From left: Heather Badders, Nate Hunt and Jane Rockafellow are this year's Outstanding People for Education award winners
The Outstanding People for Education awards go to a principal, a parapro and volunteer for Otsego Public Schools this year. They were chosen from an incredible field of 25 nominees.

The Outstanding People for Education award is now in its 9th year; it is sponsored by the Allegan County Schools Boards Association. Up to three people from each of the district’s in the AAESA (Allegan Area Educational Service Agency) can be chosen for this award.

This is a unique award in that it can be given to anyone involved in the education of our students here at Otsego Public Schools – a volunteer, a teacher, an administrator, bus driver, and secretary, custodian, or classroom aide. This award recognizes someone involved in education that has made a difference in the overall quality of education in the district, in a building, classroom or even to an individual student.

Winners are selected by a committee that is made up of at least one board member, an administrator, a teacher and a support staff employee. This is a different group each year and they have an extremely tough task of choosing three of our nominees to receive the award.

This year’s winners are:

Heather Badders, Washington Street Elementary Principal
Heather has been an elementary principal for Otsego since 2002, starting at Allegan Street Elementary, then transferring with it to Washington Street Elementary. “It is truly an honor,” she says to have received this award. Several of her staff members nominated her for the award, describing her as a leader, supportive, caring, dedicated, always there to listen, and encouraging. She is an educational leader in the community and is known for going above and beyond for the students of WSE. She not only leads WSE, she oversees Learn ‘n Grow Preschool, is the Early Childhood Liaison for the county, and is a mother of two girls. She has encouraged her staff members to begin initiatives or add new programs that will benefit families like backpack buddies, bridge builders, warriors, watchdogs and jump start. She’s also known for stepping into the classroom to teach her students her hobbies like cooking or soap-making or dressing up to read to the kids. It is the largest elementary in the district, but she knows all 450 students by name, and their needs and works to meet their academic and social-emotional needs, “Our students are my passion and we want to make sure they are taken care of in and out of the classroom,” she says.

Her daughter also nominated her saying, “She is an amazing role model to all; she is also a great teacher and knows what to do if a kid is in trouble. She is a definite problem-solver. Above all, she loves everyone.”

Nate Hunt, Volunteer
Nate has been volunteering at Otsego for four years with the OHS FIRST Robotics program and is also a member of the Otsego Public Schools’ STEAM committee. “I am flattered,” he says of winning the award, “It reminds me that the effort is valuable and appreciated.” He is the owner of Peloton, Inc. in Otsego, which focuses on design engineering and manufacturing. The first year that Otsego decided to participate in FIRST Robotics and form a robotics team, Nate signed on to help. He has helped all four years and is at almost every meeting they have during their 6-week building period. Students have to design, build and program the robot. Along with coming to OHS, he brings them into his business and teaches them how to use the equipment so they can build out their idea; the students drill, cut, mill, sew, wire, solder and fabricate parts for the robot. He also He serves on the district STEAM committee to assist the school in development goals and ideas on how to prepare the next generation workforce for the local job community. He has also extended his relationships with the students by providing them internships and job opportunities at Peloton and encourages them to then give back to the school by volunteering with the robotics teams. Nate also talks with our middle school design and modeling class students about how his work relates to what they’re learning in class. “I really enjoy seeing growing minds learn something and then take it beyond my imagination. It teaches me to continue pushing beyond my perceived limits.”

Jane Rockafellow, Parapro at West Campus High School
Jane Rockafellow is retiring this year after working 30 years at Otsego Public Schools; her last eight years has been as a parapro at Otsego’s West Campus High School. She was a supportive, caring, motherly figure that many of those students need and was nominated for all she does for them, “I feel very honored to be nominated for the Outstanding People for Education Award and was in some very respected and highly regarded company,” she says. In her position, Jane supports the students, advocates for them, motivates them and also holds them accountable. She creates a warm and welcoming environment encouraging them academically, but also making sure their personal needs are met, buying hats, gloves, hygiene products, food and more. She helps them look for jobs and get jobs. Alumni come back to see her because of how much she did for them and the impact she made. She said she loved coming to school every day to an “amazing” job at WCHS, “In my 30-year career, I have met and worked with some wonderful people. We all had a common goal to make sure the students had a safe and inviting learning environment.”

This group of kids can be a challenge, but, to quote from her nomination “it’s very evident to everyone that sees her interact with her students that she’s up to that challenge and always goes above and beyond any expectation to ensure that the kids know she cares deeply for them.”

All of our nominees were recognized at the May Board of Education meeting: 

  • Heather Badders, Washington Street Elementary Principal
  • Lori Bronkema, Elementary and Middle School Health and PE teacher
  • Brian Corbett, 5th grade teacher at Alamo
  • Erin Cramer, Special education teacher at the high school
  • Mike Cramer, Volunteer for OHS and OMS students
  • Herve Dardis, Otsego High School Principal
  • Mary Grile, Assistant Principal of Otsego High School
  • Mary Megan Heintz, 2nd grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Michelle Holmes, 3rd grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Becky Hooker, Media Center aide at Washington Street Elementary
  • Nate Hunt, volunteer for robotics teams
  • Jennifer Knight, 1st grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Eileen Lane, 2nd grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Jennifer Loomis, 5th grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Michael Miller, elementary and high school technology teacher, robotics coach
  • Catherine Moore, 4th grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Kathy Reifert, 2nd grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Jennifer Rickstad, tutor at Washington Street Elementary
  • Jane Rockafellow, Para Pro at West Campus High School
  • Lori Smalldon, 5th grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Sally Sterling, OPS Speech Therapist
  • Shannon TerMeer, 5th grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Kristin VanWyk, Kindergarten teacher at Dix Street Elementary
  • Kim Winchel, 4th grade teacher at Washington Street Elementary
  • Nancy Zyzelewski, Special Education teacher at Otsego High School