New teachers at Clayton Ridge

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Clayton Ridge new faculty members are, from left, Ben Backes, Casey Zarr, Savannah Domeyer, Janita Stavropolis, Sara Phillips, and Makenzie Farmer. (Press photo by Caroline Rosacker)

The Clayton Ridge School District welcomed the following new faculty members for the coming school year.

Makenzie Farmer

Second grade teacher Makenzie Farmer grew up about an hour south of Garnavillo in the country. She attended East Buchanan High School and furthered her education at Wartburg College, Waverly earning a bachelors degree in neuroscience. "I started working at Starmont Elementary as a paraprofessional while looking for a job," said Farmer. "During that time I found I loved working with the students. It was amazing to watch when a student finally made a connection. I could see the pride and excitement on their face."

Farmer returned to college, attending William Penn University, Oskaloosa earning a bachelors degree in elementary education, while she was employed at Starmont. "This will be my first year teaching in the classroom," she noted. "I am looking forward to meeting all of the students and their families! I want my students to learn something new everyday and to have fun doing it. I really enjoy doing hands on projects along with the material given to us for class. This allows for students to make connections on their own and really enjoy learning new topics. I hope that my students find that learning happens when we least expect it."

Mrs. Sara Phillips

Mrs. Phillips, 1st Grade Co-Teacher/Special Education instructor, has joined the Clayton Ridge Elementary staff in Garnavillo. "This will be my 11th year of teaching," said Philips. "I am excited to be joining Clayton Ridge Elementary School as a Special Education Teacher!" 

Phillips grew up in Maquoketa and graduated from Maquoketa High School. She received her bachelors degree from the University of Dubuque, and is currently taking classes through Morningside University. "Growing up I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher and to help kiddos," she told The Press. "In the past 10 years I have taught second and third grade! This school year I am looking forward to meeting my students and the amazing staff!"

Casey Zarr

Casey Zarr, from Bondurant, has been hired as the high school special education teacher. He attended Upper Iowa University, Fayette, earning a major in special education, with endorsements in reading and coaching. He was also a member of the Upper Iowa Peacocks baseball team. "I wanted to pursue education as both of my parents are educators," shared Zarr.  "This upcoming school year, I am looking forward to being involved within the community as well as making great connections with my students and co-workers here at Clayton Ridge."

He went on to say, "There are two things I want my students to take away from me being their teacher, one there are no such things as bad days, and two is to smile more! Let's have a great year and Go Eagles!"

Savannah Domeyer

Preschool teacher Savannah Domeyer grew up just outside of Guttenberg, and graduated from Clayton Ridge High School in 2017. She went on to Upper Iowa University, Fayette earning a major in birth-3rd grade education with inclusive settings, with endorsements in reading and coaching.  While attending Upper Iowa she was a member of the women's basketball team for five years. "I went into college majoring in elementary education, but a few weeks in, I decided to change majors to be able to teach younger students," Domeyer explained. "I found my love of working with kids when I volunteered in elementary classrooms and worked sports camps while in high school." 

Domeyer is looking forward to having her own students and really getting to know each one of them. "I am also very excited to create a fun, loving environment that all my students will enjoy," said Domeyer. "My hope as a teacher is that my students go into kindergarten with a love for learning and school, and the ability to grow their social skills even more throughout their school career and further." 

Ben Backes

Ben Backes, 9-12 physical education/special education instructor, attended University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, majoring in physical education with a minor is special education and coaching. "Before graduating from UNI, I had the opportunity to student teach at Clayton Ridge School and had an amazing experience," said Backes. "Clayton Ridge has been my best experience in education thus far and I am proud to be back." 

Backes knew he wanted to pursue employment as an educator during his freshman year of high school. "I knew I wanted to work in education. The school atmosphere was something I was looking for in a career, and I knew a teacher would be a great choice," he shared. 

Backes is looking forward to building positive relationships with students and staff. "The best work environments are with positivity and energy," he commented. "The students learn best when there is positivity in the classroom and the staff will always enjoy your presence."

Being a student teacher last fall aided Backes' transition to a full-time teacher. "I am excited that I am here to stay!" he exclaimed. "I hope the students gain confidence having me as a teacher. Confidence is key and if I can help build confidence with everything the students do then I am doing something right." 

He reiterated, "Confidence can be something on the field, court, track, weight room, and mat, or it could be during a test, public speaking, community work, job, etc. Overall, I am super excited to be back at Clayton Ridge and can’t wait for school to start! Go Eagles!"

Janita Stavroplus

Third-Grade teacher Janita Stavroplus has lived in the Marquette/McGregor area for almost 17 years. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with her family and four children, volunteering for community events, and venturing into the great outdoors. "I am excited about the opportunity to teach 3rd grade, one of my favorite age groups," she commented.

Stavroplus earned a  bachelor of science in education and has been a teacher in various capacities for more than 20 years. "Since my late elementary years, I have wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I would pretend to play school with neighborhood friends," she shared. "Also, a few teachers along my educational path provided positive experiences and deserve the credit for being a guiding influence on what I enjoy doing today, teaching."

Stavroplus continued,
"Children are a joy to observe as they venture through their personal growth. As a teacher, I have a small part in their adventures as they explore the world’s playground and find it most rewarding when they have experienced success."

The third grade teacher is grateful to serve the Clayton Ridge School District. "I look forward to being a part of the Eagles' school district and community," she concluded.

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