By Ann Bush
NEWTON, Kan. – “Overall, education is not something that can be put in a box, and it is not just a list of strategies for someone to implement,” said Brian Skinner, an interrelated special education English teacher at Newton High School, Newton Unified School District 373. “Education is being able to connect with each of your students on an individual level, being able to build them to a place where they can see a realistic and successful future, and teaching the skills that will support adult learning and living. It’s about impacting a life for the better.”
Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson announced Skinner as the 2023 Teacher of the Year on Saturday, Sept. 24, during the 2023 Dale Dennis Kansas Teacher of the Year Banquet in Wichita. The banquet took place at the Marriott Hotel, 9100 E. Corporate Hills Drive.
“Brian is truly deserving of this honor,” Watson said. “He is a remarkable teacher and demonstrates strong leadership skills at Newton High School. Brian also plays an integral role beyond the classroom, serving on multiple committees and helping out where ever and whenever he is needed. Brian and the members of the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year team are great examples of the quality teachers we have in Kansas.”
Skinner was named the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year from a field of eight finalists.
Throughout the coming year, all of the finalists will work as a team to advocate for education and teaching.
Selected from a pool of more than 110 nominations, the other 2023 finalists are Jessica Gazzano, a sixth through eighth grade teacher at Woodland Spring Middle School (Spring Hill Unified School District 230); Erica Huggard, a biology and anatomy teacher at Emporia High School (Emporia USD 253); Mallory Keefe, a preschool teacher at Cheney Elementary School (Cheney USD 268); Pamela Munoz, a kindergarten teacher at McCarter Elementary School (Topeka USD 501); Kendal Norberg, a fourth grade teacher at Broadmoor Elementary School (Louisburg USD 416); Jaimie Swindler, a special education teacher at Ottawa High School (Ottawa USD 290); and Carly Torres, a fifth grade teacher at Wiley Elementary School (Hutchinson Unified School District 308).
Skinner has taught nine years – all at Newton High School. He is employed through the Harvey County Special Education Cooperative in Newton. He currently is the Newton High School special education department chair.
Skinner has served as the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) case manager for Project SEARCH, a one-year program that focuses exclusively on vocational skills within the community for students with significant disabilities who have completed their high school academic program.
Outside of the special education department, Skinner also has taught general education for Newton’s virtual program from 2016 through 2020 and served as an adjunct history professor for Bethel College in 2017.
Skinner is a leader within his district. He started and expanded co-teaching for Newton High School’s English department in 2017 and has been Newton High’s Scholars Bowl coach since 2015. Skinner also has worked as a concessions manager since 2014, serves on the building leadership team, as well as site council, and is chair of Newton High School’s Freshmen Success Student Learning Team. The team is comprised of teachers, counselors and administrators and is designed to assist incoming high school students in being successful.
“Working with students across such a wide spectrum helps me to best understand all students and have a larger impact in helping build a positive school culture,” Skinner said.
He graduated from Clay Center Community High School in Clay Center. Skinner received his bachelor’s in history from Bethel College in 2012 and a master’s in teaching and learning from Friends University in 2017.
Skinner wants to “communicate a message of how all of the little pieces of differentiation within teaching are able to meet students where they are on a cognitive level, but also on a social and emotional level.”
“Being able to unlock the puzzle for how a specific child learns is the first step to helping them achieve their potential,” he said.
Caleb Smith, principal at Newton high School, describes Skinner as a data guru. Skinner utilizes data to improve student learning in his classroom and is an expert at creating and supporting a classroom that emotionally and physically enables students to function and remain engaged in their work.
“Mr. Skinner is the essence of a leader in his classroom,” Smith said. “He regularly collaborates and works with administration, counselors, social workers, front office staff and teachers of all departments. He is a leader through tireless work ethic. He is the first teacher to arrive, and the last to leave. Mr. Skinner is second to none at developing relationships. He takes pride in being able to connect with all students and help them recognize and reach their potential.”
Jeanne Harper, a licensed specialist clinical social worker and certified clinical trauma professional with the Harvey County Special Education Cooperative, has worked with Skinner for seven years.
“Brian displays the qualities of a teacher who not only focuses on education but also the development of healthy social-emotional skills,” Harper said. “He is an asset to our students, families, school and community.”
During Saturday’s banquet ceremony, Kim Gronniger, director of marketing, wholesaled business, for Security Benefit Corp., presented Skinner with a $4,000 cash award.
In addition, Skinner will receive the Kansas Teacher of the Year Lifelong Learning Scholarship to attend participating universities free of charge as long as he continues teaching in Kansas. He also will receive The Hubbard Foundation Kansas Teacher of the Year Ambassadorship, which provides funding for travel and other necessary expenses incurred by the Kansas Teacher of the Year.
Skinner will receive the use of a rental car from Enterprise Rent-a-Car for Kansas Teacher of the Year travel, and Jostens Inc. will provide Skinner with a Leader in Education ring.
All eight members of the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year team receive a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit and a red marble apple from the Master Teacher in Manhattan. In addition, each will receive Capturing Kids’ Hearts training from The Flippen Group, of College Station, Texas, and a one-year membership in the Kansas State Teachers of the Year organization.
The Teacher of the Year program has state and national competitions. The national program, presented by Voya Financial, is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Kansas program is sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education.
Skinner is now a candidate for National Teacher of the Year.
“Now more than ever, students are coming into classrooms needing differentiation that is through more than a purely academic focus,” Skinner said. “To be able to differentiate within a classroom is to be able to see and adapt for each student both academically and emotionally. It’s tough. It’s exhausting, and it takes time. But it’s worth it.”