An unparalleled honor

Story by Courtney Kueppers, Staff Writer

It’s a success story.
Lynne Kohlhepp, a UW- Eau Claire alumna and special education teacher at Wausau West High School, had twin boys on her caseload.
The twins were students struggling to graduate. When their mother died suddenly, their father didn’t care much about their education.
It was their older sister pushing them, trying to help them graduate. And it was their sister who nominated Kohlhepp for one of education’s highest honors.
On Sept. 18, Kohlhepp thought she was attending a pep assembly for homecoming. Instead, State Superintendent Tony Evers was there to present Kohlhepp with the Wisconsin Special Services Teacher of the Year Award.
“There were about 1,500 people in the gymnasium,” Kohlhepp said. “It was quite an honor and a huge surprise. The whole student body was just going crazy. It’s nothing I ever dreamed would happen in my lifetime.”
Kohlhepp attended high school in Eau Claire  before receiving her degree in elementary and special education from the university. This year is Kohlhepp’s 33rd year as an educator.
“I think I had always had the desire to go into teaching,” Kohlhepp said. “Right when I was graduating from high school, the first public laws for requirements for special education were coming out. It was that first step to make you more employable.”
Wausau West High School principal Jeb Steckbauer said Kohlhepp is more than well deserving of this award.
“She is outstanding,” Steckbauer said. “She is student centered. To her, it’s all about the student and making them feel comfortable and taking care of their needs and then that opens the doors for learning.”
Kohlhepp credits her “student first” attitude to her education at Eau Claire.
“I think I learned in my heart to put the kids first, what is best for kids and I think that all comes from the teachers I had,” Kohlhepp said.
She also said she’s excited to see the education program at Eau Claire is still just as good after watching her daughter go through the program and graduate December 2012 with a degree in elementary and special education.
Emily Moritz, a senior elementary and special education major, said the “student first” attitude was reflected during her time in the education program at Eau Claire.
“Our university does a great job of preparing us to go into the world and be great teachers,” Moritz said. “They teach us to put the students first.”
As a part of the award, Kohlhepp will receive $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. She said she is excited to decide how she can use the money to help her school. While she hasn’t yet decided what to do with the cash, she calls it “a good problem to have.”
Following the pep assembly, Kohlhepp was honored in Madison when Evers gave his State of the State address for education at the capitol. Kohlhepp is one of four teachers of the year selected in Wisconsin from four different categories: elementary, middle school, high school and special services.
“It has been very fun,” Kohlhepp said. “I’m not used to walking into a room and everyone stands up and claps. You don’t get that in education a lot and when you speak people are listening to you. Sometimes students don’t always do that.”
She said the days since winning this award have been filled with a lot of reflection about education. She said at times she feels a bit unworthy since she regards Special Education as such a team effort.
“I couldn’t do this without every teacher that my students go to class with,” Kohlhepp said. “I am there to support them and the parents I have and the great students I have that care about their education.”