Above and Beyond: Michelle Pennington wins 2022 ESP of the Year
The halls are quiet at Kodiak High School (KHS) during the in-service day on Monday, November 15, 2021, but Michelle Pennington is hard at work. She’s cancelled a request for leave in order to be at school, advocating for one of her Kodiak Island Educational Support Association (KIESA) members. Following that, she’s headed to a meeting with her principal, then back to developing plans for her students for Tuesday morning.
Unbeknownst to Michelle, nearly all of her colleagues at KHS are gathered in the cafeteria for a meeting called by principal Neil Hecht. Michelle is the last to arrive. They’ve gathered because she’s about to be honored as the 2022 NEA-Alaska Education Support Professional of the Year.
As NEA-Alaska President Tom Klaameyer delivered remarks about dedication, volunteerism, education, and community, Michelle sat listening without a clue that he was speaking about her. When the award was finally announced, a shocked Michelle hugged her dear friend Kathy Simpler and began to cry.
The fact that Michelle sat in a room with over 50 of her colleagues and never once thought she deserved recognition is testament to the fact that she is selfless and always thinking about others. This is her reputation, earned over the course of her 17 years working in the Kodiak Island Borough School District (KIBSD).
Michelle, like so many ESP’s working in the Kodiak Island Borough School District (KIBSD) came to the education profession by way of her spouse being stationed at the US Coast Guard Base on Kodiak Island. In 1991, she and her husband Greg first moved to Kodiak while he was stationed at the Coast Guard base. Shortly thereafter, Greg was transferred but they both knew they wanted to return, and in 2003, their wish was granted. It was then that Michelle entered the education profession as a Special Education Aide, specializing in Life Skills, and she never looked back.
Michelle has been changing student’s lives ever since.
Armed with a degree in Elementary Education, Michelle is uniquely qualified to step in and assist teachers, and even design lessons or set aside time to work with a student individually. Michelle deftly uses every single tool at her disposal to ensure that every student is supported and achieving to the best of their abilities.
Michelle expertly navigates KHS, moving seamlessly from history classes to welding rooms, and workshops to SpEd homerooms. Her versatility and understanding of her students, their coursework, and their individual needs is nothing short of astounding. But Michelle’s work has never been confined to the halls and classrooms of KHS.
When the Covid-19 pandemic reached Alaska and shut down our schools, Michelle rose to the occasion. Understanding that school meals were often the only source of reliable nutrition many students have access to, Michelle and a team of KIESA and KBEA members worked tirelessly to put together a meal delivery program, even over the summer, that provided families with a weeks’ worth of food that was dropped off no matter where they lived on the island, sometimes driving nearly 80 miles’ round trip to make deliveries.
As the president of KIESA, Michelle made sure that her fellow educators were provided for if they fell ill or were required to quarantine. Just like she did for her students, Michelle and her team put together care packages and delivered them to her members.
As schools slowly reopened, Michelle led KIESA’s efforts to coordinate with the school district to ensure proper safety practices and protocols were in place to protect students and staff. Her efforts and exemplary model of collaboration led her to meet virtually with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky to provide her take on proper school reopening procedures.
Michelle has been a cornerstone of the Kodiak community. She is widely known and recognized as a fierce advocate for students, and a compassionate colleague who is always willing to lend a hand, offer advice, or volunteer her time.
In January 2021, Michelle increased KIESA membership by more than 10% by getting creative with how she approached potential members. Using digital tools, Michelle reached out via email to new hires and hosted virtual office hours through Microsoft Teams to help them learn about their Association. That personal touch helped keep KIESA strong even when we couldn’t meet face to face.
As NEA-Alaska ESP of the Year, Michelle will also be a candidate for NEA ESP of the Year and will serve as an ambassador for all education support professionals across Alaska.
Michelle Pennington is a shining example of everything our ESP’s contribute to their schools, their students, and their communities. Please join us in congratulating the 2022 NEA-Alaska ESP of the Year, Michelle Pennington.