Meet the teachers: New staff introductions

A new schedule, new COVID-19 guidelines and new challenges that come with school during a pandemic are among the challenges the school community is facing. But 12 new faculty members are also navigating their way through new positions. 

Kristen Naeger, Family and Consumer Sciences

Family and Consumer Sciences teacher Kristen Naeger. (Kristen Naeger)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“My favorite part of the job is making connections with my students over the course of the semester when I have them or even if they [have me] for multiple classes, getting to really know who they are and what their passions are.”

Why did you choose this position?

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and I really love teaching kids about real-world skills, life skills and so Family and Consumer Sciences naturally lends itself to that. I also really love talking about human development and personal growth. Classes like Child Development or Career and Personal Development are just some of my favorite classes to teach because we get to talk about all sorts of things.” 

What is your favorite hobby?

“Reading whenever I can. I mostly love reading either self growth books [on] how to be a better person, or murder mystery kind of things.” 

What occupies your time outside of school?

“Right now, all of my time is school. I have two kids. I have a daughter who’s five, she just started kindergarten. My son is three, and he just started a new daycare. My husband is also a teacher. When I’m not here at school, I am spending time with my adorable little family. Sometimes we make time for friends too.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“I feel like I’m really flexible and understanding, so if they’ve got something going on outside of school that’s affecting their performance or their schoolwork, I would hope that they would know they could come talk to me. We would work something out. I’m here to support you. My goal is that you learn, that’s always my number one goal, so give me the information that I need to help you succeed.”

Jenni Wilson,  Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) Interpreter

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing interpreter Jenni Wilson. (Jenni Wilson)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“The students [are my favorite part]. Well, really all of the people.”

Why did you choose this position?

“I have been an interpreter my entire adult life. Though I have had schooling and training in other areas, I always return to interpreting. I love the language and the culture.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“[My favorite hobby is] writing. Writing is a canvas, a playground, a place to ponder tough intellectual and moral questions. It provides infinite opportunities for us to create what has not been created, or just bring new perspectives into old structures. It invites us to be self-centered and altruistic at the same time. We can restart as many times as we want. It is a record of our growth. What is not to love about writing, really? I write creative nonfiction [including] memoirs, essays, biographies, a lot of poetry, and some hybrid work. I have been writing more intently for about [the last] ten years. I am always working on something!”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“Working in other places, writing, art and spending a lot of time with my family.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“No matter what, I will always be a safe person to talk to, and I will always treat you with kindness and respect.”

Alison Dwyer, Physics

Physics teacher Alison Dwyer. (Alison Dwyer)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“The students, the labs, all of it [is my favorite part]. I like to see the students learning and making connections to what they know.  I like to see the ‘ah-ha’ moment when a student understands something new.  Many times that will happen in connection with a lab.”  

Why did you choose this position?

“I really love physics so it seemed like a good fit. I love a lot of parts of physics:  Kinematics, Electricity, Magnetism and Optics are a few of my favorites.  Kinematics describes roller coasters and spinning rides.  It connects us to swings, see-saws and slides from when we were kids.  Electricity and magnetism is something new to most students, so I always see a lot of growth and fascination when we cover those topics.  Optics is: light, mirrors and lenses.  Who doesn’t like lasers, rainbows, and Fun-house  mirrors.”  

What is your favorite hobby?

“Building legos for fun, [and] seeing how it all comes together. Legos are just soothing to me. You have a choice. You can be wild and creative. Maybe it doesn’t work out exactly as planned, but you can try again and have fun going through the process. Or, you can follow directions in the box, and be sure it will turn out exactly like the picture. There is room for both in my life.”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“I have kids, family and a dog. All of those things are important and take up time. Family should be important to everyone. They keep you grounded and remind me to have fun and take a break. [Pre-Covid-19], we liked to go to National Parks, amusement parks (like Six Flags), museums [and] the zoo.We also play card games and board games.”  

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“Physics is fun and something they should think about taking. It connects to a lot of what they see around them every day.  Maybe we’ll get to go to Six Flags for a field trip.”

Coleen Sumner, German Teaching Assistant

German teaching assistant Coleen Sumner. (Coleen Sumner)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“[My favorite part is] being in the building with kids and just being with students. I love being at [school]. I like the relational side of [working with kids], I like getting to know them, their lives outside of school as well as what their interests are.”

Why did you choose this position?

“It was offered to me in lieu of not having building subs this year. I was going to get the chance to stay in the building. The kids I coach are here and my kids graduated from here as well. I’ve been a long time employee, just not doing this position.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“Working out. It’s part of my everyday routine and I like to mix it up and do something different every day, and a lot of it includes swimming too.”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“A lot of family time and a lot of friend time. Our kids are both gone so we do a lot with our friends, and we have a year and a half old puppy.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“I care about them and I trust them until I have a reason not to.”

Christie Staszcuk, German

German teacher Christie Staszcuk. (Christie Staszcuk)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“My favorite part of my job is just getting to hang out with teenagers and because we’re learning in a different language. We’re also talking about culture and getting to know about each other’s culture. I think German students tend to just be fun to hang around with and fun to work with.” 

Why did you choose this position?

“I am currently also teaching at Central High, and the opportunity presented itself to be in both places to help make sure German was available to students at both high schools. I took it because I want German to be available to all students, and I wanted to make sure [we] still had a German program, and that these kids had a teacher that they could count on and let them continue their language skills.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“My favorite hobby is chasing around my children. I have an 11-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter and they are both very active in sports. We like being outside together playing sports and watching them play sports.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“I think the thing I want students to know about me is that I really care and I’m here to help them.”          

Zach Balentine, Special Education (Teaching Assistant)

Special Education teaching assistant Zach Balentine. (Zach Balentine)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“[My favorite part is] help[ing] out the students if they need anything and be[ing] their friend. For the students, if they are going through something, I can talk to them about anything they want. You know if they’re having problems at home, or school stuff, anything like that. Meeting the students and seeing how their day is going, and seeing what their goals are for the school year [is my favorite part].” 

Why did you choose this position?

“I chose this position because last year, I was a substitute teacher, and I kind of love it. I love the students, I love the staff. I want to be a great role model for students to help them be ready for the real-world and help students with their homework. Sometimes if the teacher is out for the day I substitute for the teacher and take over the classroom.”  

What is your favorite hobby?

“I like to play video games, love to go outside and love to take a walk. I love to play sports and workout.”

What occupies your time outside of school? 

“I play video games, watch college football games and National Football League games, watch scary movies and hang out with family and friends. Lastly, I love to travel.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“My long-term goal is to get my masters degree in physical education or health [and] hopefully be a high school football coach.”

Jessica Chackes, Physical Therapist (PT)

Physical therapist Jessica Chackes. (Courtesy of Jessica Chackes)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“I love seeing kids make progress with their mobility and the result of improved interaction with their peers and environment.”

Why did you choose this position?

“I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist since I was in high school after volunteering at a summer camp for kids with cerebral palsy. I went to Saint Louis University for undergrad and graduate school and have been working as a pediatric physical therapist for over 10 years. I worked at Saint Louis Children’s Hospital prior to taking this new role. I love having an active position that allows me to make a difference.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“[My favorite hobbies are] traveling, gardening and spending time with my family.

What occupies your time outside of school?

“Spending time with my husband and daughters (ages six and four), soccer games, swim team and playgrounds occupy most of our time.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“If you are interested in physical therapy school or have any questions, feel free to ask.”

Kiara Turner, Secretary to Dr. Pupillo and the sophomores principal office

Secretary to Dr. Pupillo and the sophomore principal office Kiara Turner. (Courtesy of Kiara Turner)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“[My favorite part of my job is] working with kids. I get to see a variety of different students and get to help everybody on a daily basis.”

What made you choose this position?

“[When I first started working, I was] working with elderly as a medical records coordinator, it was clerical work. Over the years I bonded with the patients. [However, I then switched] to children, working with kids during a pandemic and [the school] wanted me. I wanted to continue to grow and work with more children.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“I love to read [and] learning different things. There are so many different books that you can read to find out new information. My favorite part of reading is absorbing the knowledge, reading is fundamental. [Though] I do not have a favorite genre, [as] I am open to all types of books.”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“My children [occupy my time]. I have two little kids: a princess and a prince. My kids are seven and 11. As a family we love basketball. My 11-year-old plays ball and my seven year old cheers for his team. We love the out of town tournaments we take each season, [it gives] us a chance to travel and see other cities and play ball [all] at the same time.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“I’m always here for them. My doors always open and my heart as well. I’m here to help any way that I can.”

Karyn Houston, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) Paraprofessional

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Paraprofessional Karyn Houston. (Karyn Houston)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“I love working with the students using various ideas and examples and especially seeing their eyes light up when understanding a difficult concept. Not only when they understand difficult concepts but the hard work and effort they put into it.” 

Why did you choose this position?

“I have always known that [this] district has been ranked as the fifth best school district within Missouri, which is very impressive. I have always wanted to work with the deaf and hard of hearing students and teachers in the classroom setting. As a deaf person having had great success when I was in school growing up, I experienced first hand how difficult it was not having any support in the classroom.  I just want to pay it forward by assisting students with the support they need to find their own success in school and life in general.” 

What is your favorite hobby?

“I have a green thumb and love working in the various beautiful gardens and doing landscaping work. [I love] gardening, planting trees [and] being outside. As far as landscaping, I love designing creative gardening areas and walkways with various flowers and creeping phlox. I also grow trees from seed and give them away to friends and students to show them how easy it is to do. I work part time at a local family nursery during the summer months to help out as I enjoy being outdoors.”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“I love the great outdoors and I go fishing, kayaking, hiking and camping as well as spending time with great friends [by going] to wineries.” 

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“They can always come to me anytime they need to talk to me, and because I have a social work background, I have always worked with kids.  I am an easy person to talk to and love to listen.”

Carrie Leipholtz, Speech-Language Pathologist

Speech-Language Pathologist Carrie Leipholtz. (Courtesy of Carrie Leipholtz)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“I love the energy and humor students bring to the day. It’s always interesting.”

Why did you choose this position?

“Speech-Language Pathologists are trained to work with all ages —  infants to adults. My work experiences have been in a nursing home, hospitals and elementary and middle schools in Parkway. I am excited to join the staff to support communication skills and independence of students moving to adulthood.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“[My favorite hobby is] coaching and playing volleyball. This year, I coached my twin 13 year old’s— a boys team and a girls team. We also play sand volleyball in the summer.”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“Having fun with my family [occupies my time outside of school]. I have three teenage children Abby, Molly and Ryan. We love Marvel movies and teaching our golden retriever Milo silly tricks.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“Even though I have a career that I love, I am making plans for my next one. I want to train golden retrievers to pass certification to be therapy dogs. Then we could visit nursing homes and bring cheer to the residents living there.”

  Laura Ziliak, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) Paraprofessional (ie. a teacher’s aid)

Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Paraprofessional Laura Ziliak. (Courtesy of Laura Ziliak)

What is your favorite part of your job?

“The favorite part of my job is getting to relearn some of the information, but I also get to work with amazing students.”

Why did you choose this position?

“I graduated from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn. with a double major in American Sign Language and English. Throughout college, I had been working as a community intervener, which is similar to a paraprofessional position only specialized for students who are Deaf and Blind. So, it made sense to enter a position that utilized my signing skills and was in a field that was fairly familiar.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“My favorite hobby is sewing. I spend a lot of my time outside of school doing just that. I also play a lot of online games like Minecraft and Slime Rancher. I like the open world games for their calming game play”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“I’d like to get back into Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) and archery. In other words, I like to fight with a sword and shoot arrows.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“You may note a Northern accent if you chat with me. I spent most of my time in North Dakota before moving to the area. ”

Kevin Doherty, social studies

Social Studies teacher Kevin Doherty. (Courtesy of Kevin Doherty)

Why did you choose this position?

“Since I started teaching, I’ve always thought about how neat it would be to have the opportunity to teach at my alma mater. I love this school and community for everything that it has provided me, and I feel very grateful to be able to give back to this community.”

What is your favorite hobby?

“My favorite thing to do outside of work is to hike and read. I love to be in nature.”

What occupies your time outside of school?

“As so much of my time is spent at school, I try to spend as much of my free time as possible with my family.”

What is one thing you want students to know about you?

“I want students to know that I love my job and am grateful that I get to show up everyday to serve my students. As a former student, and current teacher, I know what a great place West is. I feel honored to be a part of this community again.”