Additionally, Ilia Gilestra was honored as the Support Employee of the Year, while Stacey Koerner was selected as the district’s Substitute Teacher of the Year
Barger was selected from a group of 15 OPS site Teachers of the Year by a committee of 30 OPS educators throughout the district. Meanwhile, a pair of district committees voted on a group of nominees to identify finalists and winners of the inaugural Support Employee and Substitute Teacher of the Year awards.
“Tonight was really special, as we not only celebrated the work of our incredible teachers but also for the first time honored our support personnel and substitutes,” OPS Superintendent Dr. Margaret Coates said. “I have such great respect for our teachers and the work they do every day to elevate engagement and instruction in the classroom for our students. Stephani Barger is an outstanding educator who is a shining example of serving students with passion, kindness, and love. This passion is a gift that she brings to the classroom that her students will cherish for a lifetime.
“Ilia Gilestra is loved by both staff and students. Her tireless dedication to students at Ator is evident to everyone she comes in contact with. Our school district could not function effectively without our substitute teachers and Stacey Koerner is one of our best. She is a certified teacher and full-time mom, who loves kids and can step into any classroom in the district and provide instruction to students as if she's their regular teacher. I congratulate these three individuals and am grateful that they are part of the Owasso Ram Family."
A graduate of Owasso Public Schools herself, Barger has spent the last 17 years teaching special education in the district. She served two years (1994-96) as a paraprofessional for OPS before completing her degree in Special Education from Northeastern State in 1999. Upon graduation, she worked as a special education teacher for Oologah Public Schools for six years (1999-2005) and returned home to Owasso to teach special education in August 2005.
“When I was in high school, I just knew that this (OHS) is where I wanted to come back to,” Barger said. “So to be named their Teacher of the Year and now the District Teacher of the Year, it is the most amazing experience of my life next to my grandchildren. My students are my why. I come here every day to make sure that they have some happiness at school. I make sure that my room, my hallway, my programs, Special Olympics, and all of it, is their happy place where everyone is welcome. I couldn’t be here without them.”
Barger summarizes her teaching philosophy with one word: welcome. She strives every day to create an environment where all students are welcome to learn, to create, and to simply be who they are. She believes that every student deserves a safe and loving environment, where they can be themselves and develop their purpose.
It is important to Barger that her students feel valued and she believes that if a student knows they are welcome, they will feel safe enough to let down the walls that could prevent learning from taking place. All students and accomplishments are celebrated in her classroom, no matter how large or small the achievement. From the star on the field to the student with multiple disabilities who only communicates with sounds, all are welcome, all are valued and all are family.
Barger will complete the application process to be considered for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year over the next several weeks.
Gilestra is a special education paraprofessional at Ator Elementary and she has been in the district for 15 years. In addition to her regular duties, she also serves the students of Ator by helping translate for Spanish-speaking families daily and often at all times of the day. Her efforts help the school maintain a consistent and meaningful line of communication with those families.
A certified teacher, Koerner has been a substitute teacher in the district for 10 years and is always in high demand throughout the district. This year, she served in long-term substitute teaching roles at both the 6th Grade Center and 7th Grade Center.
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