Twenty years ago, fresh out of college and his student-teaching stint at Lawrence High School, Stuart Strecker wanted to be part of something brand new. So he took a job at Free State High School, which had just opened its doors in the fall of 1997.
Strecker is still teaching there, and on Tuesday, staff, students and community leaders thanked him for his service with the Lawrence Schools Foundation’s 2017 Special Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“Things like a big check for a teacher from time to time — those are things that show the community really does value you,” Strecker, who teaches Spanish, said moments after receiving his $10,000 check from the foundation.
Dena Johnston, the foundation’s executive director, presented the award Tuesday with Scott Morgan, who serves as president of the foundation’s board of directors. More commonly known as the Bobs Award — because it's named after a group of anonymous donors who share the first name Bob — the prize is presented each year to a Lawrence teacher who exhibits excellent teaching skills and a commitment to education and student achievement.
Before surprising Strecker with the award during a school assembly Tuesday, Johnston and Morgan read from letters submitted by Strecker’s colleagues and students, which praised his ability to inspire and engage kids in their learning.
“Before taking Mr. Strecker’s class, I always dreaded attending lessons in foreign languages,” Paige Lawrence, a student of Strecker’s, wrote in her nomination. “That all changed when I had Strecker for the first time. He made me excited for every class period … Thanks to him, I will be pursuing Spanish in college.”
“Most students have never had a teacher quite like him,” Esther Romero, a fellow Spanish teacher at Free State, wrote in praise of her coworker. In her nomination, Romero said she has taught for more than 20 years, in four schools, in two countries. Across the decades and geographic borders, “(I) can honestly say Stu Strecker is the finest teacher I have worked with,” Romero said.
He’s also a “modest” educator who truly enjoys sharing ideas with others and seeing students succeed, Romero said of Strecker, who “doesn’t take himself too seriously” as head of the World Language department at Free State.
In addition to Spanish, Strecker has also taught German at the school. He holds bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish from the University of Kansas, as well as a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from KU.
Ever the educator, Strecker said Tuesday that he’d likely put his $10,000 check toward his own kids’ education. With two in college right now, “this couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Strecker joked.
When asked about his favorite part of the job, Strecker was quick to answer: “Just being in a community like Lawrence." It’s a place that's unique in its widespread support of public education, he said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re at Free State or Lawrence High School or any of the junior highs or elementary schools in this town — the support from the community is unbelievable,” Strecker said. “What you put into it as a teacher you get back from the students, from the parents, from the community.”