Music teacher Katherine Kovalsky from Royal Palm Beach Elementary School won the William T. Dwyer Award for Excellence in Education in the Elementary Education category at a ceremony held Tuesday, May 10 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.
Kovalsky attended the ceremony along with 28 other Dwyer Award finalists, not expecting to win one of the prestigious awards.
“This was my first time nominated, and I was a first-time finalist,” Kovalsky said. “[The judges] said it was exceedingly rare to be a first-time nominee and first-time finalist. I was blown away in that moment. At the panel interview, the first question they asked was, ‘What would you do if you weren’t a music teacher?’ and without missing a beat, I told them that I would have a huge identity crisis because that is what I was called to do.”
Kovalsky has been at Royal Palm Beach Elementary School for three years and said she was honored just to be nominated by her school. The process at her school is based on a faculty-wide vote, and she was chosen by her peers to be nominated for the Dwyer Award in Elementary Education. The process is daunting and includes everything from references to written essays.
“That was the most humbling part of it all. My personal belief is that none of what happens to us happens without the lord’s provision in our life, and I know that. I told the judges this,” she said. “I can remember where I was, who I was with, the scenery, everything when God called me to be a music teacher. I was 17 years old in a car on my way to a baseball game at Mississippi State University with my dad and grandparents like it was yesterday. Thinking back to that moment, and then 14 years later and being in this moment and thinking about the journey leading up to it — I can see his hand in everything.”
Kovalsky stressed the important role the school’s leadership played in her growth and success as an educator and gave specific credit to the support of Principal Tracy Ghettie and Assistant Principal Cristina Fong.
“Ms. Ghettie is the most amazing principal on this planet. I was brand new, and she was like, ‘I want to feature your music groups.’ Moving to Royal Palm Beach has changed my career and my life. I don’t think I would have grown as an educator had I not been in an environment that nurtured creativity and leadership and risk-taking. I have a wild idea, and she says, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it.’”
Kovalsky recently earned her master’s degree in music education from the University of Florida while simultaneously teaching and raising a newborn. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Montevallo in her home state of Alabama. This is also where she met her musical husband, Alex, who hails from Florida.
“My primary instrument is the clarinet. I picked up a bassoon in high school and played that in college. I also play a little bit of saxophone and flute,” said Kovalsky, adding that woodwind instruments and voice are her forte.
Kovalsky is a member of Espressivo, a semi-professional choir in Palm Beach County.
“I started singing with them in 2014. It is my passion project, and everybody in that group has poured into me,” she said. “That ensemble gives me life. If I were the busiest person on the planet — that rehearsal on Mondays is the one thing that I would never give up.”
According to the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, which oversees the Dwyer Awards program, the purpose of the awards is to recognize outstanding educators from public and private schools in Palm Beach County. Winners are judged by nearly 100 business leaders in the area and receive $3,500, along with a crystal flame award. The remaining finalists receive a $500 check and a framed certificate of recognition.
The Dwyer Awards are presented in seven categories: Grow Up Great/Early Learning Education, Elementary Education, Middle School Education, High School Education, Student Advancement/Career Education, Special Programs and STEM Education. Each category is narrowed down from hundreds of nominees to 28 finalists — four in each category.
Aside from Kovalsky, other local finalists were Cathy Eckstein of Wellington Elementary School in Early Learning Education; Jennifer Allen of Wellington Elementary School in Elementary Education; Lisa Welz of Emerald Cove Middle School in Middle School Education; Steven Gordon of Western Pines Middle School in Special Programs; Laura Arena of Elbridge Gale Elementary School and Caroline Westervelt of Western Pines Middle School in STEM Education; and Ted Glipits of Wellington High School in Career Education.
The 2022 Dwyer Awards were presented by the Hanley Foundation. Learn more at www.economiccouncilpbc.org/dwyerawards.