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De Pere’s Kallio named special education teacher of the year

By Heather Graves

DE PERE – Growing up, Escanaba-native Danielle Kallio said she had always wanted to be a criminal psychologist or a journalist.

A job-shadow opportunity with a special education team while in high school, however, sent her on another career path.

“I enjoyed working with kids, trying to problem solve new ways of teaching them, and making a difference,” she said. “I enjoy seeing kids grow and having many positive, fun memories of school.”

It was this sparked passion that has extended the length of her career – now 20 years in, as a special education teacher.

Kallio is in what she believes is her eighth year at Heritage Elementary School.

“After teaching this long, you tend to lose count,” she said jokingly. “Before De Pere, I taught special education at Seymour Middle and High School.”

Teacher of the year
Recently, Kallio’s teaching efforts were recognized, receiving the 2022 Outstanding Special Education Teacher award from Wisconsin Council of Administrators of Special Services (WCASS).

Kallio was nominated by Jerry Nicholson, director of Pupil Services for the De Pere School District.

“Danielle develops strong, trusting relationships with her students, their families and other school staff,” Nicholson said. “She is positive, persistent and devoted to each of her students and their success.”

He said he doesn’t usually nominate people for awards, because “all of my staff are so dedicated and passionate about serving our students that it is hard to select only one.”

However, Nicholson said he decided Kallio’s efforts warranted recognition.

“I nominated Danielle because she is tireless in serving our students, and she seeks out and wants to work with the students with the greatest needs,” he said. “She is always positive and continually looking for another idea or solution to help our students. That positivity in the face of challenges is why I nominated her.”

Kallio said she didn’t even know the award existed.

“I am very honored,” she said. “I was more touched by the nomination than the actual award, because it feels good to be recognized by a superior. I was absolutely shocked when I found out I was receiving the award. If I had known, there are so many deserving teachers and paraprofessionals I would have nominated.”

Kallio said the Heritage community recognized her with a ceremony, along with a copy of the nomination letter.

“I was so nervous to stand in front of all my peers, but at the same time so thankful for the award,” she said. “Along the way, I have met so many amazing people.”

Kallio said the comments posted on the award announcement post on the district’s Facebook page were very touching.

“Over the years, I have lost contact and somewhat forgotten about all the amazing memories and people,” she said. “People from my hometown, past schools and coworkers, friends, family, parents, students, neighbors, etc have reached out to me and it is wonderful to reflect.”

For the love of teaching
Kallio said the thing she likes most about her job is listening to her students’ stories.

“They crack me up,” she said. “I love being the reason they understand things and are excited to learn. The best is when they realize how well they are doing and are proud of themselves.”

As a special education teacher, Kallio said she has multiple grade levels and responsibilities, with her days looking different each year.

“I also provide push-in support for reteaching and individual/small group support,” she said. “Our special education team at Heritage is amazing, so we help each other with other responsibilities as well: lunchroom and recess supervision, related arts class support, etc.”

Kallio said while her days change as students’ needs change, for her, preparation is key.

“Before the day starts, I like to be at work at least 30 minutes early to get lessons and supplies ready, check parent/teacher emails and schedules/events for the day,” she said. “After school hours, we usually have meetings. This is when we collaborate with other staff about student goals, curriculum, issues and schedules.”

Kallio said the oodles of changes with curriculum, trainings and paperwork are hands-down the biggest challenges of her work.

“As a special education teacher, we have little time to spare for these things, as we are with kiddos,” she said. “Often the biggest challenge is trying to fit everything in.”

A little more
Kallio graduated from Escanaba High School in 1999 before starting her college career at Bay College, and then transferring to Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan where she finished her teaching degree.

A few years later, she earned her master’s degree in reading/literacy from Walden University.

Kallio and her husband Jason, who works at Humana, moved to Green Bay after college to pursue their careers.

Their 14-year-old son Dayton (DJ) and two dogs – Pennie, a King Charles cavalier and Aqua, a lhasa apso – round out their family.

In her free time, Kallio said she and her family enjoy traveling – with favorite trips to Belize and Maui – camping, fishing, deer hunting, watching hockey and spending time outside.

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