Polk Elementary’s Kelly Bainer: School Names Teacher of the Year

Kelly Bainer, special education teacher at Polk Elementary School, has been named Watertown Public Schools’ 2020-21 District Teacher of the Year. A parade of more than 50 cars decorated with signs, banners and balloons surprised Ms. Bainer, her husband, Steven Bainer, and their daughter, Gabriella, at their home in Prospect on Tuesday, June 16.

WATERTOWN — Watertown Public Schools has named Kelly Bainer, special education teacher at Polk Elementary School, the 2020-21 District Teacher of the Year. Ms. Bainer was surprised at her home in Prospect on Tuesday, June 16, by a car parade of students, members of the Polk Elementary staff and district office staff. More than 50 cars, led by the Prospect Police Department, were decorated with signs, banners and balloons.

Ms. Bainer is a 2015 graduate of the University of St. Joseph, where she earned a master’s degree in special education. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in communication disorders with a minor in psychology from Southern Connecticut State University.

Ms. Bainer worked as a teaching assistant at Foundation School in Milford from 2013 to 2015 and was hired in June 2015 as a special education teacher at Polk Elementary School.

Ms. Bainer’s dedication to her students is evident. She is always looking for new ways to make connections with children. She gets to know their interests and incorporates them into lessons and activities.

She can often be found eating lunch with her students, either in the cafeteria or during her weekly Friday “Lunch and a Movie” offering.

She also started and organized “Facelift Fridays,” where participating staff greet students outside at arrival with music, signs, dancing and high fives.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms. Bainer organized a parade for Polk students. She visited each of her students weekly at their homes, sent every student a care package and made a volcano with a struggling student in his driveway while observing social distancing.

Ms. Bainer’s relationships with her colleagues and dedication to Polk School in general nearly match her feelings and actions with children. She does things just to ease the load for her colleagues and to make school a positive place.

She does all of the school-wide bulletin boards without being asked or expected to, and they are often about recognizing students or staff. 

Some examples include “Be the “i” in Kind,” where she collected student nominations from staff, took students’ pictures and then sent home copies to families with the certificate, and “Taco ‘bout How Great our Staff Is,” which is a staff shout-out bulletin board.

She likewise started “Feel Good Friday,” seeking out information about what her colleagues are doing and then highlighting them in positive ways via a weekly email. 

She frequently volunteers to help out her colleagues, covering duties, providing support when someone is out sick and taking additional students for small groups.

Her day-to-day interactions with students and staff help to make Polk School a safe, happy and accepting place to be.

Ms. Bainer will represent Watertown in the state Teacher of the Year Program for 2020-21.

Other nominees for Teacher of the Year were Sarah Baker, Spanish teacher, Watertown High School; Susan Danaher, speech and language pathologist at Polk School; Kate DeSantis, kindergarten teacher at John Trumbull School; Diana DeBiase, grade 5 teacher, Judson School; Chelsie Guerrera, mathematics teacher, Watertown High School; Jennifer Gruettner, grade 4 teacher, Judson School; Sharon Heady-Labansky, literacy coach, John Trumbull School; Nicole Lewis, library media specialist, Watertown High School; Marlena McDonnell, grade 3 teacher, Judson School; Kylee McIntosh, special education teacher, Judson School; Tara Schulte, grade 5 teacher, Polk School; Kathleen Sklanka, grade 8 science teacher, Swift Middle School; Molly Stepka, reading specialist, Judson School, and Jeff Turner, director of technology, Watertown Public Schools. 

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