Spotlight Interview with 2015 OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year

On May 19, 2015, OnPoint Community Credit Union announced that Kevin Topolski of Ron Russell Middle School (RRMS) was named 2015 OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year for grades K-8. As an Educator of the Year recipient, OnPoint paid Topolski’s mortgage for one school year and donated $1,000 to RRMS, located in SE Portland, Oregon, to use for resources and supplies. Kevin Topolski, a 6th grade Reading and Writing teacher, was recognized not only for his exemplary teaching methods and humble dedication to his craft, but for his leadership on the District’s Key Trainer Team and Instructional Improvement Team, which inspires collegial risk taking, collaboration and growth.

Now, nearly one year since Topolski won the 2015 Educator of the Year award, we’ve checked back in with him to find out how life has changed and what is currently keeping him busy.

Question: What was it like to win the 2015 OnPoint Prize Educator of the Year award for grades K-8?

Answer: Being nominated for and winning the OnPoint Educator of the Year award has been a truly amazing and once in a lifetime experience for me. I was surprised and humbled to learn I was nominated, and was moved beyond words the night of the awards dinner when I found out that I had won. There is no shortage of hardworking, dedicated, and incredible educators in Oregon Schools and I felt truly honored to be recognized by my colleagues. Having my friends and family at the awards dinner made it even more special. I really do feel like this award could go to any one of the amazing teachers in my building, and I am excited and energized to be in the company of such dedicated educators. Looking back at the experience, I feel like I accepted the award for the entire RRMS staff.

Question: Having your mortgage paid for a school year is a significant prize. How has winning this award impacted your life?

Answer: Having my mortgage paid for a whole school year was an extremely generous and significant prize for me. About nine years ago I purchased a small hundred-year-old bungalow in the Rose City neighborhood. The house had charm and was on the greatest block, but needed so many updates and repairs. Working on my house has proven an interesting journey of sorts over the years, as I have tried to do many things on my own. The financial support the OnPoint award offered has been incredible, and has helped me move further down the path towards making this house a real home, but also providing a little freedom to travel as well.

Question: In addition to your award, Ron Russell Middle School received a $1,000 donation for classroom resources and supplies. How has your school used this donation?

Answer: We will be using the donation as part of our Instructional Improvement Team, but we have not yet decided how. We are planning a meeting about it soon!

Question: Do you have any advice for teachers that are interested in applying for the OnPoint Prize?

Answer: The nomination came as a complete surprise to me. I have to give full credit to my principal and colleagues, especially Belle Koskela, our district Academic Language Coach, who put together the amazing application highlighting RRMS students. It was definitely an emotional experience for me when I read through the portfolio and watched the video of my students discussing their work and the things they learned. The video portfolio was a prize in itself, and something that I will cherish my entire career. As far as advice to teachers, I would simply say – never stop growing. Keep reflecting on your practice with an open mind, and don’t let up in providing students with the challenges and opportunities that will help them achieve their academic goals and aspirations. No matter how long you have been in the classroom, embrace the challenge of trying new things in constant effort to cause more learning.

Question: What really stood out about your application is the amazing work you do every day to encourage and support students. Is there anything else you want to tell us about that you’re working on right now?

Answer: The teachers in my building are all focused on providing our students with the best instruction, and creating opportunities for all our students to show that they are smart, each and every day. I am fortunate to be part of a school wide teacher leadership team here at RRMS, that we call the Instructional Improvement Team. The team is made up of inspiring teachers from all content areas and grade levels. Over the last four years, this team has met after school weekly and collaboratively created a focused plan for implementing building-wide instructional and engagement strategies that help us focus our instruction, and to keep students actively engaged in their learning every day. Challenging, engaging, and supporting students is what keeps me coming back day after day, and being part of a culture that fosters learning is how I best feel I support our students. If good teaching causes learning, I owe it to the students to get better at what I am doing, and continually work at improving. Every day I feel like I am learning right along with my students, and want to get better for them.

To learn more about the 2016 OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education campaign, click here.

Author: Acacia Kersey | Marketing Specialist | Marketing Services

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