Kris Howes-Vonstein, seventh-grade science at the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School’s (VSCSD) Middle School, has recently been named a finalist for the 2019 Iowa Teacher of the Year. She was one of four Iowa teachers named. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced on Thursday, November 1, 2018, that Christopher Burke, an 11-year mathematics teaching veteran at Dubuque’s Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School is the 2019 Iowa Teacher of the Year.
The Iowa Teacher of the Year award was established in 1958. The annual program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Honorees serve as ambassadors to education and act as liaisons to schools, higher education, and organizations across the state.
Mary Jo Hainstock, VSCSD Superintendent, comments, “I would also like to recognize and congratulate our own Kris Howes-Vonstein as being one of the three finalists who are being acknowledged for their talents by the Iowa Department of Education. Ms. H-V has been making a difference for the students in our district for almost 30 years. She continues to come to school with a drive and a passion to support our students and their learning. Please join me in thanking her for her work on behalf of our students and the school district. She is a Difference Maker!”
Ms. H-V, as she is also known, began teaching in the Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District in 1989 as a high school science teacher. Her career officially started in February 1988 when she taught in Willamsfield, IL. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Iowa State University, a master’s in Education from Viterbo University. Her dedication to teaching includes continuing her education with graduate-level coursework at the University of Iowa, Morningside College, Drake University and Grant Wood Educational Agency. She has currently earned an additional 32 credit hours beyond her master’s degree.
Howes-Vonstein doesn’t just teach during the school year, her passion extends to summer programs like College for Kids, where she’s taught for 17 years. She’s also taught at Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa, ISU Extension summer programs and created her own Summer Science Film and Day Camp program with the Palace Theatre in Vinton.
“I always tell everyone that I was made to be a teacher. I never thought of doing anything else. I was always teaching my younger brothers and sisters. My father is a veterinarian, and as a kid, I loved going to his clinic and learning about science things. By the time I was in fifth grade I had decided that teaching science was my goal. Because I loved science so much, I chose to teach high school first for 15 years. I taught biology, general science, and an integrated advanced math/ physics class. I enjoyed teaching high school all those years, but when the job at the middle school opened, I thought I might need a change. I decided I could make a difference by making learning meaningful and positive in the middle years. I have enjoyed both aspects of my career and still, enjoy helping middle schoolers during a very difficult stage of life.”
Winners are chosen by a committee that includes representatives of the Iowa Department of Education (DE), the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI), the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), the past Iowa Teacher of the Year, and representatives from higher education institutions.
There is a process to becoming a finalist for Iowa Teacher of the Year. Ms. H-V was nominated by Middle School Principal, Shelly Petersen last spring. In June 2018, she was asked to complete an application and essay questions. In September, she learned that she was one of the four finalists and was invited to interview in Des Moines before the selection committee which included representatives of the Iowa Department of Education (DE), the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), the School Administrators of Iowa (SAI), the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), the past Iowa Teacher of the Year, and representatives from higher education institutions. As a finalist, she will be honored at a banquet held in Des Moines later this winter.
Ms. Howes-Vonstein credits family and community for her success. Her family includes her husband, Eric, who she describes as the “behind the scene guy who helps when I have a great idea and need “things” put together. He’s been supporting me my entire teaching career.” They have two daughters, Emily a junior at ISU and Lucy who is a sophomore at VS. As for the community, Kris says, “I love living in a small community. I see my students at the grocery store, at church, and at community events. I now am teaching the children of my first students. For thirty years, I have strived to connect student learning to the community through projects.”