Detroit Lakes teachers honor 6 of their own with 'Teacher of the Year' award

Rather than choosing just one Teacher of the Year, Detroit Lakes Public Schools' faculty decided to honor one teacher at each of its six buildings with the Michelle Harris Teacher of the Year Award.

Detroit Lakes Teachers of the Year.jpg
The six people honored as Detroit Lakes Public Schools' Teachers of the Year were, from left: Tim Siewert, Detroit Lakes High School; Michelle Greene, Lincoln Early Childhood Education Center; Jill Schramel, Roosevelt Elementary School; Dennis Weaver, Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center; Kris Swenson, Rossman Elementary School; and Nicole Courneya, Detroit Lakes Middle School.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — When beloved Detroit Lakes Middle School EBD teacher Michelle Harris lost her battle with colon cancer in 2009 , the school district's Teacher of the Year Award was renamed in her honor.

Every year since then, one teacher from the district has been chosen to receive the award — until this past Tuesday, when six teachers were given the honor.

One teacher from each of the district's six educational facilities — Roosevelt Elementary, Rossman Elementary, Lincoln Early Childhood Education Center, Detroit Lakes Area Learning Center, Detroit Lakes Middle School and Detroit Lakes High School — was chosen by staff vote at each facility, rather than just one overall winner.

For the past several years, the six winners from each building were entered into a drawing to determine who was the Teacher of the Year; this year, all of them were honored instead. Each of the nominees for each building's award were also recognized during the Tuesday ceremony.

Brief summaries of each of the nominee's contributions to the district were read by one chosen spokesperson from each building, after which the winner was announced. The winners named at Tuesday's ceremony are:


Area Learning Center: Dennis Weaver

A science teacher at the ALC for the past 19 years, Weaver was honored for being "always willing to help our students in or outside of class," according to spokesperson Carli Daniel.

"He has a great sense of humor and our students warm up to him quickly, and love joking around with Mr. Weaver," she added. "He's the type of teacher who's never hidden behind his desk, anytime you poke your head in his classroom, he is always sitting at a table with his students. He also has created a fun Friday experience for our students to explore trade programs, and working hands-on in the community."

High School: Tim Siewert

A band teacher in the district for the past eight years, Siewert was lauded by his fellow teachers, Amy Lakin and Matt Jenson, who stated the following: "Tim has continually improved the Band Program at DLHS. The numbers of students involved continues to increase.

"Tim created the Drumline, a new offering at DLHS. This is a new venture that has provided a unique opportunity for our students. Tim's students are engaged and have fun while kicking out some awesome music. We're very fortunate to have Tim as the leader of our Band program."

Middle School: Nicole Courneya

An English and language arts teacher in the district for the past 18 years, Nicole Courneya was honored for being "a consistent but quiet leader in our building," according to spokesperson Becca Vinje

"She teaches from her heart, with a persistent sense of caring for her students," Vinje continued. "Her delivery of lessons is genuine and clear, and her ability to convey meaningful applications of language arts concepts ensures her students are able to identify relevance for the material they are learning.

"For my students who are in special ed, she incorporates accommodations and modifications into her assessments without fail and in a manner that ensures rigor of material is not compromised. Discipline is fair, and gentle. And at the end of the day — she is a good person with a big heart. How can you not feel welcomed and special after being in her presence?"

Roosevelt Elementary School: Jill Schramel

A special education and speech teacher with the district for the past 19 years, Roosevelt's Jill Schramel was honored for being "truly outstanding at her work," according to spokesperson Bill Broderius.


"She is popular with students, families and colleagues," he continued. "She is kind, and cares about each one of them. She can reach the most difficult and loves the challenges it may bring with it. Her classroom always has a positive atmosphere. She knows her discipline well and has shared numerous ideas with others. She is a professional teacher.

"Jill is just the best," Broderius added. "She’s a leader in our special education program! She maintains a positive attitude even when crap hits the fan. She always has a solution to any problem we bring to her and if she doesn’t, she will find one. She is an expert at her craft and so many others as well. She truly is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to all things special ed. Not only is she so good to us as teachers, but the relationships she builds with her kids is second to none. She encourages, teaches, and helps all kids grow. She builds relationships with every kid she works with and the kids she doesn’t work with as well! She is their friend, but holds them to high expectations and provides such fun and unique learning experiences for our kids. She is such an asset to our special education team, and to Roosevelt!"

Rossman Elementary School: Kris Swenson

A physical education teacher with the district for the past 17 years, Kris Swenson was honored for being "a smiling face for the kids — and adults — to see every day," according to spokesperson Rian Heimark.

"The kids know that when they head to phy. ed., they're going to have a positive person encouraging them while they're in the gym," he continued. "In the short amount of time that she sees kids each day, Kris is exceptional at forming relationships with kids. Every year at back to school conferences, kids excitedly ask if they get Ms. Swenson for phy. ed., and that's a testament to those strong relationship-building skills. She's also an amazing coworker and leader in our school. She has served our school community in numerous leadership roles and is a big piece as to why Rossman is such a great place. Having a positive impact on kids and our school community are perfect examples of why Kris is more than deserving of being nominated for Teacher of the Year in Detroit Lakes!

Lincoln Early Childhood Education Center: Melissa Greene

A preschool teacher with the district for the past 20 years, most of them spent at the Lincoln Education Center, Melissa Greene was honored by her peers for being a creative teacher who "is dedicated to the well-being of her students," according to spokesperson Lisa Lindstrom.

"She integrates her entire team to meet the educational goals for our littlest Lakers," Lindstrom continued. "It's an honor to work with Melissa, who is so deserving to be the DLPS teacher of the year! Melissa is a passionate and skilled teacher with many years of experience and expertise. She is an incredible advocate for her students and provides individualized teaching to meet the needs of all her kids.

"Melissa provides a fun, nurturing environment in her classroom that is maintained by clear routines and expectations. Lincoln is lucky to have Melissa as a Kindergarten Readiness teacher."

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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