“Ken works magic in his classroom,” declares WHS Principal Travis Utecht. “It’s an incredible experience to watch him deliver a new piece of music to his class and hear them bring that music to life. His most important characteristic, however, is the respect he shows for his kids and for his job as an educator.”
“I think the relationship between student and teacher is a critical element in education,” explains Labonski. “If both can focus on being interested and interesting, some pretty powerful things can happen.”
Under Labonski’s direction some powerful things have occurred. The WHS choir program has grown from 35 students in 2010 to 115 today. That growth has translated to three separate choirs entering UIL competitions and garnering 10 superior ratings and four sweepstakes. Over 160 students have participated in solo competition with 96 earning superior ratings. A burgeoning guitar program, created by Labonski, currently boasts 100 students and has sent 24 players to UIL Ensemble contest with 17 earning superior ratings.
“His program accolades are impressive, but the impact he makes on students’ lives, evidenced by feedback from both parents and students themselves, will last far longer than the shine on the trophies,” stated WISD Superintendent Tim Harkrider.
“He is one of my favorite teachers,” raves WHS student Alexis McLoughlin. “He’s more than just a teacher, he’s a life coach.”
Area qualifier and WHS senior, Chandler Shannon agrees. “He is a great role model. My best friend got me in choir my freshman year, but he made me stay in choir because he was such a great influence on me.”
Shannon’s mom, Patti, explains that influence as stemming from the way Labonski respects and values his students as he encourages them to learn and grow.
He nurtures each student’s individual talent, sincerely helping them find their gift,” she says.
Referencing the highly acclaimed Veteran’s Day program Labonski initiated, she adds, “He leads by example to our students, showing sincere appreciation and the utmost respect for those who fought for our freedoms.”
Labonski takes no credit for himself; rather, the DePaul University graduate describes how he strives to create a safe haven in his classroom where students can feel free to take risks.
“Music is a good thing for all students,” Labonski declares. “Each student is learning how to problem solve in a way that they’ve never thought about before. It’s a way of thinking and of team membership. I think those skills are really valuable as students become adults and have to deal with the real world.”
Over the past four years April Perez has learned some of those life lessons that Labonski naturally imparts in classes she describes as fun and relaxing.
“When I started with Mr. Labonski as a freshman, I was shy and didn’t know what to do,” Perez explains. “Right now I’m not afraid to get out of my shell at all. I’m very grateful to have him as a choir director and teacher and someone that I can actually trust.”
Harkrider sums up the impact of Labonski by saying, “He’s a good person who cares about the kids and about the district. He is willing to drop anything and everything to help a student, another teacher, or administration on a moment’s notice. He is in it for the right reasons and is a huge asset to Willis ISD.”
The next MVP Award will be presented at the regular meeting of the WISD Board of Trustees on Wednesday, March 18, 2015 at 6:00 pm in the Cargill Education Center, 204 West Rogers in Willis