Excellence in Education 2017 inductees

17 May CCSD honors Excellence in Education Award winners

George Breaz and Dr. Susan Steaffens have completely different roles in the Clark County School District (CCSD), yet their approach to education is very similar: “students first.” They also share the distinction of being inducted into the Excellence in Education Hall of Fame during a ceremony on May 11.

The Excellence in Education award was established in 1989 by the CCSD Board of School Trustees to recognize individuals, departments, programs, schools and agencies that have made extraordinary contributions to education in our community.

Breaz is a teacher librarian at Advanced Technologies Academy (A-TECH) with 36 years’ experience in CCSD. A Michigan native, Breaz began his education career in 1981 as a journalism and reading teacher at J. Harold Brinley Middle School. In 1991 he began serving as librarian at M.J. Christensen Elementary School. Three years later he joined A-TECH, and it was A-TECH Principal Jonathan Synold who nominated Breaz for the prestigious award.

Synold said from the very start, Breaz had a vision for a 21st century library and understood that a library must adapt to stay relevant in today’s rapidly changing world. Breaz focused on embedding technology into instruction and challenged teachers to use technology to connect with students. He collaborates with teachers to provide them with resources for their classrooms, provides lessons on how to conduct quality research and develops teacher websites with embedded digital resources.

Breaz assisted CCSD’s first virtual high school housed at A-TECH, helping to create online classes for students. In 2001, he was selected for a Library of Congress fellowship. Two years later, he received the Washoe County School District Teaching American History grant. Additionally, he received two Global Nomads Group grants which allowed more than 130 Advanced Placement students to connect with students in the Middle East on virtual projects.

All of that is just the beginning for Breaz, who opens the A-TECH library every morning at 6:30 for the benefit of students. He explained, “We’ve always opened the library so that students can use the computers, do research or just share ideas with other students. Up to 200 students come in every morning to use the library.”

Breaz’s wife, Carolyn, shares his commitment to A-TECH by volunteering at the school library every day. Coordinators of the awards program said, “This dynamic team is retiring at the end of this school year and induction into the Hall of Fame is a fitting end to an incredible career.”

The other Excellence in Education Award recipient, Dr. Susan Steaffens, also will retire this year. She has spent nearly 38 years in education. She served as a special education teacher, assistant principal and principal, and more recently was named director of Title I Services.

As the Title I Services director, Steaffens is responsible for federal compliance and fiscal implementation of student services, including school-based support, parent engagement, pre-K programs and services for homeless students. She worked to increase the number of Title I schools to ensure students in poverty are supported with resources such as tutoring, instructional materials, access to technology and other wraparound services. Steaffens has a big job, given the fact that 273 of the district’s 351 schools are Title I. She said, “It’s very satisfying to know that the Title I funds are going to our most at-risk students.”

As a principal, Steaffens worked with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to create hands-on training experiences for prospective teachers new to the profession. She is credited with creating a supportive climate that inspired excellence. When individuals struggled, she was ready to coach, guide and encourage. Throughout her career, Steaffens carried her philosophy of compassion and coaching others to ensure teachers’ ongoing commitment and dedication to helping students learn. “While I love working with students, I love working with adults as well.”

Steaffens’ colleagues describe her as a champion for homeless students, helping to ensure the most vulnerable students are enrolled and attending school. Last year, through Title I allocations, about 14,000 homeless students received access to clothing, food, school supplies, hygiene kits and holiday gifts.

Steaffens’ influence has extended beyond the K-12 setting and into post-secondary education by teaching at several universities and being published in a variety of educational journals. She also was recently recognized with the National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators State Leadership Award.

With Breaz and Steaffens both retiring this year, CCSD will lose two outstanding educators. However, their legacy will live on with their lasting contributions to CCSD students and employees.