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

Mr. Buss: ‘I strive to make students feel understood and valued’

Taylor Bussinger, a social studies teacher at Prairie Trail Middle School, Olathe Unified School District 233, was named the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year on Saturday, Sept. 23, during a special ceremony in Wichita.

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 Dale Dennis Kansas Teacher of the Year Banquet in Wichita. About 300 people gathered for the banquet at the Marriott Hotel, 9100 E. Corporate Hills Drive.

“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, known to his students and colleagues as “Mr. Buss,” was named the 2024 Kansas Teacher of the Year from a field of eight finalists.

After the announcement was made, 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 on Saturday night 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.

Bussinger has taught eighth-grade U.S. history at Prairie Trail Middle School for nine years. 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 and his wife have two children, Tinsley, 5, and Beckett, 2.

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.”

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.”

“To pull an excerpt from my graduation speech as the class of 2021 student body president: One of the most important lessons I have learned in chasing my dreams was taught in my eighth-grade history class,” Willson wrote. “Not only did this teacher challenge everything I thought I believed, but he also showed me how to see things from a different point of view. All while sponsoring somewhat civil debates between 20 13-year-olds. This class helped me to actualize my dreams by revealing to me my passion for politics and history.”

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.”

Jennifer Stoskopf, assistant principal at Prairie Trail Middle School, also wrote a letter of recommendation for Bussinger. The two have worked together for the past nine years.

“During our time together, I have observed that Taylor shows the inspirational leadership, resourcefulness and passion for teaching and coaching to make him stand out as a top candidate for this most prestigious honor in the state of Kansas,” Stoskopf said. “He is a teacher that knows his content inside and out. He has high expectations for himself as an educator, but more importantly, high expectations for his student’s success. He is humble. He cares about people first and programs second. He believes in the process of learning.”

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 will receive 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 will receive 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. will provide 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.

“Teaching humanity through humility,” Stoskopf said of Mr. Buss. “Teaching … family values and beliefs by walking (and sometimes marching) the talk. Infusing emotional intelligence through standards-based instruction that puts our students front and center as contributing members of society. This is hope in our children’s futures. This is master teaching.”

Posted: Sep 23, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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