Upshur County Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison, BOE member Dr. Greenbrier Almond, Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Eddie Vincent and B-UHS students offer congratulations to Upshur County Teacher of the Year Mike Gitzen Wednesday at the school. The secret announcement came as a surprise to Gitzen, who said it is a great honor and he is humbled by the award.

Mike Gitzen named Upshur County Teacher of the Year

TENNERTON – A Buckhannon-Upshur High School physical education teacher received a surprise announcement Wednesday morning in his classroom.

Mike Gitzen received word that he was selected as the Upshur County Teacher of the Year – a high honor – and he will represent Upshur County at the state level and compete for West Virginia Teacher of the Year.

The process for selection of the Upshur County Teacher of the Year begins at each school, where one teacher is selected to represent the school. Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Eddie Vincent said at Buckhannon-Upshur High School, B-UHS staff members are asked to submit nominations for the award.

“We get a list of candidates – this year there were 14 nominations,” Vincent said. “From there, the staff votes again, and we get it down to the last three, then staff votes for their final winner. This all goes through our LSIC – Local School Improvement Council.”

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison said each school then submits the name of their final selection for Teacher of the Year to the Upshur County Board Office.

“Each teacher selected then has to answer two essay questions,” Harrison said. “They are limited to 200 words for their essay, so they really have to be concise in expressing their responses. There are several evaluators that read the essay question answers and the names of the individual is redacted – so we have no idea who we are rating.”

Harrison said the candidates are then ranked based on their responses; scores are tabulated and the winner is determined.

Vincent said Gitzen was the “driving force” behind the Tappan Squires memorial events through the year.

“He really stepped up,” Vincent said. “His working relationship with her spilled over, and the fundraising project we did turned out a lot better than we expected. He did all of the work for that … a lot of it was his thoughts. He wanted to do something to honor his co-worker and friend.”

The fundraiser Vincent referenced took place at B-UHS in early October in the hopes of raising money for the Betty Puskar Breast Cancer Center. In a mere 35 days, B-UHS students and staff teamed together to raise a record-breaking $16,000.

Faculty and staff members then volunteered to have their hair shaved off for each level of the fundraiser achieved; in total, 20 B-UHS staff and faculty members had their heads shaved. During the fundraiser, students sold more than 700 shirts and 700 bracelets, collected donations during a soccer match, a volleyball tournament, a football game, a Big 10 Cheer Competition and a production of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”

Vincent said Gitzen and Tappan Squires were two of the most organized physical education people he’d ever seen.
“They always had a good plan,” Vincent said. “It’s great to see the great progress he had with the kids from the beginning of school to the end of school, regarding their physical condition. It’s not easy. His physical education classes are not sports-oriented – they are more about fitness.”

He said years ago at the school there was an issue with kids dressing for P.E.

“We don’t even hear that anymore,” Vincent said. “The standard and expectations did not give the kids a choice – they dress, and they participate.”

“Mr. Gitzen took a tragic situation and turned it into … a movement in the school, where people wanted to be a part of that,” Stankus said. “With the fundraising – cutting their hair – those in the school showed their love in so many ways. It was just wonderful.”

Vincent agreed.

“He (Gitzen) took a bad situation for us and turned it into something positive and meaningful,” Vincent said. “I have a feeling the students will remember this for a long, long time. And in everything we did, we considered what Tappan would have wanted.”

Stankus said when you envision a Teacher of the Year, you imagine a person who inspires students to learn.

“You also have to think of how they inspire their colleagues and also the community,” Stankus said. “It’s great that we are recognizing a teacher that has done all of that.”

“His standards and expectations for kids are a little different – it doesn’t matter who you are – his expectation is the same,” Vincent said. “He also works with the ICU program and helps remind students who have missing assignments that those need to be completed and turned into their instructor.”

Vincent said if he would take B-UHS students and compare their progress from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year, the physical education students would probably demonstrate the most improvement.

“They are out on the field running and doing push ups on the gym floor,” Vincent said. “They aren’t just playing badminton; the class is 90-minutes long and they are busy for 90 minutes. They learn how to warm up properly and stretch properly. It encompasses health into phys. ed., and a lot of that came from Tappan Squires. Mike has learned through Tappan’s tutoring.”

Gitzen is a physical education/health instructor as well as assistant Baseball coach at B-UHS. He said the announcement was a surprise.

“I appreciate it,” Gitzen said. “It’s a great honor. I am very humbled.”

He said the 2018-2019 school year hasn’t been easy with the passing of his co-worker and dear friend Tappan Squires.

“When we lost her, it was very hard to come to school every day,” Gitzen said. “It is very hard to look across the gym and not see her stretching and leading things. But I knew she would want me to strive to carry on things as she did them. Every day when I go home, I ask myself if Tappan would approve of how things went. That’s what I strive to do – to do things as she would have every day.”

Gitzen said knowing his fellow teachers nominated him for the honor is humbling.

“I am very honored,” he said. “I don’t think words can express my gratitude in representing them.”

Gitzen has been a teacher in the Upshur County School System for six years. He began the first two years of his career at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School as a special education instructor, working with grades 3 and 4.

“This is my fourth year at Buckhannon-Upshur High School teaching physical education,” he said. “It is important for me to teach about lifetime wellness, health and nutrition so as they become adults, husbands, wives and parents, they can instill that to the people around them as well because we all want to be around here as long as we can.”

Another shot of Gitzen, surrounded by his students, as Upshur County Board of Education member Greenbrier Almond raises his hand in victory.

He said in his approach to student success, athletic ability is not an issue.

“My expectation is that every student gives their best every single day,” Gitzen said. “No student is given a break unless they have a doctor’s excuse or injury – everyone is held to that standard because it teaches the kids to push themselves and teaches them they can reach goals whether they think they can or not. I also want them to have fun.”

Gitzen said he is not normally an overly emotional guy.

“With everything that has transpired, it is very touching,” Gitzen said.

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