Friends of education recognized, thanked

FAIRMONT – Two local teachers’ unions recently named their “Friends of Education” in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day.

Southern Plains Educational Cooperative and Fairmont Area Schools announced their Friends of Education in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day recently.

Fairmont Area’s union chose school board member Diane Gerhardt and the teacher support group Parents and Educators Teaming Together. Southern Plains’ union named Dr. Joe Switras as their Friend of Education and Teresa Davison as Outstanding Member.

Dr. Joe Switras

Switras joined Fairmont’s medical community as a psychologist in 1976, and has been serving its children and adults ever since.

His job is what brought him into contact with Southern Plains Educational Cooperative, as the two often refer students to each other.

Switras’ passion lies in finding the subtle neuropsychological problems a student is having and figuring out how it could affect learning and functioning. It might be his job, but he doesn’t consider it work.

“It is really not work,” he said. “It is fun when you hit on something. Kids are fun. It is fun to use play therapy. They are open and accepting. You can’t help but love working with kids.”

Switras is originally from New York, but knew from a young age he wanted to live in a rural setting, a place where he gets to work with a variety of different issues.

“I get to see a whole range of kids,” he said. “Being it is a rural practice, you had better be ready for whatever walks through the door.”

Being named Friend of Education is an honor.

“I am flattered to get friend of education,” he said. “It is nice, and it makes me feel good.”

Teresa Davison

Davison is an employee of Southern Plains, and was honored by her coworkers as Outstanding Member.

In addition to teaching 12- 18-year-old students struggling with addiction at the Adolescent Treatment Center in Winnebago, she serves as the president of her Education Minnesota chapter and on the Great Southwest United Board, a regional union organization.

Davison said she loves her job, and seeing the growth in her students in the short time they are with her.

Because the center is a residential school, the students are only there as long as they need to be, sometimes for only a few weeks.

“I see a lot of different kids,” she said. “(Seeing them leave) is the hardest part of my job.”

Parents and Educators

Teaming Together

“We are so honored to be selected,” said PETT board member Stephanie Johnson. “It has been awesome.”

The parent teacher group is in its second year. It was formed to match teachers with volunteers and find creative ways to support staff. A core board of 15 people manage 100 volunteers, who help teachers by doing everything from listening to students read, to organizing fundraisers, to putting on potluck meals on conference nights.

The group recently raised $4,000 by organizing a Box Tops for Education collection, which they intend to split evenly among the teachers for items on their wish lists.

The group is currently raising funds to use for scholarships for student activity fees, with the ultimate goal of raising enough to lower everyone’s fee.

Board member Joy Okerman said the amount of the activity fee varies depending on the age of the child, but it can become a burden, especially for families with many children.

Diane Gerhardt

Gerhardt has been serving the district as a school board member since being appointed to the position in 2008, but she was volunteering long before that time.

Her two children graduated from the district, and she helped in their classrooms and volunteered with Partners in Education when they were young.

As a school board member, Gerhardt was lauded for her work during the recent learning levy, as she tirelessly presented the issue to various constituents, answering questions and taking ideas back to the board as the district searched for a solution to its budget woes.