Three new teachers start at OHS

Mindy Carls
Kaitlin Hutchcroft
Anne Gustus
Ethan Podwojski

The 2021-22 academic year begins with three new teachers at Orion High School.

Anne Gustus is stepping in to teach ag classes and advise the Orion FFA chapter during the first semester. She replaces Cassie Kingsford.

Kaitlin Hutchcroft is the new Spanish teacher, taking over from Lindsay Benedict.

Ethan “Mr. P” Podwojski is in the social studies classroom in place of Alex Johnson.

Their profiles are below.

Anne Gustus

Officially, she is the interim ag teacher and FFA advisor.

She graduated from Abingdon High School and earned a bachelor of science degree in psychology from Illinois State University.

Gustus has been a substitute teacher in the Orion district for 11 years and has served in several long-term positions. While Jay Solomonson was away working on his doctorate in 2017, she took over his Orion ag classes.

“I enjoy working with the students, and, having come from a farming background, the agricultural area of study is one that I feel particularly drawn to,” she said. “The Orion school district is blessed to have wonderful faculty and staff who are great to work with, and the overall approach to education is remarkable.”

Gustus is most looking forward to working with the FFA chapter.

“I truly enjoy the FFA events that the kids participate in,” she said. “I cannot say enough about the FFA program, and how much it does for preparing kids for their career and for college. When a student successfully competes in an FFA event, they have put hours of preparation in, and it is wonderful to see the results of their efforts pay off for them.”

The most challenging part of the position will be teaching six courses, Gustus said.

“That makes for a very busy day,” she said.

“Special thanks go out to Dr. Jay Solomonson for helping me organize curriculum, the Orion FFA Alumni for their help in getting the school year off to a good start, and to the district maintenance department, who have gone above and beyond, making sure that the facility is ready for the students to come and learn,” she said.

Kaitlin Hutchcroft

She is a 2011 graduate of Knoxville High School and a 2015 graduate of Knox College, where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in Spanish and education.

During five years from 2016 to 2021, Hutchcroft taught English to high school and community college students in Chile and Spain. She had private and online students.

“My own high school Spanish teacher inspired me to become an educator,” Hutchcroft said. “Her teaching had a huge impact on me, helping me to see the expansiveness of our world. I hope to assist my students in experiencing the joy of learning a new language and getting to know about different cultures.

“I chose the Orion school district because of its excellent reputation in terms of student and staff support,” she said. “There is a real sense of community and collaboration. I was extremely impressed with the program the former Spanish teacher developed and am honored to help continue its growth.

“I am most looking forward to getting to know my students and making connections with them by creating stories together in Spanish. I hope to create a fun and encouraging learning environment for them.

“My biggest challenge includes all things related to being a new/first-year teacher,” she said. “I am really thankful to have the opportunity to learn and grow in such an outstanding school district.”

Ethan Podwojski

Mr. P graduated from Galesburg High School in 2015. He received a bachelor’s degree in history and education from Knox College. He was a student teacher at Knoxville High School in 2020 and had practicum experience at Galesburg High School.

A high school teacher inspired him to teach.

“I’m carrying the torch, so to speak,” Podwojski said.

He chose Orion because he prefers smaller communities.

“I know several people from Orion who preach its value as a tight-knit community,” Mr. P said. “Also, the staff were very welcoming at my interview and arrival.”

He is looking forward to “making a change in young peoples’ lives and challenging the way they think. I want students to walk away with the tools they need to think critically and make positive changes in their lives as well as the lives of others.”

In his first year, the challenges he faces will include “everything — the workload, making connections and managing life outside of the classroom. However, anything worth doing requires effort, and I’m more than willing to put the hours into developing my new career.”