Southwest Junior High’s Chris Drinkhouse named 2010-11 Lawrence Secondary Teacher of the Year

Chris Drinkhouse, left, is congratulated by fellow teacher Nici Coulson, right, after it was announced that Drinkhouse, the learning strategies teacher at Southwest Junior High School, was awarded Wednesday as the 2010-11 Lawrence Secondary Teacher of the Year.

Chris Drinkhouse is the Lawrence school district’s 2010-11 Lawrence Secondary Teacher of the Year because she’s nothing short of a “miracle worker,” able to blend the roles of “teacher, mentor, mother, good friend and drill sergeant” into a single educator.

Rick Doll, district superintendent, couldn’t read the words — written by Melissa Stucky, one of Drinkhouse’s colleagues — out loud Wednesday afternoon without pausing.

“What a combo,” Doll said, looking up to a crowd of 60 teachers, staffers, family and others gathered at Southwest Junior High School.

Drinkhouse, of course, had a different reaction.

“I’ve been called a lot of things. I’m not sure ‘miracle worker’ is one of them, but I’ll take it,” she said, all smiles upon receiving the district award. “(Earlier) today I was called an ‘enabler.’ “

The observation triggered laughter throughout the room, and a few minutes later she was trading handshakes and accepting joyous hugs, both for workplace recognition long deserved and for her ongoing dedication to help students succeed at Southwest, where she started 16 years ago as a paraeducator and, a year later, became a special education teacher.

Now she’s in her sixth year as a learning strategies teacher, helping students who don’t qualify for special education instruction receive the attention they need to succeed in school.

From gifted students spacing off their homework to classmates struggling as their parents go through a contentious divorce, Drinkhouse sees it all and works through it all.

“I consider myself an academic coach,” she said, after the seemingly endless line of congratulatory colleagues had departed.

Fellow teachers welcome her varied game plans.

“She approaches each student as an individual — pushing kids who need a push, hugging kids who need a hug, feeding kids who aren’t getting fed at home and driving kids who might not otherwise make it to school that day,” said Carolyn Welch, Southwest’s music teacher, in her nomination letter. “She knows a myriad of different ways to motivate a student and won’t give up until she’s found one that works.”

For her efforts, Drinkhouse received a $1,000 check from KU Credit Union and will be the district’s nominee for the Kansas Secondary Teacher of the Year, to be presented by the Kansas State Department of Education. She’ll also have her photo taken and displayed at district headquarters, alongside those of other award-winning educators.

The image certainly could include a student like Sam Moore, an eighth-grader whose words about Drinkhouse left Doll almost speechless again.

“She is a very discerning person, and when she notices that some students are sad, she offers advice and guidance,” Doll read. “When she does this, it makes me glad that someone actually cares.”