Caught in a whirlwind of activities, Leah Lechleiter-Luke has been flying high since being named the Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in September 2009.
The Mauston High School Spanish teacher, who lives in New Lisbon, has been occupied with numerous new responsibilities, guest appearances and travels as well as keeping up with career and family.
Her husband, Gary, has been keeping the home fires burning for the children, Ellie, seventh grade, Lauryn, fourth grade, and John, kindergarten.
Lechleiter-Luke said, "My poor husband needed to fill in. He's become an even better listener now."
Some of the events she has been involved with include:
• Was honored at the Wisconsin Foreign Language Conference in November
• Spoke at the Wisconsin School Board Association Convention in January
• Attended a week-long conference in Dallas for all state Teacher of the Year representatives
• Participated in a phone conference with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind Legislation
• Participated in a phone conference with Gene Wilhoit, executive director of state superintendents of America regarding Common Core Standards
• Was interviewed by "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine for back-to-school tips for their September issue
• Spoke to education students at UW-Whitewater
• Was recognized at the Kohl Luncheon in March for being Wisconsin's representative to the national Teacher of the Year program and received a $6,000 grant from U.S. Senator Herb Kohl from the Kohl Foundation, which Luke said will be, in part, used for two sets of dental braces for her children. She will also use the money for expenses on her travels such as the trip to D.C. where she will be expected to dress formally for the black tie event.
She has enjoyed the experience and said, "So far, my favorite part about being the Teacher of the Year was going to Dallas and meeting all the state Teachers of the Year, and just being in the presence of really top-notch teachers.
"Being in Dallas we felt so valued because they told us over, over and over again that we were appreciated. They treated us like royalty and helped us get up to speed with the upcoming events. It was neat to be part of the national conversation about issues in education."
One of the things she liked about the position was the "stuff" she received including $16,000 in SMART Technologies interactive computer programs for her classroom and the school. Another part was the ability to choose and award a Mauston High School student a full-ride undergraduate scholarship, valued at $50,000, to the University of Phoenix (online and the Madison outreach campus).
Lechleiter-Luke said, "I went to Mark Dahlke (guidance counselor) and Jerry Busch (Mauston Alternative Learning Academy teacher) and asked them who they thought would be a good candidate.
"I chose her (name not announced yet) because it was to go to someone who hadn't thought college could be in her life paths."
Lechleiter-Luke said the scholarship is meant go to a student who did not think it possible to go onto college.
The program also provides further education for teachers. Each Teacher of the Year also received a free offer to pursue a master's degree or doctorate in education from Walden University.
Lechleiter-Luke said, "Since I have my master's degree, I will be beginning my doctorate, or Ph.D., in January of 2011."
The whirlwind continues, as this month alone Lechleiter-Luke will be honored at a reception and speak at her alma mater, UW-Oshkosh, and at the Wisconsin Educator's Association awards banquet, travel to Washington, D.C. to be introduced to the president along with the other 56 teachers in the Oval Office.
During the stay in D.C. the U.S. Teacher of the Year will be announced from the four finalists from Florida, California, Iowa and Michigan who were interviewed last month.
She said, "All four are amazing people! I'm sure the judges had a very tough time deciding who the national Teacher of the Year will be."
In the fall, she will travel to Alabama, New Jersey, New York and Oregon.