Superior teacher's passion for education earns state recognition
A recipient of a 2021 Herb Kohl Fellowship, Andy Wolfe is known among colleagues and students for his passion and intensity.
Superior High School English and journalism teacher Andy Wolfe received a 2021 Herb Kohl Fellowship , which recognizes and supports teaching excellence and innovation in Wisconsin. Each of the 101 teachers who received this year's fellowship are in the running to be named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year.
Former students and those who have taught with him weren’t surprised.
“I think that he is just one in a million, and our district is lucky to have him,” said Heidi Sigfrids, a counselor at the high school. “All kids would be lucky to have a teacher like him.”
He has a heart for teaching and students. Sigfrids said it's evident to students and parents how much he cares.
A dynamic presence with a passion for learning, Wolfe has been impacting students for decades. Emily Darker, a 2018 Superior High School graduate, said he stood apart from other teachers by how much time he was willing to give to students to help ensure they understood the material.
“He doesn’t teach class the same way,” she said. “He tailors it to the subject and the individuals. I think his classes definitely are intense. You get out of them what you put in.”
Sam Church started at Superior High School as a junior. Her first class with Wolfe, working on the school newspaper the Spartan Spin, lasted a week. When she took his creative writing class, he encouraged Church to try the journalism class again.
She ended up editing three different sections of the paper and spending prep hours going through Wolfe’s album selection, A-Z. After graduating in 2016, she went on to get a journalism degree at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“He is just one of those people you’re so glad to have in your life,” Church said. “He reached out and he made that connection. I don’t think I would be the social butterfly up here that I feel I am now without him giving me that little kick in the butt.”
The skills students learn stay with them, said Jacob Lindberg, a 2010 SHS graduate. One example is in how Lindberg communicates with other people. Wolfe teaches students to always be thinking about who is on the receiving end and to communicate as effectively as they can.
Furthermore, every student is welcome in Wolfe's classroom.
“Andy invested and believed in students in ways that I don’t think they had been believed in before,” Lindberg said, without expecting anything in return. “He cared about what happened to me. I think that was really rare. He cared about what I did next. I think he spoke a lot of truth in my life.”
To Wolfe, it was exciting to be recognized for a craft he’s spent 30 years honing. During that time, his philosophy has remained the same: “We’re going to teach every kid, every kind of kid … going to work with any kind of kid. Background doesn’t matter, GPA doesn’t matter. It’s not about the grades — it’s about growing in the skill.”
He gave credit to the Superior School District for allowing him to try innovative ideas, from combining business and English into a journalism class and using block scheduling to putting aside letter grades in favor of standards-based grading. That kind of flexibility is key to meeting students where they’re at, Wolfe said. He thanked his co-teachers over the years, as well.
As part of the fellowship, Wolfe and the school each received $6,000. Principal Rick Flaherty said part of the school’s funds will go toward costs for prom.
“If it will bring any kind of joy to these kids that have had to suffer through this pandemic this year then I’m all for it,” Wolfe said.
Part of the funds will go toward an endowment for the YMCA’s Camp Miller in the name of Karen Kjolhaug, who was a big influence on Wolfe’s life.
The teacher said he is just as motivated and enthusiastic about teaching today as he was when he started. Watching students learn gives him purpose.
“The ones that stick with me, I believe, even if they don’t see it, they’re coming out stronger,” Wolfe said. “The purpose is to help them reach their fullest potential, whether they want it or not.”
Past Herb Kohl Teacher Fellowship recipients
2019: Jill Prescott and Sarah Bianchet, Superior Middle School
2018: Mary Anderson-Petroske, Superior High School; Tia Conley and Amanda Lindquist, Superior Middle School
2017: Russ Nelson, Solon Springs School
2011: Amanda Trautt, Northwestern Middle School
2010: Kimberly Pipitone, Solon Springs High School
2008: Laurene Peterson, Solon Springs High School
2007: Elizabeth Erickson, Maple School District
2003: Patricia Luostari, Northwestern High School
2001: Michael Goodlet, Northwestern Elementary School
1999: Robert Coleman, Maple School District
1998: Janet Lietha, Solon Springs School; Edward Kofal, Northwood School
1996: Jerry Wilbur, Northwestern High School
1993: Linda Jatzo, Northwestern Middle School; Frances Levings, Solon Springs High School
1992: Rosalind Wilcox, Iron River Elementary School
1991: Barbara Anderson, Poplar Elementary School; Patricia Luostari, Northwestern High School
1990: Michael Jahn, Northwestern Middle School; Douglas Standen, Northwestern High School