School of Education Selects 10 Metro Educators for Teaching Fellowship Program

The University of St. Thomas School of Education has selected 10 middle and high school educators to participate in the second cohort of  a fellowship program designed to produce extraordinary classroom teachers.

The 10 were selected from 89 applicants from 25 school districts in the Twin Cities metro area.

Each participant in the yearlong St. Thomas Teaching Fellowship program receives a stipend, iPad and graduate-level academic credits.

The program is now underway; its goal is to bring together a group of accomplished educators and help them further develop their teaching, mentoring, critical-thinking and technology skills.

Applicants were required to have five years of classroom experience and to have shown the kind of dedication and leadership that will help them become extraordinary teachers. Most of the teachers selected for this year’s cohort already have or are working toward their master’s degrees.

“The program provides a setting of support and professional development for teachers who are experienced and want to become experts,” said Dr. Bruce Kramer, dean of St. Thomas’ School Education. “The ultimate goal is to ensure more learning for students through the development of their teachers.”

The second cohort, twice as large as last year’s inaugural group, consists of four men and six women. They come from nine school districts and teach in the areas of social studies, English and language arts, construction, chemistry, biology, athletics, and mathematics and science. They are:

Ken Friel

Ken Friel – mathematics, Richfield Middle School

A native of Brooklyn, Friel was raised and attended schools in Bloomington. He received his bachelor’s degree in international business from Marquette University. After working in the business field for five years he earned his master’s in education from St. Thomas. He first taught at Immaculate Conception School in Columbia Heights and has been teaching at Richfield Middle School for the past six years.

Amanda Gavin

Amanda Gavin – chemistry, East Ridge High School, Woodbury

By the time she was in third grade, Gavin knew she wanted to be a teacher. She has been a chemistry teacher for the past nine years, currently at East Ridge High School in Woodbury. Gavin attended the university of Minnesota, where she holds a bachelor’s in science and a master’s in science education.


Harry Jennes Jr.

Harry Jenness, Jr. – social studies, Heritage E-STEM Magnet School, West St. Paul

Jenness has taught seventh- and eighth-grade social studies at Heritage E-STEM Magnet School in West St. Paul for the past 13 years. He did his undergraduate studies at Mankato State University and earned a master’s in education from St. Mary’s University in Winona.

Peter Jacobson

Peter Jacobson – English, Belle Plaine Junior-Senior High School

In addition to English, over the past 15 years Jacobson has taught computing, speech communication, geography, psychology and history to students in grades seven to 12. He currently teaches at Belle Blaine Junior-Senior High School and is the K-12 media specialist for Belle Plaine Public Schools. He earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Minnesota State University-Mankato.

Ethan Laubach

Ethan Laubach – construction, St. Paul Public Schools and St. Paul College

Laubach is a construction instructor for St. Paul Public Schools and St. Paul College, and earlier served as a small-learning-community coordinator for both St. Paul and Minneapolis public schools. Once a remodeler, sheet-metal worker and welder, he founded in 2004 UnderConstruction, a summer construction internship program for inner-city youth.

Sarah Lorntson

Sarah Lorntson – English, Mahtomedi High School

Lorntson has been teaching English at Mahtomedi High School for the past 10 years and is an avid user of SMART interactive educational products. She also is the adviser for Interact, an international service organization, and has led service projects locally and internationally. A fan of open-source curriculum, she was featured in a Japanese public television documentary, “Education 2.0,” for her work with

Jennifer Neisse

Jennifer Neisse – language and social studies, John Glenn Middle School, Maplewood

A middle school teacher since 1998, Neisse has taught language arts and social studies at John Glenn Middle School in Maplewood since 2002. She received her bachelor’s in middle school education from Ashland University in Ohio, earned her Minnesota teaching license at Hamline University and holds a master’s in K-12 instructional technology. She also is working part-time this year in the areas of curriculum and staff development.

Michelle Reinke

Michelle Reinke – K-12 science resource teacher, Wayzata School District

Reinke is the K-12 science resource teacher for the Wayzata School District and serves as the professional-learning-community coach at Wayzata Central Middle School. Previously a middle school science and consumer-science teacher, she holds a bachelor’s in family and consumer education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and master’s in education from the University of Minnesota.

Ellen Spika

Ellen Spika – biology, John F. Kennedy High School, Bloomington

Spika has taught biology at John F. Kennedy High School in Bloomington for the past 22 years and is starting her 26th year as a high school and college basketball coach. She holds two degrees from St. Thomas: a summa cum laude bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in education.

Lee Vang

Lee Vang – communication arts, Battle Creek Middle School, St. Paul

Vang attended St. Paul public schools from kindergarten through high school, and has taught in those schools since 2003. She now teaches communication arts and literature at Battle Creek Middle School, including courses that integrate multimedia technologies. Vang graduated from Concordia University-St. Paul and is working on her master’s at Hamline University.

For more information about the fellowship program visit this School of Education website or contact Dr. Jane Sigford at the School of Education, (763) 242-4880.

The St. Thomas Teaching Fellowship is made possible through a gift from Nancy and John Tellor. Nancy Tellor is a member of the School of Education’s Advisory Board at St. Thomas.