Educator Spotlight: Amy Taranko, teacher to principal to assistant superintendent. 

March 20, 2022

Amy Taranko

Educator Spotlight: Amy Taranko, teacher to principal to assistant superintendent. 

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

Educator Spotlight is a presentation of is a presentation of Smith & Eddy Insurance, with offices in Scottville and Manistee, offering discounts for MEA members and school employees.

AMBER TWP – Growing up in a family full of educators, West Shore Educational Service District’s Assistant Superintendent to Instructional Services Amy Taranko knew she wanted to be come an educator herself.

“My mom and dad were both teachers and principals and they have always been huge role models for me,” Taranko said.” It became evident very soon in college that I would follow in their footsteps and go into education.”

Taranko graduated from Kalkaska High School in 1988. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan in 1992 and graduate degree in educational administration from Central Michigan University in 1999.

Having 29 years spent in education, Taranko spent 14 years teaching English language arts (ELA) and social studies at Hart Middle School, two years teaching third grade at Hart Upper Elementary School, 10 years as an elementary principal at Hart Public Schools and since, almost three years at West Shore ESD as assistant superintendent of instructional services. Her husband, John, recently retired from Hart Public Schools after over three decades as band director.

“I am part of the instructional services department at the ESD, which is a team of educational specialists that supports educators in Mason, Lake, and Oceana counties through coaching, facilitating professional learning opportunities, and providing/coordinating resources,” Taranko said. “We support our local districts mainly in the areas of early childhood, including the Great Start Readiness Preschool Program, literacy, mathematics, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and social work services for general education students.

“My department works collaboratively with local educators and families in ways that can positively impact multiple aspects of child development like academic, social, emotional.”

During her years in education Taranko has had the opportunity to not only work with many different ages of students, but she also stated that she has had the privilege to work with many great administrators as well.

“Student interaction has always been one of my favorite parts of working in education,” she said. “As a teacher, coach, and principal, those interactions were direct and the impact more visible. I still feel that I can have an impact on students, though indirectly, now that my job has shifted to working primarily with adults who support students. I love being a member of the instructional services team and a part of all of the amazing work and creative new initiatives the team has developed, such as inspiREading, Math Moments, the Great Start Collaborative Community Book Walks, and coming soon, the WSESD Book Bus. I also enjoy my interactions with local administrators. We are so fortunate to have such dedicated principals and superintendents in all of the three counties we support. From my own experience as a building principal, I know what an extremely difficult job they have, made even more demanding by the pandemic, and I’m always thinking about how I might help to make any part of their job just a bit easier.”

Although having hundreds of positive interactions with students and administrators, Taranko said she still would like to see the public as a whole view education in a more positive light.

“What I would change for the field of education is what I would change for all of society currently, that we could all do a better job at presuming positive intent, seeking to understand, and extending grace to others,” she said. “Ted Lasso probably says it best, ‘be curious, not judgmental.’”

For those contemplating studying education, Taranko said there are many positives to the job, but people need to also understand that it’s not just a nine to five job.

“This work is very important and rewarding, yet can be extremely challenging,” she said. “Educators have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact on young people, and that should not be taken lightly. You may never know the difference you make in a student’s life, but without a doubt, you will. With the educator shortages we are facing now and in the future, it is more important than ever for us to have talented young people consider education as a career path.”

Success for all students is the vision of the West Shore ESD. The vision of helping students wasn’t more prevalent than during the COVID-19 pandemic, Taranko said.

“COVID was definitely a challenge as we suddenly had to navigate a health crisis that had so many other implications in terms of legislative and accountability requirements that emerged as a result of the pandemic,” she said. “There was a strong immediate focus on getting students basic needs met, and the local school communities rose to that challenge by arranging for food delivery, providing technology and internet access when possible, etc. The social-emotional well-being of students also became more of a priority. Out of crisis and/or conflict, comes opportunities for growth and learning. An example of this is the recognition of the need for support and funding for social work services for students with mild to moderate behavioral health issues. That allowed West Shore ESD to hire additional social workers that support all of our local districts. As a result, more students than ever are receiving much needed support.”

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