Central DeWitt CSD Employee of the Month

MAY 2024

Kim Behrend

We are proud to recognize Kim Behrend as the May Employee of the Month for her outstanding contributions to fostering relationships and creating a more inclusive school environment.

Ms. Behrend, a dedicated associate at Ekstrand Elementary, has gone above and beyond in her role by initiating a "Lunch Buddy" program that helps bridge the gap between general education students and students with special needs. She realized that by facilitating meaningful interactions, such as eating lunch together, she could help students not only improve their social skills but give them a chance to get to know each other and find common ground, thus building strong friendships. 

“I have noticed her efforts paying off,” First Grade Teacher Rebecca Wackerle said. “The kids are learning from her how to interact and include others who might not learn the same way they do, but do have things in common with them. My students can't wait for their turn to eat with her small group to learn more about inclusion.” 

Since its inception, the Lunch Buddy program has received overwhelming support and has fostered an environment where all students feel valued and included. Ms. Behrend’s determination to make this program succeed has not only enriched the lives of special needs students but also positively impacted the entire student body by promoting empathy, patience, and inclusivity.

Ms. Behrend isn’t stopping there, though. This year she began helping coach Special Olympics and she has other ideas and learning opportunities to promote inclusion that she hopes to implement next year. Ultimately, Ms. Behrend would love to see Ekstrand Elementary join the ranks of the other Central DeWitt schools as a National Unified Champion School. To earn that title, schools are chosen by Special Olympics North America for having “an inclusive school climate and exuding a sense of collaboration, engagement, and respect for all members of the student body and staff.” Schools also have to meet 10 national standards of excellence. Currently, CDHS, CDMS, and CDIS are three of only 10 schools in Iowa to ever attain this achievement.

It's not just about the title for Ms. Behrend, though. She truly cares about the students she works with wants them to have every opportunity to shine. Parents often credit Ms. Behrend for helping their children “find themselves” and for playing an instrumental role in the success of their children’s’ development and educational journey.  

Ms. Behrend has always been passionate about education, but feels that working as an associate has solidified her sense of purpose. She is currently pursuing a teaching degree in special education, driven by her commitment to making a long-term impact in this field. Her experience as an associate has provided crucial insight that will help her be an effective and successful special education teacher.

 Overall, her work is a testament to the power of empathy and the positive impact one individual can have on an entire school. We appreciate all you have done, Ms. Behrend! You are a true SABER!

APRIL 2024

Terri Smith

Congratulations to Terri Smith the April Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month!

Teaching STEM has become about so much more than helping students understand science, technology, engineering and math for CDMS STEM Technology Teacher Terri Smith. As her program has developed over the last nine years, it has also become about inclusion and creating a positive environment where students of all abilities are given the confidence to accomplish anything they put their minds to.

This started a few years ago, when Special Olympics Coach Megan Jackson approached Ms. Smith with the idea of teaching a Peer STEM class. This is a class in which middle school students participate and support STEM students with special needs in learning computer science skills, engineering, and more. It didn’t take long after she was approached for plans to come together.

What started out as a one-semester class, has now grown into a year-long course due to its popularity and endless learning opportunities. From the Peer STEM class, a Special Olympics Robotics team was formed, which in the beginning Ms. Smith gave up a prep period in order to be able to provide the opportunity.

Now the first semester of Peer STEM focuses on Robotics and assisting our Special Olympics Robotics Team while the second semester is spent doing all kinds of STEM-related projects. Most recently, students are learning about movement and patterns by creating a drumline using light-up LED sticks. The sticks were purchased with a grant from The Education Foundation of Central DeWitt.

The hope is the drumline will perform at assemblies and other school events giving these students a way to participate in something they wouldn’t have been able to in the past. Ms. Smith is always searching for and implementing new ideas, like the drumline, and is grateful to work in an environment where she feels supported.

“The administration is so supportive of all of the different things that I’ve wanted to try or some of my crazy ideas,” Ms. Smith said. “I feel like our school is really good about saying ‘sure, let’s see how we can get this to work.’”

One of the biggest benefits Ms. Smith has noticed since starting the Peer STEM class is how student relationships have changed. She enjoys seeing students who may not have interacted before now saying hello to each other in the hall and even beyond the walls of the school. She is proud of how the school district is helping to teach students to be inclusive.

It isn’t just in the STEM classroom where Ms. Smith has made an impact. For the first 12 years of her teaching career she inspired students’ creativity as the art teacher at Ekstrand Elementary. And throughout the year she coaches middle school cross country, 7th grade girls basketball, 7th grade boys track, four FIRST Lego League teams, and serves as an assistant coach for Special Olympics.

Her dedication to her work, her students, and the school community is truly remarkable and has earned her the Southeast Region Iowa STEM Teacher Award and this month she was recognized as an “Inspire the Future: FIRST Educators Recognition Program” honoree.

Her commitment to creating engaging and inclusive learning experiences showcases her passion for making a positive impact beyond traditional teaching boundaries. Her efforts are cultivating a more supportive and welcoming environment at Central DeWitt. We are grateful for that and appreciate all you do at Central DeWitt, Ms. Smith!

MARCH 2024

Spencer Lueders

Congratulations to Spencer Lueders the March Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month!

For CDIS Principal Spencer Lueders, building positive relationships is a top priority. That’s why most mornings he begins his day around 4 a.m. to tackle administrative tasks so he can spend the school day interacting with students and staff. Even when he has emails to return or plans to read during the day, he can most likely be found completing those tasks while rolling his walking desk through the halls. He said he raised a few eyebrows doing this when he first became a principal, but it helps him be visible and build relationships with students.

 “I try to spend at least 70 percent of my day out in the hallways,” Mr. Lueders said. “There's always work to do as an administrator, but it's imperative to be out and get to know students.”

 Building relationships is something both students and staff see as Mr. Lueders’s  greatest strength. Parents have also praised Mr. Lueders for the connections he has made with their children and the positive effect it has had on their child’s well-being and desire to attend school. 

While he tries to maximize the number of positive interactions he has with students, there are times when tough conversations are needed. But, because he has invested his time in getting to know students and shows he truly cares about every student, it makes these situations a little easier and often they turn into positive experiences. 

“I just look at it as each day is a clean slate,” Mr. Lueders said. “Maybe they made a decision that wasn't great before, but, you know, it doesn't mean that it's a bad year or a bad week or a bad day. And, it's important for kids to know that they're not a bad kid. When I talk with kids, we might spend a little bit of time talking about the past and using reflection, but it's imperative our mind and our eyes are focused on how we can change moving forward. Talking them through that is key.”

Another thing that is important to Mr. Lueders is fostering a positive school environment that serves everyone. Mr. Lueders said having a positive environment “is everything” and he helps create that through “intentional kindness.” Students and staff agree saying that interactions with Mr. Lueders make them feel welcomed, appreciated, and supported. Mr. Lueders also contributes to a positive environment by encouraging staff to seek out and spread positivity, pushing them to grow professionally and supporting new opportunities that benefit everyone.

“We want the school to be a really awesome environment for everybody,” Mr. Lueders said. “Academically we continue to help kids grow in a way that better prepares them for the future but we also are looking at the overall experience of our kids within our school district. Whether it's additional learning opportunities right where we are or thinking outside of the box to provide opportunities for kids. One example is the craft show, and those ideas are not generated by me. Those ideas are generated by kids and by our staff members.”

The craft show was an opportunity for CDIS students to sell their hand-crafted items before school. It was brought about by a student who presented the idea to Extended Learning Program Teacher Mrs. Hahn, who in turn presented it to Mr. Lueders. After considering the learning opportunities that could come from this, CDIS made it happen with great success. Mr. Lueders credits this kind of innovation, passion, dedication and leadership shown by students and staff for most of the successes at CDIS.

“We have an awesome staff that are here for the right reasons, and we're moving things in a really promising direction,” Mr. Lueders said. “For me, it's about the people that work within our buildings and the students that we serve. I wish I could just give the award to all of them because it's really their work. I'm just a small puzzle piece to what we're trying to do here.”


Hagan Ackley

Congratulations to Hagan Ackley the February Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month!  

In his first year of teaching at Central DeWitt, Special Education Teacher Mr. Ackley has already made a huge impact on both students and staff at Ekstrand Elementary. His ability to form strong relationships with students and his willingness to support his co-workers is what makes him a valuable part of our Saber family and our employee of the month.

“Mr. Ackley is a valuable asset to our Saber community,” First Grade Teacher Mrs. Dirksen said. “He is extremely patient with his students. He builds a lasting relationship, so each student knows that he cares about their individual needs. But, not only does he do that for his students, he builds relationships through collaboration, and concern for the teachers as well.” 

Mr. Ackley said part of why he relates to students who struggle with behaviors in school is because elementary school was a difficult time for him.

“I caused a little trouble here and there and I think something for me was I connected with one of my teachers very well in about the second or third grade,” Mr. Ackley said. “She established the mindset in me that I can do anything as long as I try my best and I put my best foot forward. I'd say that's something that really inspired me to be in education.”

Throughout his many years working with youth and teaching, Mr. Ackley discovered he had a deep passion for helping kids work through their problems and teaching them how to self-regulate. He finds having an open mind and the perspective that “everybody, no matter who they are when they come to school, might have something going on that you don't know about” helps him understand behaviors. He also finds it’s important to be respond calmly rather than react to a situation.

“His demeanor with his students is very calming, kind and caring. He talks through many tough situations with the students and gives them guidance on ways to improve moving forward,” Ann Bixby, District School Nurse said.

Mr. Ackley is grateful for the grace staff and administration have shown him while settling into his position this year. He also gives them, as well as the overall environment at Ekstrand Elementary, for helping him find success as a teacher.

“We have a wonderful support staff, whether it is associates that are helping me throughout the day or the teachers that I work with and collaborate with, we're all in it for the same goal,” he said. “And, I know some days it can feel like we're doing so many academic things but one thing I've gathered here in DeWitt is we're in the business of making well-rounded, good people. And, that with all of that at our core, I think it enables us to really establish great routines and expectations for students. You can just see it when you walk around the building how great it is here.”

Mr. Ackley said he feels at home here in the Central DeWitt Community School District and looks forward to the day his newborn son will attend school here. We look forward to that, too! Thank you, Mr. Ackley, for your calming demeanor, encouragement, and dedication which helps so many at Central DeWitt. We are lucky to have you!


Doug Crank

Congratulations to Doug Crank the January Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month!  

If you visit any of our schools, chances are you’ll run into Doug Crank. That’s because as assistant to buildings and grounds, Mr. Crank does a little bit of everything in every Central DeWitt building. He is responsible for maintaining and fixing electrical and plumbing, keeping the grounds safe and manicured, he helps move things, deliver things, pick up things, and he even drives a school bus route before and after school. In fact, it’s impossible to list all of the ways Mr. Crank contributes to make Central DeWitt the best it can be.

 Mr. Crank enjoys the variety of tasks that come with his job. But what he won’t tell you because he is modest, is that he and the other operations employees, often face demanding and dangerous conditions while on the job. During winter months when there is ice or snow, they begin snow removal, salting sidewalks and parking lots, and preparing buses as early as 2:30 or 3:30 a.m. to ensure the safety of students and staff when they arrive for the school day.

 “Doug often contributes greatly in so many ways within our buildings,” Netty Schneider, CDIS secretary, said. “It’s reassuring to know that there are dedicated individuals like him who go above and beyond to ensure that our roads/sidewalks are clear, even in the harshest of weather.”

 It isn’t just his hard work that is appreciated by students and staff, it’s also his can-do attitude and friendly demeanor.

 “He is so kind and always puts a smile on my face and says “hi” to me when he sees me,” sixth grader Charlotte Pauly said.

 Mr. Crank enjoys interacting with students and gets a kick out of running into those who ride his bus in the halls and hearing them tell their friends, “That’s my bus driver.” He also enjoys the people he works with, some of who have become his closest friends.

In the six years that Mr. Crank has worked at Central DeWitt, he has become a beloved employee that can always be counted on and we are grateful to have him in our Saber family!   



We are excited to announce that 5th-8th Band Teacher Brittany Wedeking has been chosen as the December Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month!

In the numerous nominations Mrs. Wedeking received, it is very clear her students feel valued by her and they appreciate her authenticity. Again and again, students mentioned how patient, kind, and fun she is as a teacher. They also admire how she helps them persevere when struggling to learn something new.

“She has taught me things I thought I could never learn,” student Raylee Swanson said. “And, she gets it when you don’t know how to do something or when you’re having a rough day. There are not enough people in the world that are like Mrs. Wedeking.”

 For Mrs. Wedeking, her love of teaching band isn’t just about students learning to play an instrument. The more meaningful part for her are the life lessons, such as accountability, discipline, responsibility, teamwork and resiliency, students learn while being a part of a large team. She also added that it’s an experience for students unlike anything else with many other benefits.

“My research in college was all about how music is the only activity that you can do that uses all the parts of your brain together. It helps train your brain to do other things well,” Mrs. Wedeking said.

During her 11 years teaching at Central DeWitt, Brittany has shown unwavering dedication and commitment to helping students achieve their full potential. Her unique ability to connect with her students, making them feel heard and understood, fosters a positive learning environment students look forward to attending. She will no doubt continue to be a favorite for many more students!



We are excited to announce that CDIS 5thGrade Teacher Angela Hofer has been chosen as the November Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month!

 It’s evident when you speak with Mrs. Hofer that she genuinely cares about each child's well-being and strives to provide them with the necessary support and guidance to reach their full potential. She goes beyond teaching academic skills to emphasize the importance of kindness, empathy, and inclusion. She feels it’s important to instill those qualities at a young age in hopes students will carry it with them the rest of their lives.  

She also strongly believes in leading by example and often shares her experiences of spreading and encountering kindness with her students.

 This fall on a trip to Wisconsin, Mrs. Hofer came across SMACK cards which stand for “Spreading Messages of Affirmation + Compassion + Kindness.” Each card, which Mrs. Hofer loves to leave for people wherever she goes, has words of kindness and encouragement on them. After sharing these cards with her class, she discovered one of her students made their own version of cards and gave them to her classmates. Mrs. Hofer was so touched by this gesture that she reached out to SMACK to let them know how they inspired her student which prompted SMACK to send the student her own set of cards.  

 Her commitment to spreading kindness and promoting a positive learning environment has had a huge impact on her students as well as Central DeWitt Intermediate School as a whole.

 “Her commitment to fostering a positive learning environment has created a ripple effect within CDIS,” CDIS Principal Spencer Lueders said. “Her influence reaches beyond the academic realm, shaping individuals into confident and compassionate learners. We appreciate the work that she does every day!”

 A few years ago, Mrs. Hofer started the Kindness Crew which has become wildly popular at CDIS. The Kindness Crew is a group of students who come together to spread kindness and positivity in the school and in the community. They enthusiastically greet students and staff on Friday mornings in front of the school to start the day off on a positive note. They also participate in several acts of kindness throughout the community such as playing games with Fieldstone residents, hosting canned food drives and “Socktober” where they collect socks for those in need. Kindness Crew members are also becoming more involved at school assemblies with the goal to host them in the future.

 “Not only is Angie a great teacher and leader, but she champions a Kindness Crew and encourages kids to volunteer for Inclusion activities,” Central DeWitt parent Amie Strohman-Figley said. “She strives to make sure everyone knows they matter and this is above and beyond typical classroom duties. She has really made a significant, positive impact on my daughter. We need more people who think this way.”

 Eli Voss, a Central DeWitt parent who also nominated Mrs. Hofer, credits her for the positive changes in his child as well. He said that because of Mrs. Hofer his child looks forward to attending school this year and has gained confidence to become more involved.

“(Mrs. Hofer) is a positive adult female for her to be around and look up to,” Voss said. “It's very apparent to me how positively she is being impacted due to the changes I've seen in her just from the beginning of the school year.”

 In the 25 years Mrs. Hofer has taught at Central DeWitt, she has been a shining example of what it means to be a dedicated and compassionate employee. We are grateful to have her as a part of our Saber family and hope her kindness and dedication continue to inspire us all.



We are excited to announce that Laurie Wildes has been chosen as the very first Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month! 

Mrs. Wildes has been with the CDCSD for over 30 years, even retiring once and coming back when help was needed. She has worn many hats over the years including kitchen manager,  job coach, associate for the BD program, junior class sponsor, bleacher supervisor, middle school coach, and this year, a speech class monitor. 

What stands out about Mrs. Wildes isn’t just the number of responsibilities she has taken on over the years, but her positive attitude, willingness to help without hesitation, and her unwavering dedication. In 28 years of supervising the bleachers at football games, she has only missed one Friday night to attend her daughter’s rehearsal dinner. 

According to CDHS Industrial Technology Teacher Tom Prombo, Mrs. Wildes tries every day to make our schools a better place by giving help where needed. 

“She is an old-school, hardworking lady whose efforts and caring show in the school,” Mr. Prombo said.

Mrs. Wildes makes it very clear that her number one priority is the students and their well-being. She has always felt comfortable interacting with students and does whatever she can to make sure they have a great school experience.

Freshman Hailee Peters acknowledged how Mrs. Wildes shows genuine concern for students by asking how they are doing in the hallways and freshman Patrick Soesbe said Mrs. Wildes “is the G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time).”

We couldn’t agree more! Thank you Mrs. WIldes for all you have done and continue to do for CDCSD!

The Central DeWitt Community School District Employee of the Month program is meant to show appreciation for the efforts of employees who contribute to our success and help fulfill our mission statement. Outstanding employees deserve to be recognized for both their exceptional performance and for being a role model to our students and other employees.

This district-wide program gives Central DeWitt employees, parents, students and community members the opportunity to help us recognize outstanding employees by sharing positive personal experiences. We encourage you to take a moment to nominate a deserving Central DeWitt employee today!

All full-time and part-time employees are eligible to be nominated for employee of the month. An employee may be chosen as the employee of the month only once during the current school year. Employees who were nominated, but not chosen as the employee of the month, will be recognized as “Saber Superstars” on social media.

We are excited to receive nominations and celebrate the hard work and dedication of our employees!