members, and her students. She has excellent student interaction, keeps a positive attitude, and always seeks to inspire. She does all these things with a smile, great care, and compassion for all.
“I’ve personally watched her skillfully work with so many of our young scholars, and through her preschool magic, she has helped so many students be fully prepared for kindergarten,” said Bodey adding that Brask’s contributions to our team and our school district are immeasurable.
“I’m honored to work alongside Ashton each day and appreciate all she does for our students, families, and community,” Bodey said.
Brittany Breitbach - Stevenson Elementary School
Congratulations to Brittany Breitbach, the 2019-2020 Stevenson Elementary School Teacher of Excellence!
“We’ve known for quite some time that Ms. Breitbach is an outstanding educator with a high level of creativity, innovation, commitment to students’ success, and someone who delivers incredible instruction,” said Stevenson principal Veronica Mathison.
A 4th grade teacher, Breitbach works exceptionally hard to build relationships with students, staff, and families. A colleague of Breitbach shared that no matter how she is feeling, she is always smiling and warmly greeting her students each morning. She has a great balance of having fun with students and they also work hard for her as she has high expectations for them. She sets a strong example every day and inspires others to work harder and do better.
Her colleagues describe her as a constant source of support. She has always been there to lend an ear, brainstorm on ways to support students, or to walk through teaching techniques. The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic helped bring out Breitbach’s strengths, leadership, and ability to inspire. A tech wiz, when Breitbach found out the school was implementing distance learning, she problem-solved and led the way!
Mathison said that because of Breitbach’s leadership, Stevenson is in a far better place than it would’ve been otherwise. “She is beyond worthy of this recognition - not only for her work during distance learning, but also for her incredible work during all of her years at Stevenson,” said Mathison.
Alisa Lowry - Fridley High School
Congratulations to Alisa Lowry, the 2019-2020 Fridley High School Teacher of Excellence! Committed to excellence in her classroom, Lowry is a physical education teacher and is a passionate leader in the school and professional community.
Lowry demonstrates a deep commitment to her students, engages with students in activities outside the classroom, and is a talented, reflective colleague and friend to staff members throughout the building.
Lowry has led her department for a number of years, as a leader on the IBBLT team. She willingly accepts multiple new preps in a year to help out her team, and is a one-person Prom Committee, working with students to create a fun, memorable event. Her colleagues appreciate how she has made their department relevant to the students and school. She has accomplished this through the hands-on opportunities and practical experiences she provided to her classes and the guest speakers she's brought in. Additionally, Lowry is known to lead moral boosters, like fantasy football, social functions, and March Madness.
Lowry is a great source of support for her colleagues, and most recently helped the rest of the high school team immensely this past spring with distance learning. “One of her department colleagues stated that Alisa ‘was always helping us, helped create all of our Google classrooms, answered our questions and was the voice of the department, in addition to her classes,’” said FHS principal Patty Hand. Lowry also moved her classroom to multiple locations in the school in order for her department to stay in their rooms.
Lowry works hard to engage students in their learning, pushing students to do their best and holding them accountable. One of her colleagues noted that Lowry built good relationships, and this year connected with all her students in grades 9-12 in a positive way. She wants to encourage her students to be successful and takes her work very seriously. She always plans meaningful and relevant lessons and is constantly researching new, fun ways to get her students engaged.
“I have always appreciated Alisa’s perspective,” said Hand. “Her honesty comes from a place of sincerity and deep care for her students. I appreciate this individual more than she will ever know and am honored to work with her.”
Drew Reiter - Fridley Middle School
Congratulations to Drew Reiter, the 2019-2020 Fridley Middle School Teacher of Excellence! A math teacher at FMS, Reiter demonstrates all of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Learner Profile characteristics.
One of Reiter’s greatest strengths is developing relationships with students and families. Reiter gets to know students and their families on a deep level. He advocates for students, and in turn, students seek him out on a regular basis. Reiter constantly works to meet the unique needs of students and gets to know each of their individual stories. He is visible around the district and even supports students by attending their events outside the school day.
Reiter has been a teacher at FMS since 2008 and has served in multiple capacities, including instructional leader, basketball coach, and team leader. FMS principal Amy Cochran said Reiter is always willing to take risks and try new things. “There is not much that I cannot count on Drew to be willing to try and dive into!" she said.
Creative in his lesson planning, Reiter is always coming up with different ideas and unique ways to meet the needs of students. Cochran shared a conversation a student had with her. “The student told me ‘I understood math this year better than I ever have this year because of Mr. Reiter. He is always coming up with different ways of explaining things so I understand. He makes math relatable to real life situations,’” said Cochran.
Reiter is willing to help colleagues brainstorm new strategies for their students, and then help them follow through with implementation. He has served as a mentor to new teachers and helped coach others to become the best they can be. In addition, any time the school is implementing new initiatives, Reiter is an outside-of-the-box thinker and is helpful in thinking of things that may have missed.
Reiter is a trusted teacher and colleague who brings a positive attitude to work every single day. He is an advocate, a coach, a mentor and always willing to go above and beyond. He represents what Fridley is all about - community and family. His wife Kari is also an employee!
“Fridley Middle School is so lucky to have Drew Reiter as a teacher and instructional coach,” said Cochran, who added that she was deeply honored to introduce him as the 2019-2020 Fridley Middle School Teacher of Excellence!
2020-2021 Teachers of Excellence
- Chris Fischer - Hayes Elementary School
- Abby Jensen - R. L. Stevenson Elementary
- Emily Latzka - Fridley High School
- Jessica Mularie - Fridley Middle School
- Elizabeth Schweitzer - Fridley Preschool
Chris Fischer - Hayes Elementary School
Congratulations to Hayes Elementary School Teacher of Excellence, Chris Fischer! Fischer, a 4th grade teacher, is known for his caring heart and strong belief in fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students.
According to Principal Gaeli Iverson, Fischer excels in building an amazing classroom community, year after year. “There is a lot of laughter, and learning is exciting and enjoyable,” said Iverson. “It is clear that scholars in his classroom space feel welcome and loved each day.”
On the final day of the school year, Iverson recalled witnessing a special moment of community in Fischer’s classroom. He planned an honorary surprise for one of his students receiving Special Education services.
"Mr. Fischer gave a speech in honor of this student, and the entire class erupted in cheering and genuine care for their fellow scholar,” said Iverson. “It was a moment of inclusion, commitment to all kids being celebrated, and a wonderful, final representation of his classroom community that was developed throughout the year.”
Congratulations, Chris, and thank you for everything that you do for our young scholars.
Abby Jensen - R. L. Stevenson Elementary
Congratulations to Abby Jensen, a Stevenson 2nd grade teacher, who has been named the school’s Teacher of Excellence! Jensen is dedicated teacher and a model of service to her Stevenson scholars.
Principal Veronica Mathison calls Jensen a kind, passionate, persistent, and talented team player who cares about her students.
“Abby is a true International Baccalaureate teacher and an equity builder,” added Mathison. “She is dedicated to seeing and valuing each of her students, teaching through a whole child approach, and guides students through meaningful learning experiences."
In her classroom, scholars engage in daily circles to build community and problem-solve. Jensen allows time for student voices and agency, fostering strong relational and social-emotional growth. During academic blocks, students talk with their peers, work together, engage in content specific to what they need. Jensen runs small groups or works one-on-one to help her scholars grow.
Congratulations, Abby, on this recognition of your hard work!
Emily Latzka - Fridley High School
Emily Latzka, who teaches Spanish as a second language, is Fridley High School’s (FHS) Teacher of Excellence! Latzka is constantly demonstrating her commitment to all students and their families, and is a kind, talented, and thoughtful colleague to all members of Fridley High School.
FHS Principal Patty Hand said Latzka is consistently willing to help wherever needed. “She demonstrates excellence by going above and beyond expectations,” said Hand. “Emily will bring solutions to the table, and is always willing to help work toward that solution with tremendous spirit.”
Latzka also demonstrates excellence in student engagement. “Emily is always pushing students to do their best and holds them accountable,” said Hand. “She forms strong relationships and is a trustworthy individual for all students.”
A colleague noted, “Emily is extremely encouraging and puts her all into everything she does. She is inspiring and we are all so proud to work with her.”
Congratulations, Emily, on this well-deserved recognition of the Fridley High School Teacher of Excellence!
Jessica Mularie - Fridley Middle School
Fridley Middle School’s Teacher of Excellence is Jessica Mularie, a Special Education teacher. According to Principal Amy Cochran, Mularie is an incredibly inspiring teacher and is highly trusted by colleagues, students, and families.
“It is in her nature to make sure every one of our students are seen, heard, cared for and treated with dignity and respect,” said Cochran.
Mularie cares deeply about all students and has been a champion for inclusivity, which is indicated by her role as the Special Olympics Liaison at the middle school. “She is always reflecting on what we can do differently to ensure we are meeting the needs of all our learners and finding new ways to support our students,” said Cochran.
Last year, Mularie took on leadership and mentorship roles to assist fellow staff. “Jessica is the dependable and constant presence that allowed students to learn valuable skills and, most importantly, to end the year feeling loved and cared for,” said Cochran.
Congratulations, Jessica, on being named Fridley Middle School’s Teacher of Excellence!
Elizabeth Schweitzer - Fridley Preschool
Congratulations to Liz Schweitzer, who has been named the Preschool/ALC Teacher of Excellence! Schweitzer serves as a teacher at Fridley Preschool, the district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) World School Preschool.
Dr. Jason Bodey, former Principal of Alternative Services, says Schweitzer demonstrates excellence by providing our young scholars and their families with a welcoming and exciting space to learn.
“This past school year, she balanced in-person and distance learning groups of preschoolers with great success,” said Dr. Bodey. “She is highly skilled at supporting our in-person learners, and successfully implemented an amazing virtual space for our 4-year-old preschoolers to learn online, which is no easy task.”
A colleague noted that Schweitzer exemplifies an ideal IB teacher. “She goes the extra mile and always has caring interactions with her students and families. She has worked tirelessly with her classroom assistants to create innovative and engaging activities for both her distance learners and in-person students. Her preschoolers absolutely adore her.”
Congratulations, Liz, on being recognized as the Preschool/ALC Teacher of Excellence!