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Prairie Trail Middle School educator named 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year

Prairie Trail Middle School educator named 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year

‘I’m just showing up and doing my job,’ Mr. Buss said

The past week has been a whirlwind of activity for Taylor Bussinger, a social studies teacher at Prairie Trail Middle School, Olathe Unified School District 233. 

“It’s a lot to take in,” said Bussinger, who was named the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year on Saturday, Sept. 23, during a special ceremony in Wichita. 

While it’s nice that he is being recognized for “doing something right in his classroom,” he doesn’t necessarily see it as a celebration for “Mr. Buss,” as his students call him. Rather, he sees it as a celebration of his family, his colleagues and his community. 

“I’m just showing up and doing my job,” Bussinger said Wednesday afternoon during his plan period. “The best thing a teacher brings is their authentic self. This profession brings me passion and joy. I don’t know who I am without it.” 

Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson and Brian Skinner, the 2023 Kansas Teacher of the Year, announced Bussinger as the 2024 Teacher of the Year during the 2024 Dale Dennis Kansas Teacher of the Year Banquet. About 380 people gathered for the banquet at the Marriott Hotel, 9100 E. Corporate Hills Drive, in Wichita. 

 “As a former history teacher, it is truly an honor to announce Taylor as the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year,” Watson said. “He brings history alive for his students at Prairie Trail and continuously inspires curiosity in them. I want to wish Taylor and the members of the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year team success as they travel across the state during 2024 representing Kansas education.” 

Dale Dennis, for whom the banquet is named, and Susanne Martinez, the 2022 Kansas Teacher of the Year, Dodge City USD 443, served as emcees for the ceremony. Dennis served as deputy commissioner for the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) before he retired in 2020. He worked at KSDE for 53 years. Dennis currently works as a special assistant to Watson. 

Bussinger was named the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year from a field of eight finalists. 

After the announcement was made Saturday night, Bussinger received congratulatory hugs from his parents, Larry Bussinger and Veronica Ingram, and his wife, Jill Bussinger, who is a math teacher at Prairie Trail Middle School. 

Bussinger made his way to the stage as attendees gave him a standing ovation. Skinner, Watson and Dennis congratulated Bussinger, who then sat quietly in disbelief for a few minutes before giving remarks. 

“True education is authentic,” Bussinger said. “It’s messy. It’s real. It’s full of energy. It’s full of laughter. It’s full of tears, and it’s full of vibrant passion in which young people are inspired to be curious enough to know who they truly are in the context of an ever-changing world. And young people’s voices should be included in the narrative of what school should be. After all, it’s their future we are preparing them for.” 

Selected from a pool of more than 123 nominations, the other 2024 finalists are Erin Pittenger, an elementary teacher at St. George Elementary School (Rock Creek USD 323); Gretchen Elliott, a secondary art teacher at Smoky Valley High School (Smoky Valley USD 400); Fonda Telthorst, an elementary teacher at Piper Prairie Elementary School (Piper USD 203); Cherryl Delacruz, a high school mathematics teacher at Highland Park High School (Topeka USD 501); Michelle Tapko, a sixth-grade teacher at Roesland Elementary School (Shawnee Mission USD 512); Melissa Haney, an elementary teacher at Explorer Elementary School (Goddard USD 265); and Joanna Farmer, an agriculture teacher at Southeast High School (Wichita USD 259). 

Throughout the coming year, all of the finalists will work as a team to advocate for education and teaching. 

This is the 10th year that Bussinger has taught eighth-grade U.S. history at Prairie Trail Middle School. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in education with an emphasis on social studies in 2014 from The University of Kansas. In 2018, Bussinger earned his master’s in curriculum and instruction from KU. 

He is the head boys' basketball coach and head cross country coach at Prairie Trail Middle School. Bussinger also serves on the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports team and is the co-founder and sponsor of the school’s Diversity Club. 

“My personal story and journey stems from my passion for people, community building and authentic learning experiences,” Bussinger said. “I’m a high-energy individual, and I work hard to create a familial atmosphere in my personal and professional life as I strive to make students feel understood and valued.” 

Bussinger readily admits that he wasn’t a model student growing up in Lawrence, so he always appreciated teachers who saw him for who he truly was, including Diane Ash, who worked at Lawrence High School as a prevention specialist. Ash noticed Bussinger’s struggles and offered him the chance to join a program where he and other students could go to grade schools and mentor younger students. 

“I think my love for teaching stems from that,” Bussinger said. 

On top of Saturday’s celebratory news, Bussinger and his family also suffered heartbreak last week. His cousin recently died, and the family also had to attend a funeral on Sunday, Sept. 24, for his wife’s grandmother. 

But when Bussinger returned to Prairie Trail Middle School on Tuesday, there was a surprise waiting for him. 

“They had a parade,” he said. “I ran through the halls high-fiving people. They (students) have been pretty excited.” 

However, with his time in the spotlight, Bussinger also had to share some news with the students – he will be away from his social studies classes quite a bit next semester as he travels the state making presentations as the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year. 

Bussinger has received congratulatory remarks and emails from many people, including former students. 

“Our community and our students are so supportive,” he said. 

Ellie Willson, a former student of Bussinger, wrote a letter of recommendation for Bussinger as part of the Kansas Teacher of the Year nomination process. She praised her former teacher for creating a “classroom environment that fosters collaboration and community at an unparalleled level.” 

The two have remained in contact and Bussinger continues to be one of her biggest supporters, Willson said. 

“I cannot overstate how deserving of this honor he truly is,” she wrote. “I speak for all of his former students when I say that he is one of the most life-changing teachers I have had the honor of learning from.” 

During Saturday’s banquet ceremony, Kim Gronniger, corporate communications manager for Security Benefit Corp., presented Bussinger with a $4,000 cash award. 

In addition, Bussinger received the Kansas Teacher of the Year Lifelong Learning Scholarship to attend participating universities free of charge as long as he continues teaching in Kansas. He also received The Hubbard Foundation Kansas Teacher of the Year Ambassadorship, which provides funding for travel and other necessary expenses incurred by the Kansas Teacher of the Year. 

Bussinger will receive the use of a rental car from Enterprise Rent-a-Car for Kansas Teacher of the Year travel, and Jostens Inc. provided him with a Leader in Education ring. 

All eight members of the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year team received a $2,000 cash award from Security Benefit and a red marble apple from the Master Teacher in Manhattan. In addition, each will receive Capturing Kids’ Hearts training from The Flippen Group, of College Station, Texas, and a one-year membership in the Kansas State Teachers of the Year organization. 

The Teacher of the Year program has state and national competitions. The national program, presented by Voya Financial, is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Kansas program is sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education.  

Bussinger is now a candidate for National Teacher of the Year.  

In the meantime, Bussinger plans to continue to meet with the members of the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year team and spend as much time as he can with his students and family before he begins his travels as the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year. 

“A huge goal of mine is whatever the team is passionate about, I want to help them have a platform to share it,” he said. “I also want to focus on being present in the moment. When I’m teaching, I want to give it 110%. When I’m doing Kansas Teacher of the Year events, I want to give 110%. And when I’m with my family, I want to be present in that moment. I think as teachers, we all struggle with being present at home. That’s a narrative switch that we have to make. We have to change the narrative. There has to be a balance.” 

Posted: Sep 28, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush
Tags: KTOY

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