Mike Czerwonka works behind the scenes to help kids succeed
He gives up Saturday mornings to attend municipal court on behalf of his students.
He gladly volunteers to supervise lunch for the sixth and seventh grades so he can get to know students in a relaxed environment.
He talks with parents or makes a home visit to help solve the obstacles in the way of a child's learning.
He continues an after-school club with other staff members, even though he no longer gets paid for the effort.
"He has this amazing ability to connect not only with the students but with the parents— connect at a level that they seem to accept," Municipal Judge Tom Alisankus said. "He shows this genuine concern of wanting to do whatever is in his power to get them (students) to succeed."
Czerwonka is a social worker at J.C. McKenna Middle School in Evansville, where he brings experience in dealing with child abuse and neglect for Rock County, crisis intervention for families through a domestic abuse agency and bereavement counseling at a hospice agency.
"I really like being at the middle school. You see the need to think just beyond the academics for the kids in the classroom," he said, noting the increasing number of students on free and reduced lunch.
Principal Bob Flaherty called Czerwonka a "fountain of ideas" and a "wonderful problem-solver" who helps students who lack social skills or who have problems at home or with friends.
No two days are alike for Czerwonka, but each typically involves a mix of monitoring student attendance and working with an eighth-grade leadership class, small student groups, one-on-one interventions or juvenile probation officers.
"He is, without a doubt, one of our most valuable employees," Flaherty said.
Czerwonka said he has the good fortune to work with an "incredibly supportive" staff, students who learn from their mistakes and a supportive community from families to elected officials.
In the past, students and their parents who found themselves in municipal court might have taken issue with tickets, Alisankus said. Since Czerwonka—and another school representative before him—has been present, the disputes have virtually disappeared because Czerwonka comes prepared with documents and background on the case, he said.
"It really cuts down on the embellishments that would often accompany people who were before me," he said.
Czerwonka gives a student "a real sense of saying here's someone who I think I can start over with," Alisankus said.
"He also has an amazing way of taking the most bleak-looking personal situation with a student and finding that one little, tiny footnote of a positive thing and saying, 'We can start from there,'" he said.