By Jennifer Gallus
When asked what he thought of being named one of Fox 9’s “Top Teachers” for 2008, James Weninger, “Winnie,” replied the way everyone knows him to react he credited the kids.
Weninger, the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted FFA advisor said, “It’s a little bit overwhelming. I mean the kids just work so hard throughout the course of the year. It makes a teacher work harder to give them more and more.”
“These kids are what make a person tick and makes the teacher want to provide opportunities for the kids that they deserve,” Weninger added.
Weninger is in his 24th year of teaching and has earned the respect of everyone who crosses his path from students and school staff to parents and community members.
In fact, a parent of one of Weninger’s past students nominated him for the award. Ginny Schuelke’s son Andrew graduated last year and was positively impacted by Weninger.
“My child was a non-traditional learner and school was not really his favorite place,” Schuelke said. “He blossomed under the direction of Winnie. Winnie recognized his strengths and abilities in the technical trades and individualized his instruction for Andrew.”
In the nomination letter Schuelke wrote to Fox 9, she wrote, “The reason that Mr. Weninger deserves this award is that he goes above and beyond for every student that walks through the door of the HLWW High School, not just my child. He makes them feel important, he helps them to understand their potential and he does not settle for second best. He sets high expectations and his students rise to the occasion.”
Schuelke continued, “He (Weninger) broadens their horizons and opens the door to the future. He is respectful and a positive role model. He is a model educator, who gives 110 percent every day on the job. He is one of a kind, and I hope that every child has a Winnie at least once during their educational career.”
The HLWW FFA chapter has a long and prestigious list of awards it’s received under the direction of Weninger including the 2007 Premier Chapter national award.
Supt. George Ladd said, “I have parents all the time say that their kids are in college because of him. I had a parent even say that today. I hear it all the time.”
“We’ve wanted to recommend Winnie for the state teacher of the year, but he doesn’t want the recognition,” Ladd said. “It’s all about the kids for him.”
“Whatever everybody says about Winnie, he’s all that and then some,” HLWW Principal Mike Day said.
Weninger was surprised by the award he was given Wednesday. The school administration and his FFA students knew about the award about a week and a half before Fox 9 came out to the school, but kept it a secret because they knew how Weninger shied away from recognition.
Weninger was told that there would be an assembly to recognize the FFA, its accomplishments, and send them off to the state convention, which runs this week.
After Weninger introduced the different FFA teams and gave a description about FFA, he encouraged students be part of any kind of team the school offers.
“Take advantage of the opportunities you have here at school,” Weninger told the students.
Weninger thought the assembly was over so he handed off his microphone. Just then, Fox 9 anchor Marni Hughes, followed by a camera man, came walking through the gym doors, took the microphone, and told Weninger the real reason the school assembled.
Weninger was visibly shocked and emotionally overwhelmed. He fought back tears as the students cheered for him. He accepted the award, which Schuelke was allowed the honors to present, with his wife and children close by.
Afterwards, students gathered around Weninger, clapping and shaking hands with him. They also enjoyed cake and refreshments in the commons area.