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APRIL 5, 2023

EVANSVILLE – On Wednesday, April 5, the University of Evansville (UE) presented four individuals in Vanderburgh County with Outstanding Educator Awards. Each educator received a surprise announcement within their school as part of UE’s 32nd annual presentation of awards.  

The competition, which is specific to Vanderburgh County, recognizes current classroom teachers and building principals in grades K-12 with at least three years of experience. The Outstanding Educator Awards for Vanderburgh County are sponsored by UE, Evansville Liberty Federal Credit Union, and the Evansville Courier & Press. 

The following awards were presented: 

Outstanding Elementary Teacher of the Year: Briana Campell, a first-grade teacher at Lodge Community School 

Briana Campell has been immersed in the education field for the last decade and spent the last two years working at Lodge Community School. She teaches reading, writing, math, and social-emotional learning in a first-grade classroom.  

Along with her regular classroom duties, Campell teaches students who require additional academic and behavioral support. Campell is there for her students in every way, even taking one in as a foster child. 

Campell believes in Nelson Mandela’s saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon in which you can use to change the world.” She said she wholeheartedly knows that she is “changing this world for the better one child at a time.” One of Campell’s main focuses as a teacher is assuring that the children know they are safe, loved, and believed in. She greets each student with a hug or a fist bump and is a firm believer in mutual respect. 

Campell’s teaching strategy includes holding all her students to high standards of achievement. She believes in their ability which inspires students to believe in themselves.  

Campell’s work does not go unnoticed. She is admired by her fellow coworkers who say her amazing work extends beyond the classroom.  

In nominating Campbell for an Outstanding Educator Award, an individual said that “I cannot say enough wonderful things about Briana, nor can I think of a more deserving educator.” 

Outstanding Middle School Teacher of the Year: Jance Johnston, a sixth-grade teacher at Delaware Elementary School 

Jance Johnston has been a teacher for 9 years, which is exactly how long he has worked at Delaware Elementary. His primary disciplines are English language arts, math, and science. In addition to his many middle school subjects, he has an array of additional school-related contributions including being an afterschool teacher, 6th-grade boys’ basketball coach, inclusion teacher, and summer schoolteacher. 

“I place a high value on ensuring that all of my students feel as though they belong to our school family and are seen as individuals,” Johnston said. “Intentional time is used throughout the day to connect with my students and allow them to connect with one another.” 

In his teaching philosophy, Johnston‘s emphasis is placed on building relationships with students. He believes that understanding each student as an individual is crucial for effective education. By getting to know his students better, he can better cater to their needs within the classroom. Johnston observes and interprets his students’ verbal and nonverbal communication to assess their ability to absorb knowledge. 

Johnston’s involvement in a variety of additional school activities such as 3D printing, technology, gardening, cooking, and coaching provides him with an advantage in building relationships with students. He believes that these activities offer opportunities to find common ground with students, earn mutual respect and trust, and better understand their emotions. This approach helps maintain an efficient and focused classroom that is ready to learn. 

A nomination for Johnston noted his passion and drive for learning. “Jance continually goes above and beyond as an educator both during and after school hours. From making conscious and sincere efforts to connect with families and students as if they were his own, to ensuring that each child gets the academic support they need to learn to their highest potential.” 

Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year: Timothy Wilhelmus, an eleventh and twelfth-grade teacher at Central High School 

Timothy Wilhelmus has been teaching for thirty-one years and has spent the last three years teaching at Central High School. Wilhelmus is also involved in numerous school-related responsibilities. In particular, he sponsors the creative writer’s Guild and the imagining club. He also serves on several committees including the Equal Opportunity Schools (EOS), Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID), and the Medical Professions Academy (MPA). 

Wilhelmus teaches English Language arts, AP Literature, and the AVID elective. The AVID elective supports traditionally underrepresented students to develop skills needed to be successful in honors and college-level coursework.  

“We all have our own journeys, and I honor that, by being highly flexible and encouraging student voice and choice. I also focus heavily on creating a classroom environment that supports students as they learn in all respects: academically, materially, emotionally, and socially,” said Wilhelmus. “My lessons are designed to develop skills that allow students to own their own learning. Students are given every opportunity to try, fail, try again, and grow.” 

The nominations for Wilhelmus offer incredible words describing how he exceeds the expectations of his students. 

One nomination stated that “he goes above and beyond to influence a positive class culture while still being able to finish lessons and allow students to develop an overall understanding of the materials.”  

Outstanding Building Administrator of the Year: Chris Gibson, New Tech Institute 

Chris Gibson has been an educator for twenty-four years, spending eight teaching science, six as a counselor, and ten in administration. He has been at New Tech Institute for the last ten years. 

In addition to his administrative work, Gibson has accomplished a great deal in the academic community. He played a crucial role in launching the Makerspace and Entrepreneurial Academy Advisory Council. He also served as the coach for the FIRST robotics League team. Gibson partnered with three seniors in 2020 to achieve STEM School re-certification through the Indiana Department of Education. With that, he also helps coordinate the annual STEM festival for the community. Additionally, Gibson was responsible for forming the Diversity and Equity Team at New Tech Institute in 2021 to build competency around equity for all students. 

Gibson has also been asked to serve as a presenter and facilitator at the Central Indiana Educational Service Center (CIESC) STEM Boot Camp in June 2022. 

“The focus of my educational journey has been to ensure that all students have access to high-quality, rigorous instruction – and that they have the equivalent support to help them reach the expectations inherent in that challenging environment,” said Gibson.  

For over 20 years, Gibson has prioritized the concept of relevance in his educational philosophy. He understands that students need to see the practical relevance of what they are learning in order to become engaged and that they are more likely to retain knowledge and skills when the content is relatable.  

Gibson currently serves as the principal of New Tech, which is a close-knit small school with about 275 students featuring a family-like atmosphere. As the leader of an innovative project-based learning school, he continues to place a strong emphasis on connecting learning to the real world, highlighting how students can apply what they have learned in practical ways. 

Gibson’s peers acknowledge his outstanding efforts. In his nomination, they mentioned his diverse range of responsibilities and his incredible support for fellow staff and students.  

“He knows every student’s name and takes time to develop relationships with them.”