The Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce honored service staff alongside teachers at its annual education awards banquet April 27.
Howard Hellebuyck (pronounced “Heli-bike”), West Platte School District’s facilities maintenance director, is not the first non-teaching school staff member to receive one of the chamber’s education awards. He is, however, the first support staff member to share a stage at the banquet with the teachers recognized at the annual event.
After four years with the U.S. Navy, Hellebuyck joined the West Platte School District as a janitor in 1981, working nights while attending Maple Woods Community College. Hellebuyck currently serves as director of maintenance and facilities.
“It’s one of those things you stay with,” Hellebuyck said, reflecting on his 35 years with the school district. Hellebuyck said the students attending the schools he works for are like his family, adding, “Probably at my age, more like grandkids.”
Hellebuyck is a 1974 graduate of West Platte High School. He described the changes through the years as surface only. “The human soul is still the same for the most part,” he said.
Being the first non-teaching staff member recognized at the banquet was a humbling experience, he said. “I’m very proud of the people that have been involved in my life.”
Chamber President Sheila Tracy said inviting the the top non-teaching staff member to the event is a recognition of their valuable work in building a successful school.
“We felt (they) were an important segment of educating kids,” Tracy said. “Lunch room workers, greeters, nurses, bus drivers: they’re changing lives and making kids want to come to school.”
The Christa McAuliffe Pioneer in Education award went to Park Hill South High School math teacher Cheryl Chaput (pronounced “sha-poo”), the top-rated teacher in the chamber’s awards evaluations.
Chaput teaches calculus and trigonometry to Park Hill School District high-schoolers. She remained an active part of the teaching staff through a breast cancer diagnosis and a subsequent battery of chemotherapy treatments, which began last August.
As of January, Chaput is cancer free.
Rather that her teaching being an added burden throughout her treatment, Chaput said her students were a source of strength for her in that time. For example, students wore T-shirts in support of Chaput before her chemotherapy treatments.
“I felt like it was really important that I was in the classroom,” she said. “I don’t think you can teach yourself calculus very well. I was determined to be there for them.”
Chaput began her 44-year teaching career in Lawrence, Kan. A colleague who took a principal position in the Park Hill South School District spoke highly of the district and convinced her to take a teaching position in the Northland about a decade ago.
The recipients of the Excellence in Education award are graded against 30 education-related metrics. Nominees compete against candidates from the eight school districts and seven universities across two counties covered by the Northland chamber. The top 20 scoring nominees receive awards.
Chaput’s story stood out to the volunteer judges because of the commitment she showed.
“Had she not told us, we wouldn’t have know she was sick. She worked that hard,” Tracy said.