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Mentorship Award Recipients

2014/15 Recipient of the Excellence in Teaching: Mentorship Award

Chad Felgar (2014/15)

SWSF’s annual Mentorship Award recognizes teachers, principals and other school-based staff who exemplify the kind of commitment to students that creates exceptional results. Graduating seniors nominate a teacher who has had a lasting positive impact on their lives.  This year there were 21 nominations for 13 different teachers.

FelgarLeading the nominations and this year’s recipient is Chad Felgar, also a South Whidbey alum and currently the high school shop and agriculture teacher.

In nominating Felgar, graduating seniors had this to say;

“He always keeps students busy with new, fun projects,” wrote one senior.

“Mr. Felgar has influenced me to be the best I could possibly be.  He has given me the confidence to be who I am,” wrote another student.

“(Mr.) Felgar showed me what it is like to have a job, good work ethic and to be a leader,” commented another student.

“He’s pretty chill, he does all types of classes and he does them well,” wrote another senior.

Felgar, who will be leaving the district next year, received the award and the accompanying cash stipend at the Farewell assembly to resounding applause from the senior class.

The award was established by Steve Shapiro, MD, and his wife, Debora Valis, for students in the community to acknowledge and honor the leadership, mentorship and inspiration of specific teachers who have unlocked the doors to the future for their children.


Past Recipients


Kathy and Bruce Callahan (2013/14)

The Mentorship Award, which acknowledges and honors current members of the South Whidbey School District Faculty who have had a lasting positive impact on members of this year’s graduating seniors, was awarded for the very first time to a pair of teachers who have taught for decades at  the South Whidbey Elementary School,  Bruce and Kathy Callahan. .   .

In nominating the Callahans for this year’s award, graduating senior Chantel Brown wrote: I had Mr. and Mrs. Callahan my fourth and fifth grade years. They taught me so many things that I had not learned before ..my love for math…love for helping others…If you need to start at a lower grade level they start you there and work with you to progress where you need to be …such an inspiration for me ….make me want to excel in every way possible…push you to be the best student you can be.” . .   .
Similarly, graduating senior Maia Sparkman added: “The Callahans were my teachers for third, fourth and fifth grades…we have managed to stay in touch ..I want them to be recognized because they taught me a lot of life lessons that I use to this day.” . .   .
Because of their varying schedules, Bruce was acknowledged at the South Whidbey High School Farewell Assembly, and Kathy was given a surprise party on the next to last day of school in the old elementary library that included the seven current students from the high school who had been with the Callahans in their classes. Kathy, completely overwhelmed, said tearfully, “this is the finest moment I have ever had in all my years of teaching.”

Jennifer Gandarias award croppedJennifer Gandarias (2012/13)

On June 13 at South Whidbey High School’s Senior Class Farewell Assembly, English Literature teacher Jennifer Gandarias, received the Foundation’s Mentorship Award along with a $500 check. This annual award was established by Steve Shapiro, MD and his wife, Debora Valis, for the purpose of allowing students to acknowledge and honor the leadership, mentorship and inspiration of specific teachers who have contributed the most to their success throughout their education at South Whidbey schools. Seniors Lennox Bishop and Tyler Helvey, who nominated Ms. Gandarias for the award, joined retired educator and South Whidbey Schools Foundation Secretary Jean Shaw in presenting the award. Lennox Bishop wrote in her nomination that, “Mrs. G. is an exceptional teacher. She goes above and beyond by not only challenging her students, but by truly investing in each one personally. She has a passion for teaching and it is evident.  She has supported me through some of my greatest struggles. She inspires me every day.” Gandarias was also a recipient of the Foundation’s Extra Mile Award for the 2009/10 school year.

Chris Harshman (2011/12)

Chris Harshman, Music Education Teacher and Band Teacher Harshman received The 2012 Excellence in Teaching: Mentorship Award, based on nominations made by members of the high school graduating class for leadership, mentorship, and inspiration. Graduate Sidney Hauser wrote in her nomination of Harshman that “He is the most motivational and influential teacher I have ever had. He sees potential in everyone and encourages everyone to try hard and do what they love.” In an April 2012 South Whidbey Record Hometown Hero article about Harshman, Hauser is quoted as saying, “Mr. Harshman is one of the most inspirational people I have ever met. He’s a teacher and so much more: life coach, friend, musician, parent and always young at heart. The belief he invests in his students gives us the motivation and encouragement to ‘raise our bar’ inside and outside of class. “Although life can sometimes be as thick as red clay, Mr. Harshman always wants the best for us. For all we know, most of us would not be the people we have become without him, especially myself. “There will never be another person like him. His love for music and life has rubbed off on me, and will rub off on anyone who ventures too close, so watch out!” Hauser presented Harshman with the award and a $500 prize at the Senior Class Farewell Assembly held at South Whidbey High School on June 7.

Nels Berquist (2010/11)

Nels Berquist (shown left, with then SWHS Principal Rod Merrell) was selected as the 2010-2011 Mentor Teacher by South Whidbey High School seniors, is a fourth generation Whidbey Islander, who became a teacher to “…give back to the community that is my home.” For the past eight years, Berquist has taught in many disciplines and levels ranging from fourth and fifth grade mathematics to LMS social studies, English, PE and Health, to SWHS Creative Writing and Public Speaking. Reviewing his many experiences, Berquist comments: “I have, in particular, enjoyed working with the staff and students of Langley Middle School. The high level of creativity of the middle level teachers spurred my desire to innovate. Greg Willis, the long-time principal at LMS, was a leader that I looked up to during my early years with the district.  My fondest memories involve the five years I taught Adventure Education at LMS, which included over fifteen backpacking trips to California and the Washington Coast.” One of the student nominations stated that Mr. Berquist had “changed my life,” and “really helped me find my inner voice.”  Others mentioned that he is generally, “awesome.”   Clearly, Berquist’s reflection that over his career he has “…enjoyed the creative pursuit of inspiring youth,” has made a difference to the many students in the South Whidbey School District who have been inspired by his teaching and leadership.

David Nelson (2009/10)

David Nelson, mathematics teacher at South Whidbey High School since 2000, is the 2009 recipient of the Mentorship Award.

Nelson is appreciated by students as one who cares about their learning and makes every effort to help them learn math.

He definitely meets the description of the Mentor Award’s purpose: “to acknowledge and honor teachers who have contributed the most to the success of this year’s graduating seniors of the South Whidbey School District.”

Cayla Calderwood, graduating senior, wrote:  Mr. Nelson is great at interacting with students. His ability to capture math in plain English helps his students understand easily…. And he manages to capture students’ interest with his own excitement in his subject.

This award is based on nominations made by members of the graduating class of teachers in the South Whidbey School District who have contributed the most to their success.

The award is funded from an endowment established by Steve Shapiro and Debora Valis to honor South Whidbey teachers for their dedication to and influence on our students and from donations from the community. The award includes a $500 cash gift.

 Gene Koffkin (2008)

(Photo not available)

Gene has been an inspiration to students for many years at South Whidbey High School with his hard work, dedication and creative skills. His commitment to the skills to help students prepare for life beyond high school is keenly appreciated. He has spent many years preparing beautiful yearbooks simply by going the “extra mile”.

The Steve Durbin English & Literature Award

In 2008, the Foundation created a special award, the Steve Durbin English and Literature Award, to recognize the contributions of Steve Durbin, retiring after a 37-year teaching career and recipient of multiple teaching awards and prizes at local and national levels.

South Whidbey High School English teacher Steve Durbin was awarded the second annual Mentorship Award in 2002 in recognition of his role as a mentor to students. Prior to Durbin’s surprise award, senior Megan Kelly spoke about her personal experience with Durbin as her teacher. “He is a teacher who has been a positive role model to a number of students over the years in school and outside of school,” Kelly said. “When I became sick, this teacher put in his personal time to help me complete my final project. He encouraged me to put my health first while helping me complete classes.”

Rachel Kizer (2007)

For inspiring students to excel in science, for making school fun, for making science entertaining and involving and for being a phenomenal teacher who takes education beyond all known limits, Rachel Kizer was recently awarded the Mentorship Award for Excellence in Teaching by the South Whidbey Schools Foundation.






Tom Kramer (2006)

Tom Kramer, social studies teacher and tennis coach at South Whidbey High School, was awarded the 2006 Mentorship Award for Excellence in Teaching by the South Whidbey Schools Foundation. Kramer was nominated for the award by seven graduating seniors and senior Janelle Iversen assisted SWSF President Dave Haworth in making the presentation at the High School Awards Ceremony.




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.Jenny Gochanour (2005)

Jenny Gochanour, Spanish teacher at South Whidbey High School, was awarded the 2005 Mentorship Award for Excellence in Teaching by the South Whidbey Schools Foundation. This award is based on nominations made by members of the graduating class of teachers in the South Whidbey School District who have contributed the most to their success. Jenny was nominated for the award by Jennifer Gaveling.





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 Paula Ludtke (2004)

Paula Ludtke, a vocal instructor and English teacher at South Whidbey High School received the 2004 Endowment for Excellence in Teaching Mentorship Award.

In nominating Ludtke, senior Jessica Eggland noted that when she came to South Whidbey two years ago, Ludtke accepted her into the choir class with open arms. Eggland said that Ludtke has a unique way of disciplining students with respect, has an extraordinary ability to care for others and always encourages students to become better people.




Scott Mauk (2003)

Scott Mauk, formerly a Bayview High School teacher, was presented the third annual Endowment for Excellence in Teaching Mentorship Award of the South Whidbey Schools Foundation at the Bayview High School Awards Barbeque.

Mauk taught history at Bayview. In nominating him, senior Janelle Petanovich noted that although when she came to Bayview she didn’t care about school, Mauk has a unique way of teaching which captivates and draws her in. He has made her want to learn even more and to be a better student. Mauk received a degree in anthropology from Santa Clara University and a Masters in Teaching from Evergreen College. He came to the South Whidbey Schools in 1996 and previously taught at the Alternative School on Bainbridge Island. He and his wife Anne have two sons and live on an organic farm in Freeland.