Tomahawk educator Paula Norman receives Herb Kohl Educational Foundation award
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – Tomahawk educator Paula Norman was among the recipients of the 2022 Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellowship Award.
Norman, who is the School District of Tomahawk’s Library Media -Instructional Technology Coordinator, joined four Northwoods educators in receiving the prestigious honor. Adam Matyska and Jennfier Leis from Northlands Pines High School, as well as Peggy Billing from Lakeland High School, also received the award.
The Herb Kohl Foundation was founded in 1990 and has since awarded nearly $30 million to Wisconsin educators, students and schools.
The Foundation said the purpose of the Teacher Fellowship Award is to recognize and support teaching excellence in Wisconsin.
“Our goal is to support teachers in the pursuit of their unrealized goals for their classrooms or professional development,” the Foundation’s website says.
The Foundation explained that 100 educators receive the Teacher Fellowship Award every year, with the recipients and their schools each being awarded a $6,000.00 grant.
Only teachers who are nominated are eligible to receive the Teacher Fellowship Award. Students, parents, other teachers, community members or administrators can nominate educators.
Norman said that being nominated for the award “was an honor and dream come true.”
“My daughter won the Herb Kohl Student Excellence Award in 2019, and it was in that banquet the dream to receive this award really began,” she stated. “I can’t even begin to describe the feeling I had being surrounded by all the amazing educators in that room and the passion and dedication that oozed from them. So when I was nominated, I was honored and thrilled that someone thought I was an educator performing at that echelon.”
After she learned that she had been nominated, Norman’s next step was to find three people to write letters of recommendation for her.
“This poses a big time commitment for them, and I felt terribly guilty having to ask them for a letter, but I sure am grateful for the kind words from Pastor Mark Ziemer, Cathy Schmit and Guy Steckbauer,” Norman said.
Norman’s award application was submitted in early Nov. 2021.
Once an application is received and verified as complete, it is reviewed regionally at either the teacher’s Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA), or for teachers in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), through the MPS District Office, the Foundation explained. In Norman’s case, her application was reviewed by CESA 9.
The Foundation said the CESA agencies create Regional Selection Committees, made up of students, parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, civic and business leaders and members of local media. The Regional Selection Committee then notifies the educator whether or not they have progressed to the Statewide Selection Committee.
At the end of Jan. 2022, Norman learned that her application had made through CESA 9 and would advance to the Statewide Selection Committee.
Norman said that during the school’s spring break, she learned that the Statewide Selection Committee would announce the 2022 award recipients at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 6.
“When I saw the email come through at 11 a.m. that day, and I saw that I was one of the 100 recipients in the entire state, I couldn’t believe it and jumped up and down in my office,” Norman stated. “I immediately called my husband and my mom and then texted my kids.”
A post on the School District of Tomahawk’s Facebook page congratulated Norman for receiving the award.
“Mrs. Norman was chosen because of her skill as a leader, agent for positive change, and her superior ability to inspire a love of learning,” the post said.
“Paula is truly deserving of the Herb Kohl award,” said School District of Tomahawk Interim Administrator Joe Innis. “Whether it be in her position as library media coordinator or all the additional activities she is involved in, she works tirelessly to provide students the best learning opportunities possible. We congratulate her on receiving this prestigious award.”
School District of Tomahawk Board of Education members Kay Kissinger Wolf and Deb Velleux praised Norman on behalf of the board for her “dedication to our students with her innovative and creative talents.”
Norman said she didn’t want to get her hopes up going into the application process, so upon learning that she was an award recipient, she didn’t have a firm plan for how to spend the $6,000.00 grant to the school. She noted that she has some ideas, but first she will speak to the people involved and price everything out before moving forward.
“As far as myself, I’m going to put (the grant funds) in my savings account, and when travel is a little more convenient, I would like to take a trip with my family, since I would have never received this award without all of their support,” she stated.
Being an award recipient, Norman is now among the candidates for the Foundation’s Wisconsin Teacher of the Year program. A State Selection Committee will select five Teachers of the Year using the pool of Teacher Fellowship Award recipient applications, and the five selected teachers will be interviewed by a committee of reviewers to determine Wisconsin’s nominee to the National Teacher of the Year Program.
Even more than a week after she learned she had received the Teacher Fellowship Award, Norman said she still can’t believe it.
“I work alongside so many amazing educators, and I don’t see myself as anything out of the ordinary,” she stated, adding that she’s “just trying to do what is best for kids and to support my colleagues and make their job easier.”
“I’m most excited to have my picture in the showcase next to my daughter’s!” Norman said.