May 21, 2024


NCEF surprises winners of Excellence in Education Awards in their classrooms

Alyse Bretthauer is the best teacher. She’s also very nice and is really patient with her students. If they happen to get stuck with a math or reading assignment, they know they can always count on her to help. And whenever they feel lonely or get upset about something, she will always make them feel better.

Those are student testimonials from Bretthauer’s third grade classroom shortly after she received one of the seven Excellence in Education Awards given out last week by the Newton Community Educational Foundation. One teacher from each building in the Newton school district receives the honor every year.

NCEF awarded the following teachers for the 2021-2022 school year:

• Alyse Bretthauer, third grade teacher at Aurora Heights Elementary

• Mary Bartels, first grade teacher at Emerson Hough Elementary

• Denise Townsend, school counselor at Thomas Jefferson Elementary

• Kara Avis, kindergarten teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary

• Andrew Kuker, science teacher at Berg Middle School

• Lori Gilmore, special education teacher at Newton High School

• Katie Byrum, language arts teacher at WEST Academy

In the past, the awards were given out during a banquet. But this year district administrators and representatives from NCEF surprised teachers in-person with a trophy, a small bouquet, balloons, treats for students and a check for $500 to spend for their classrooms.

When it was all over, Bretthauer’s students surrounded their teacher and gave her a big group hug. Similar accounts occurred at WEST Academy. There, language arts teacher Katie Byrum was hugged by the student whose testimonial was shared aloud when she received her award.

Amy Doerring, of NCEF, read the student-penned statement: “Katie is someone who continuously inspires others to not give up, to ask for help when needed and, most of all, to love one’s self. I have seen Katie go out of her way to help students who wanted nothing to do with class.

“And not once has she given up any student, no matter how tired, grumpy (or) difficult this student is being. She always has patience that others strive to have. I hope one day I can help people the way she has helped me strive to be the best person I can be.”

Lori Gilmore, a special education teacher at Newton High School, was in disbelief when NCEF presented her the award. Some of her co-workers knew she would be receiving the award, but obviously kept it a secret. They even went so far as to convince Gilmore they were supposed to be having a meeting.

According to those who nominated Gilmore, she goes “above and beyond” for all her students and teaches them how to live as independently as possible. Gilmore was brought to tears when her students shared what they love about her. They said she’s a good teacher and knows how to help when they need it most.

“You taught us a lot of awesome stuff.”

“She makes plans for us to have fun activities to do.”

“You’re awesome.”

Gilmore responded, “Thank you so much! This means so much to me.”

To earn the Excellence in Education Award, candidates should be exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled members of the faculty and are planning to remain active as a professional educator. Candidates should also inspire students to learn and have the respect and admiration of staff and students.

The candidates must also play an active and useful role in the community, as well as the school, and should be poised, articulate and enthusiastic. Prior winners of the Excellence in Education Award can still be eligible for awards. Teachers cannot nominate other teachers.

NCEF is an organization that funds innovative educational programs in Newton schools, believing those extra programs inspire, motivate and challenge students to excellence in the classroom and beyond. NCEF’s purpose is to provide enriched learning experiences for every child in the district.

In addition to distributing Excellence in Education Awards, NCEF also provides a number of scholarships to Newton High School’s graduating seniors and gives out grants to teachers in June and November. NCEF also donated Cardinal Red water bottles for students in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.