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Whitewater math teacher named Wisconsin Middle School Teacher of the Year

By Andrea Anderson
September 5, 2014

WHITEWATER—Before Diana Callope ever knew she would be named the state's Middle School Teacher of the Year, she was cheering with her students for the school's Whippet mascot Friday in the Whitewater Middle School gym.

"Woo," exclaimed Callope, who teaches eighth-grade math. She followed her cheers by raising her hands in the air while her students got on their feet.

Along with the students, district staff, school board members and state Department of Public Instruction staff attended the assembly, which Callope would soon realize was to recognize her.

"When we have actors, we give them Academy Awards. With TV, it's the Emmys. With sports, it's most valuable players ... One of those star educators that we honor is in this room today," State Superintendent Tony Evers said, not mentioning who was being acknowledged.

At that point, Callope began to cry—realizing everyone was gathered in her honor. Co-workers rubbed her shoulders as she said "Oh my God," several times, waved at her eyes and wiped her tears.

Seconds later, Evers said Callope's name and the gym erupted.

Callope walked down from the bleachers, simultaneously laughing, crying and hugging co-workers. She then selflessly attributed the award to the school staff, students and district. 

"This is not an award to win by yourself," Callope said, choking back tears. "Nobody does this by themselves. I do appreciate the co-workers I have and the support from administration that we have here. And the kids here are really awesome."

Callope's innovative teaching techniques include writing and performing math songs. She also hosts an eighth-grade “Reality Fair” where students learn about personal finance, budgeting and taxes.

These were among the many reasons she was given the award, according to a Department of Public Instruction news release.

Each year, four teachers across the state win Teacher of the Year awards sponsored by the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation. Each winner goes on to be interviewed in Madison, with one nominated to represent Wisconsin at the National Teacher of the Year program.

Callope, who Whitewater Middle School Principal Tanya Wojciechowicz described as someone who "dreamed, dared and did", also organized an after school tutoring program where high school and UW-Whitewater students help middle school students for community service hours.

Eric Runez, Whitewater Unified School District administrator, said Callope's determination to provide challenging learning opportunities has strengthened the middle school's math program and district.

"She's a terrific teacher, she's a tremendous educational leader," Runez said. "Teachers look to her for guidance and she's mentored a number of teachers. It's not a surprise to me."

Callope earned her bachelor's degree in education from UW-Whitewater. For 23 years she has taught in Whitewater, and she returns each day to push kids to reach their full potential.

"I want them to do well, and I want them to like to be here and feel they can do just about anything," she said. "Just because it's hard doesn't mean they can't succeed."

Callope also received $3,000 from the Herb Kohl Educational Foundation as part of her award.