Staff Spotlight Honorees: Dawn Katona & Kris Kantor
Emerson Elementary School 2nd grade teacher Dawn Katona spreads joy everywhere she goes. She infuses her classroom with it, she sparks it in her colleagues, and she shares it with every student she meets.
“Dawn’s heart walks outside of herself,” says fellow Emerson teacher and Dawn’s nominator, Mary McCool Berry. “The joy she graciously shares is contagious.”
Dawn's positive outlook on life, love of teaching, and can-do attitude helps create a joyful and nurturing environment at Emerson and affects everyone from students to co-workers to families. She serves on the PBIS committee that strives to create a positive and respectful school culture among the students and she heads up the staff social committee that brings Emerson colleagues together every month to laugh and share over breakfast and at end-of-year celebrations. She also heads up outreach efforts for families and staff during times of crisis, organizing meals, collecting cash donations and even arranging for bills to be paid.
“Compassion is Dawn’s most noteworthy attribute,” says Mary. “She models positive communication by treating each person with respect, kindness and appreciation.”
Katona, who has been with the District for 20 years, attributes her peppy personality to her equally joyful mother, who also was an educator. It has allowed her to see the beauty in every child and find reason to praise often. It is the basis of her teaching philosophy.
“I recognize in all the kids the need to feel happiness in order to learn,” says Dawn. “I want (my classroom) to be a joyful place to be. If they don’t love being here, then they won’t want to learn.”
Compliments to her students such as “you are a rock star!” and “you are amazing!” are the norm. She even spreads joy to her students’ parents as she makes sure to periodically send them a quick email sharing a positive comment about their child.
Mary says Emerson wouldn’t be the special place it is without Dawn: “She imparts joy every day and creates a culture of kindness that permeates an entire school.”
Kris Kantor spent many years prior to becoming a Lakewood City Schools custodian running his own carpet-cleaning business – “back-breaking work” he says. It’s that perspective of knowing how grueling and relentless life can be for a small business owner that now makes him just happy to report to work every day as Hayes Elementary School's head custodian.
Kris, a 1989 LHS graduate, joined Lakewood City Schools in 2015 as a substitute cleaner and has served as Hayes’ assistant custodian and then a brief stint as head custodian at Emerson in 2016 before returning to Hayes. He has legions of fans at both schools.
Kris has high standards for himself that translate into a gleaming school and staff members who know they can count on him for anything. It is obvious he takes pride in his school building operating efficiently and looking spotless. And living in the Hayes neighborhood is extra incentive for Kris to keep the grounds maintained.
“I think of the school as my second home,” Kris says. “You want to make it welcoming to your guests and I have guests every day.”
Besides his exemplary work ethic and standards, it is the relationship-building Kris fosters with the students that led Principal Sandy Powers to nominate Kris for Staff Spotlight.
“Just watch Kris walk down the halls and you will see the interaction between him and the students,” Principal Powers says.
“I love getting to know the kids,” Kris says. “It brings joy to my day.”
Recently, Kris took his interest in the students to a new level when he initiated Kids with Kantor. He solicited building kits from Home Depot and brought 14 fifth-graders together after school to build the small planters. With hammers provided by Lakewood Hardware and a few parents as helpers, Kris managed to teach the students about the satisfaction of building something with your own hands.
His intention is to repeat Kids with Kantor each month with a different grade level. And with a viral Facebook post sharing photos of the first Kids with Kantor, Kris now has a legion of fans in the community as well.