It was no ordinary first period Tuesday in the Skyview weight room. Principal Bob Whalen summoned Kas Ione from his office down the hall. Football Coach Ron Lebsock directed students inside till the weight room was standing-room only.
If Ione was surprised to see his wife, Rhonda, there, he was shocked when Golden Apple committee volunteers told the gathering that Ione is one of six Golden Apple Award winners for 2010. After enthusiastic applause from students and colleagues, Ione was nearly speechless: “Thank you,” he said and, gesturing toward the teens, added: “This is what it’s about, being with the students.”
Ione has been teaching physical education in Billings Public Schools for 34 years and at Skyview since the school opened in 1985. He still greets each student with a handshake and positive words every day and is known for a remarkable ability to remember students’ names, even years after they’ve been in his P.E. class. Ione coaches Skyview girls and boys golf teams as well as a freshman basketball team. But he received the Golden Apple for his work as a P.E. teacher in classes that all students are required to take.
“Mr. Ione has worked a miracle in our family,” a Skyview parent wrote in a nomination letter. “Our daughter now loves P.E.”
“Mr. Ione is really a bright spot in my sometimes cloudy, stormy days,” a student wrote. “He is really trying to make a difference.”
Nominators also cited Ione’s work in volunteering to mentor troubled youth and his involvement with establishing Tumbleweed, a local nonprofit organization that assists runaways and families in crisis.
The stop at Skyview was the first of six surprise visits Tuesday for the Golden Apple committee. At each stop, they honored another outstanding educator:
• Michael Miller, fourth-grade teacher at Alkali Creek, was nominated by three parents, one of whom wrote: “He puts the needs of his students above his own. Problems don’t exist, just situations that need tweaking in order for all students to get their needs met and learn to the best of their abilities.”
• Karen Rice, Arrowhead second-grade teacher, has taught at six Billings elementary schools in her 16 years with the district and has long been an active board member for Billings Head Start. Rice’s classroom is “a lively place where there is always active learning going on,” one of her fellow board members wrote.
• Darlene Rector, Lewis and Clark math teacher, has been teaching in Billings for 28 years. Many of her students later became high school valedictorians and credited her for having a positive effect on their lives. Rector was instrumental in starting Math Club and coaches the MathCounts team at the middle school.
“In one year, Mrs. Rector affects more students than many do in a lifetime,” one of her MathCounts students wrote.
• Principal Mark Venner has been at Orchard for two “amazing” years, having previously been principal at Rimrock, Central Heights and Poly Drive.
“Mark does the work of three people,” one teacher wrote. “He is the instructional leader for our team. He’s constantly researching and often e-mails us at 3 a.m. with ideas he’s found to make our days easier and better for our students. He deals with over 100 office referrals a month while remaining positive and retaining his warm sense of humor.”
• Ponderosa secretary Shirley Collins has been part of that school for 24 years. One Ponderosa volunteer wrote: “If School District 2 were to attempt a job description for everything Shirley Collins accomplishes in one academic year, it would be the size of an encyclopedia.”
The Billings Education Association also announced its annual awards on Tuesday. Kathy Hoyt, Burlington librarian and media specialist, is the BEA Teacher of the Year. She is honored for sharing her love of reading with her students and for sharing her expertise with fellow teachers and librarians.
Jacqie Hanes, a dedicated volunteer at Boulder Elementary, is the BEA Friend of Education honoree. She tutors students, organizes the Book Nook and heads up the annual school carnival.
So much of our community discussion of public education focuses on annual budgets and perennial funding problems that we can lose sight of what education is really about. The annual Golden Apple Awards highlight the most essential ingredient for quality education: outstanding teachers. Dozens of Billings-area educators were nominated this year, and every one of them is deserving of accolades.
Congratulations to all the Golden Apple and BEA winners. Many thanks to the Golden Apple volunteers, especially committee chairwoman Penny Copps and the staff of the Billings Chamber of Commerce who continued this great community tradition for 2010.