Teacher of the Year has been named

Published 7:42 am Thursday, April 8, 2010

An Albert Lea High School graduate who got his engineering degree and worked in the electronics design field for five years before going back to get his teaching degree was named the 2010 Albert Lea Teacher of the Year Wednesday.

Mark Nechanicky, who teaches fourth grade at Lakeview Elementary, was at a loss for words after being announced as the award winner by Bill Leland, school board chairman.

“I’m shocked,” Nechanicky said. “I was just happy to be on the list of finalists.”

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Nechanicky earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Gustavus Adolphus College and master’s degrees in science and engineering and elementary education from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

He also has completed most of the courses to receive an English Language Learners endorsement.

Of teaching in his hometown, Nechanicky said it only felt strange for about a week. “Then I was just happy to have all these good colleagues,” he said.

He has been teaching in Albert Lea for five years — two in sixth grade and three in fourth grade.

Lakeview Elementary School Principal Jean Jordan said she was very happy with the Teacher of the Year Committee’s choice.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Jordan said. “It’s so well-deserved.”

She said Nechanicky’s dedication to technology, his sense of humor and his sense of inquiry are all great qualities that he brings to the classroom.

“And what a wonderful role model he is,” Jordan said. “We don’t have enough male elementary teachers.”

She said in her experience, people who change careers make wonderful teachers.

Nechanicky traveled the country from 1998 to 2003 as an electronics design engineer for an automotive supplier to Toyota and Ford.

“I often found out about a problem after lunch and traveled that day to the automotive plant and worked that evening until the problem was fixed,” he said. “The lst two years I worked at my engineering job, I kept a packed suitcase under my desk.”

Last summer, Nechanicky transferred the fourth-grade math and reading curriculums to the electronic board format. He is a fourth-grade targeted services teacher; a member of the district math committee and Smartboard users’ group; member of the Lakeview building leadership, positive beahvior and technology committees; he’s worked on several curriculum writing and state standards assessment projects for both fourth and sixth grades. He’s been a science fair judge each year and a teacher for Camp Invention.

Nechanicky is president of the Albert Lea Civic Music Association, plays the bass trombone in the Albert Lea Community Band, is a member of the United Methodist Church choir and handbell choir and a member of B’nai Israel synagogue in Rochester.

He enjoys ballroom and lindy hop swing dancing as well as camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Nechanicky and his wife, Taryn, have a 9-month-old daughter, Anais. Taryn also taught at Lakeview before the birth of their daughter.

“It’s wonderful. It’s well-deserved,” she said of her husband’s honor.

At the University of Michigan, he joined the ballroom dancing club even though he never had set foot on a dance floor. Through ballroom dancing is how he and Taryn met.

Nechanicky’s parents, Paul and Marilyn Nechanicky, also live in Albert Lea.

His personal goal is to continue to try new things and to persevere at tasks that are difficult for him.

“Education has unlocked many doors to many different opportunities for me — and those opportunities have been hard earned,” Nechanicky wrote. “As a teacher, I enjoy helping students succeed in something surprising to them and I enjoy guiding students toward confident learning in those new areas. I teach with the hope that my students in this small town have a world of choices.”

He said he had five of the past Teacher of the Year honorees as teachers when he was growing up.

Other Teacher of the Year finalists were Heidi Venem, Audra Beussman, Lisa Deyak, Kathie Lein, Kathy Niebuhr and Jim Glaser.

Also speaking at Wednesday’s reception at Albert Lea High School were 2009 Teacher of the Year Sherrie Gayken, 2008 Teacher of the Year Mary Hinnenkamp, Superintendent Mike Funk, Albert Lea Education Association President Jim Munyer and Nancy VanderWaerdt, representing the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.