2023 Lakota Educator of Excellence Awards

June 8, 2023

The Northern Cincinnati Foundation, in partnership with Lakota Local Schools, is proud to announce the recipients of the 2023 Lakota Educator of Excellence Awards. This year’s honorees include: 


  • Elementary (PreK-6) Winner: Melissa Riehle
    Second Grade Teacher – Wyandot Early Childhood School
  • Secondary (7-12) Winner: Ellen Bowmann
    Special Education Teacher – Lakota East High School
  • Administrator / Support Staff Winner: Mary Brophy
    Principal – Hopewell Early Childhood School


Each recipient was honored with a special surprise celebration that included their families during “Teacher Appreciation Week” and within their respective school communities. 


“As always, this year’s honorees are model educators and represent the qualities we appreciate in so many of our teachers, administrators and support staff across Lakota,” said Lakota Interim Superintendent Robb Vogelmann. “We appreciate the ongoing partnership with the Northern Cincinnati Foundation to continue this great tradition.” 


Melissa Riehle, who in her 17 years at Lakota has also served the Independence and Woodland school communities, was applauded by several of her colleagues for not just being a teacher for young learners, but a mentor to her fellow educators. She was called a lifelong learner, master educator, collaborator and servant leader by her peers. “Mrs. Riehle pursues professional learning opportunities to continue to improve her own skills and has not allowed the thief of time to steal her joy of being in the classroom,” wrote Sara Mosteller, a Lakota parent and community liaison. 


In addition to a portfolio of illustrations and messages from her current students, Riehle was repeatedly commended for her personalized approach to teaching, including handling difficult behavior challenges and special learning needs “with compassion and excellence.” She was recognized for her intentional effort to make real-world connections, namely through frequent class visitors and her participation in the “Global Read Aloud” to connect her students with people all around the world. She is also an avid supporter of the community’s annual Martin Luther King student contest, coaching and supporting many winners over the years.


Ellen Bowmann is a special educator who has left her mark on Lakota East, East Freshman and Liberty Junior over the last 19 years. She was recognized by parents and colleagues for the unique bond she creates with her students and their families, called by one of her peers “the accidental mom” to her students. Known for her habit of dressing up, she is also the driver of Lakota’ East’s pre-Homecoming dinner to accommodate the special needs of her students before and during the dance. She also started the coffee cart, a daily routine that encourages her students to practice their conversation skills with other East staff. 


“She will do silly things to make our students laugh or smile. They smile and at times dance with joy when they see Ellen because they are so happy she is part of their world,” said Kathy Guckenberger, an intervention specialist for Lakota East’s multiple disabilities unit. Jeanette Holliday, a parent who says she finds ways connect with each student in a way that is special and meaningful to them, added this: “It takes a very special, kind and loving person to be a teacher in general, but to be a special needs teacher is an incredibly different adventure that no many can or are willing to and able to do. Ellen does it daily with such love and devotion.”


On the cusp of her retirement, Mary Brophy received the Administrator/Support Staff Award after dedicating her entire 35-year career to the Lakota community. Her current post as principal at Hopewell ECS was preceded by positions at two other Lakota schools as an ESL and special education tutor, reading specialist, second grade teacher, assistant principal and principal (Wyandot ECS). She was described as the epitome of a hands-on and “lead by example” type of leader who wears many different hats. “Mary brings a personal touch with her to every role she seamlessly portrays at Hopewell ECS,” wrote intervention specialist Debby Gallagher. “On any given day, Mary is a teacher, a parent to one of the hundreds of children, a mentor, a cafeteria worker, special education resource, foreign language interpreter, and a friend.


Brophy was also repeatedly commended for her impact as an instructional leader. She kick started a partnership with Xavier University that helped talented student teachers land their first full-time teaching jobs in Lakota. She was also an early adopter of such strategies as inquiry-based learning and cognitively guided instruction, still used in Lakota classrooms today. “Mary has always given back to her profession as a cooperating teacher and mentor to those who were beginning their journey in education,” wrote Hopewell teacher Rita Bitzer.


The Lakota Educator of Excellence Award was established in 2007 to recognize educators in the Lakota School District who demonstrate consistency and high commitment to students. These individuals motivate, share ideas, inspire, support and go beyond to make a difference in the community. The grade level awards include a $1,000 grant for the implementation of a special project or program at the recipient’s school, made possible through sponsorship from Phelan Insurance.


“The Northern Cincinnati Foundation is proud to partner with Lakota Schools and Phelan Insurance on the annual Educator of Excellence Awards,” said Northern Cincinnati President & CEO Erin Satzger. “Great school systems like Lakota are built on the hard work and dedication of educators, and we hope to honor that in a small way with this award.”


A selection committee consisting of a different combination of Lakota staff each year review the nomination letters and vote on the final recipients. Two winners are selected to represent grades PreK-6 and 7-12. The committee can also opt to recognize a deserving administrator or support staff member, without the attached monetary award.


In addition to the 2023 Educator of Excellence recipients, the following Lakota staff members were nominated for the award:


Elementary Finalists (PreK-6)

  • Kara Boice (Independence Elementary)
  • Elizabeth Bonin (Freedom Elementary)
  • Heather Finn (Cherokee Elementary)
  • Melissa Gregory (Heritage ECS)
  • Linda Haar (Liberty ECS)
  • Christa MacFarlane (Liberty ECS)
  • Erin Miller (Liberty ECS)
  • Tamara Murphy (Woodland Elementary)
  • Penny Musser (Creekside ECS)
  • Chris Roth (Endeavor Elementary)


Secondary Finalists (7–12)

  • Ben Dougherty (Lakota East & Lakota West high schools)
  • Jodi Kessler (Lakota Central High School)
  • Ralph Newlin (Liberty Junior)
  • Amy Panfalone (Ridge Junior)
  • Cassandra Saylor (Plains Junior)
  • Sherry Voytek (Ridge Junior)


Administrator / Support Staff Finalists

  • Lance Green (Freedom Elementary)