WICHITA - Jeff Baxter, a high school English language arts teacher at Leavenworth High School (Leavenworth USD 453), was named the 2014 Kansas Teacher of the Year during ceremonies in Wichita Saturday, Nov. 26. Commissioner of Education Dr. Diane DeBacker made the announcement before a gathering of 400 education officials, corporate leaders and state policy makers.
Baxter is a Great Bend native and a 1966 graduate of Great Bend High School. He is the son of the Pat and the late Hiram Baxter.
“It is truly a pleasure to present this award to Jeff Baxter,” Commissioner DeBacker said. “Jeff’s love of literature is surpassed only by his love of teaching and his ability to really connect with and mentor his students. He clearly delights in their accomplishments and that’s a wonderful quality in a teacher.”
Baxter was named the 2014 Kansas Teacher of the Year from a field of eight finalists. Throughout the coming year all of the finalists will work as a team to advocate for education and teaching. Selected from a pool of 105 nominations, the 2014 finalists are: Jenny M. Nash, a kindergarten teacher at Cottonwood Elementary School in Paola (Paola USD 368); Katie Perez, a fourth-grade teacher at Morgan Elementary School in Hutchinson (Hutchinson USD 308); Mary Lonker, a high school English language arts teacher at Wamego High School (Wamego USD 320); Brandi Leggett, a third-grade teacher at Prairie Ridge Elementary School in Shawnee (De Soto USD 232); Jennifer R. Smith, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Lakewood Middle School in Overland Park (Blue Valley USD 229); Marney Hay, a fourth-grade teacher at Pray-Woodman Elementary School in Maize (Maize USD 266); and Jennifer M. Bailey, a high school language arts teacher at Valley Center High School (Valley Center USD 262).
Baxter has been with the Leavenworth School District for a total of 23 years, during which time he has taught AP Language and Composition, Video Productions and 9-12 English. He currently serves as the Language Arts Department Chair at Leavenworth High School, a position he has held since 2005. Said Baxter, “In my years at Leavenworth High School, I have taught every grade and ability level and have succeeded with all of them.”
Over the course of his teaching career, Baxter’s success has been widely recognized. Among his many accolades, Baxter has received the Extra Mile Award for service and dedication beyond the call of duty, is a seven-time Horizon Honor Scholar Teacher, was named the 2013 Leadership Unity Vision Teacher of the Year, is a three-time winner of Future Educators of America Teacher of the Month and was named Basketball Coach of the Year for both the Sunflower and Centennial Leagues.
In a letter of nomination, Baxter’s principal Thomas Barry describes Baxter as “a highly caring and compassionate teacher” who sets not just high standards for his students, but for himself as well. Writes Barry, “He expects his students to learn and excel. At the same time, he expects a great deal from himself to provide relevant, worthwhile lessons which result in high levels of learning in his class.” Barry further writes, “Mr. Baxter has had a positive ‘touch’ on our entire school. He truly cares about Leavenworth High School and wants the very best for our students.”
Baxter credits his grandmother for his teaching style; a style that he says embraces the belief that “No answer is ever wrong, just a starting point for deeper inquiry.” As a teacher, he is a firm believer in modeling reading and writing practices with his students. In fact, his memoir, More Than One Way Home, which he hopes to complete this summer, began as a writing exercise he did with his students. Says Baxter, “I believe that teachers who model reading and writing practices with their students develop unique and powerful relationships for dynamic learning.”
Baxter’s teaching does not end with his students. Believing that experienced teachers must be willing to share with others, Baxter says that his file cabinets and flash drives are open to any teacher and regularly receives emails from other educators looking to him for teaching suggestions. Additionally, he works with high school and community college teachers across the Midwest on techniques and strategies to improve literacy in the classroom. Through his leadership, Leavenworth High School made Adequate Yearly Progress measures in Reading across all sub-groups for three successive years.
Currently, Baxter is part of a team of five teachers working with the Independence, Missouri School District to improve K-12 literacy.
“At the end of every school year, I write each of my students a personal note,” says Baxter. “On one side is the famous quote from Teddy Roosevelt. On the other side is a personal note about what I observed in their effort of skill and character, what I hope for them in their senior year, and that I pray they will ‘dare greatly.’ I believe that if every student had that kind of relationship with every teacher, the United States would rank at the top of the world’s education systems.”
As Teacher of the Year, Baxter receives a $4,000 cash award from Security Benefit, a major sponsor of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program.
“As a leading provider of retirement savings and income vehicles for educators throughout Kansas and the nation, we offer our congratulations to Jeff Baxter on this prestigious accomplishment,” said Doug Wolff, President, Security Benefit Life. “At Security Benefit, we believe teachers have an infinite ability to influence us all, creating memorable impressions that shape our destiny. We applaud teachers who make a difference, who exemplify integrity, who mentor, push, support and challenge our students to excel. Our sponsorship of the Kansas Teacher of the Year program allows us to recognize the vital importance of the education profession, and to support the many teachers who made a difference in our lives and taught us life’s larger lessons.”
Baxter also receives a Lifelong Learning Scholarship from the Kansas Board of Regents, Washburn University, Baker University, Bethany College, Kansas Wesleyan
University, MidAmerica Nazarene University, University of Saint Mary, Tabor College, and Webster University-Kansas City; and a Jostens Leader in Education ring.
As the 2014 Kansas Teacher of the Year, Baxter will also receive an educational technology
package valued at $7,250 from SMART Technologies ULC of Canada. This year’s Teaching Excellence Award includes SMART LightRaise interactive projector including Notebook software, SMART Response VE™ software (one-year site license), SMART Document Camera, SMART Bridgit™ conferencing software (single subscription), and technology training.
In addition, Baxter will receive The Hubbard Foundation Kansas Teacher of the Year Ambassadorship. The ambassadorship provides funds for travel and other necessary expenses incurred by the Kansas Teacher of the Year. Enterprise Rent-a-Car will provide the lease of a car and the Kansas Corn Commission will provide ethanol gas for Baxter to use while fulfilling his Teacher of the Year duties.
All eight members of the 2014 Kansas Teacher of the Year team will receive a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit; Capturing Kids’ Hearts training from The Flippen Group, College Station, Texas; and a Teaching Excellence Award valued at $1,500 from SMART Technologies ULC that includes SMART Notebook Software Collaborative Bundle consisting of SMART Notebook 3D Tools, a one-year individual license of SMART Response VE interactive response system, and professional development. The Kansas Teacher of the Year semi-finalists and finalists also receive a marble apple from The Master Teacher in Manhattan.
The Teacher of the Year program has state and national competitions. The national program, sponsored by Target, is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers, in partnership with the ING Foundation, the University of Phoenix and People to People Ambassador Programs. The Kansas program is sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education.