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May 27, 2022 | Schmitz & Pueppka Honored with Schrager Distinguished Teaching Awards

Posted May 27, 2022

The Phillip and Terri Schrager Foundation graciously presents the Schrager Distinguished Teaching Awards to two Westside Community Schools educators, Julie Schmitz and Stephanie Pueppka. Congratulations to these incredible teachers who, through exemplary teaching and devoted service, have positively influenced the lives of countless young people.


6th Grade Teacher, Oakdale Elementary

Julie Schmitz, 6th Grade Teacher at Westside’s Oakdale Elementary, is a 2022 Schrager Distinguished Teaching Award recipient. A District 66 educator for 21 years, Schmitz was one of the first to implement a new method of teaching utilizing flexible learning spaces that is now mirrored throughout many classrooms in Westside Community Schools. Her original innovative proposal allows teachers to focus on subject strengths, adds student access to speakers, projects and discussion, and is now used as an architectural design asset in new construction throughout the district. Schmitz is a leader in collaboration, constantly meeting with her teaching partner to create engaging lesson plans and to evaluate student data to inform teaching decisions. That collaboration extends to Schmitz’s students; she is well known and respected for building long lasting relationships with her students through her caring demeanor and practices proven to increase student engagement, while also empowering students to seek and find independence in their own learning. As students’ smile at ‘Scientist Schmitz’ in her lab coat, they devotedly buy into the lesson at hand. Students save up good behavior ‘money’ to use in a quarterly prize auction,  while also learning about perseverance, responsibility and commitment. Fun class events are also utilized as fundraisers for others, teaching students about the positive impact they can have in our community.

Schmitz’s impact, while apparent throughout her career, has become a symbol of strength and support for children during this pandemic. She lives by her school’s motto: ‘Do Good, Be Good, Change The World’, offering that kindness to all students and fellow staff members through one small deed after another.  As COVID-19 illnesses caused short-staffing challenges at Oakdale, Schmitz gave up her own valuable time, in addition to teaching her own classes, to assist special education students in need. When a handful of math students were struggling, Schmitz created a morning math group before her already early arrival at school to help students practice math skills privately, building their skills and confidence. Schmitz is the first to write fellow teachers and coworkers handwritten notes to give them a boost and remind them they value and matter to our district. Julie Schmitz is truly changing the world one student at a time, one class at a time, one year at a time, all adding up to a huge positive impact in Westside and beyond. We are deeply grateful Julie Schmitz is a Westside teacher, and are proud to congratulate her as a 2022 Schrager Distinguished Teacher.


English Teacher, Westside High School

Stephanie Pueppka, English Teacher at Westside High School, is a 2022 Schrager Distinguished Teaching Award recipient. For 19 years, Pueppka has dedicated her talents not only to her students, but to her fellow teachers and the teaching profession through ongoing collaboration and leadership efforts. To her colleagues, Pueppka has earned ‘overwhelming respect’ in her work as a teacher, Secondary Instructional Coach, and Department Head, dubbed one the most reliable and consistent educators at Westside High School. Teachers note Pueppka’s detailed insight throughout her department with 15 other English colleagues when curricular updates, schedule changes, student support, or other class adaptations are necessary. She is also known for her vision and ability to translate ideas into successful teaching strategies to meet student needs. Pueppka then reflects upon those methods in depth, adjusting week to week based on student results to revise or increase the complexity of what students are doing. Feedback, whether for herself or to a colleague she is mentoring, is detailed and critical yet supportive and positive with all goals centered with and focused on students.


The attitude and culture created and nurtured within Pueppka’s classrooms are evident to students and staff members throughout Westside High School. Students taught by Pueppka throughout the years share words including ‘effective’, ‘creative’ and ‘innovative.’ Pueppka understands effective elements of classroom instruction, realizing those practices must flex and bend for each student depending on what best supports them as an individual. She has connected with high performing students as well as students with significant needs and everyone in between, anticipating behavioral and societal factors like obstacles, student apathy, and personal choices. Many students note that they found their own voice and confidence through Pueppka’s challenging of them to think outside of the box, guiding learners to push past what they thought they could do. Pueppka’s classes become more interactive adventure than lesson, often incorporating fresh ideas to encourage honest conversations that help students grow as well as learn. From one student: ‘Her students are not afraid to fail. Learning to work through that failure has helped me in my classes and in the other parts of my life.’ Stephanie Pueppka does not only teach English, she instills a love for English and for learning in students, and has been doing this for 19 years and counting. For these reasons and many others, this selfless, servant leader and impactful educator is a worthy recipient of the 2022 Schrager Distinguished Teacher Award.