Susan Kauffman plans to retire from teaching art in June after 33 years at Wellington High School.
Graduating from Bowling Green University in 1976, she taught in both Metamora and Elyria before arriving at WHS in 1984. Budget cuts in Elyria forced Kauffman to find a new teaching home, which inspired a headline in the Enterprise saying, “Elyria’s Loss is Wellington’s Gain,” soon after she arrived in the village.
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact number, but it would be fair to say hundreds of students under her watch have received honorable mentions, Silver Keys, and Gold Keys in the Lorain County Scholastic Art Show.
“I do what I do for the students, not my own recognition,” said Kauffman. “Being able to be a part of the lives of so many students over all these years is just a blessing.”
The teacher said her most decorated student was Abi Conklin, daughter of WHS teacher Dave Conklin. Abi earned 27 scholastic awards in one year for her artwork and collaborated with Kauffman and her daugher, Lyndsey, on pieces though a mentoring program in Avon Lake that took home a national American Vision Award.
“Abi submitted 29 pieces of work and won an award on all but two,” said Kauffman. “Work that wins an American Vision Award travels around the country for about two years. When the work got back to Abi, she gave it to me to put in our alumni gallery. I keep telling her dad that no one’s beaten her productivity yet. Abi could do two projects in the time it takes most people to do one.”
Taking after her mother, Lyndsey Kauffman has taught art for six years and just began work at Collinwood High School in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
“We were both instructors in the mentorship in Avon Lake,” said Susan. “She got her bachelor’s in fine arts and painting because she’s an amazing painter. She ended up going back to get her master’s in art education.”
Current and former students chimed in to show their appreciation for Kauffman’s teaching. Among her pupils was WHS principal Tina Drake.
“I think she’s the last teacher retiring from the high school who was here when I was a student,” said Drake. “I had her as a senior and it was a great experience. She’s able to teach students to think outside the box. When you finished a project in her class, you’d sit back and be shocked you just did that.”
Senior A.J. Cianciola earned a Gold Key, Silver Key, and honorable mention in last year’s scholastic art show.
“Mrs. Kauffman has shown me new techniques that I never used before her class,” he said. “Whether it’s pastels, collages, portraits, or works with ink, she always has something to share that you didn’t know. Right now, we’re working with printing and light exposure.”
He said art education continues to have value when applied to other subjects in school or in the real world.
“Art is everywhere,” he said. “The world without art would just be boring. The world needs people to think creatively in all aspects and Mrs. Kauffman has shown us that.”
Fellow senior Krista Denny earned her own Scholastic Art Show honorable mention in 2016 under Kauffman’s tutelage.
“I’ve been in Mrs. Kauffman’s advanced class for three years,” she said. “I wasn’t talented in the beginning but now, especially with painting, it comes so much easier and I love it. Art is a way to express yourself in a way that no one can take from you. It’s how you see things. No one sees artwork the same way. With math and science, it’s always one way and one solution.”
Kauffman thinks school districts should reconsider the trend of cutting art and music programs when budget concerns arise. She said WHS stopped teaching digital art in 2014.
“We used to be on the cutting edge of digital art,” she said. “It’s important to keep it because all of the fine arts encourage creative thinking,” she said. “It’s not a core class, so the state doesn’t consider it important in many cases. Communities need to understand the perspective and detail kids learn through art can apply to all subjects. They become more detail-oriented. Cross-curricular teaching proves that, but we’re not the ones making these decisions.”
In thanking students and staff for her time in Wellington, Kauffman said she encourages pupils to not put art on the back burner as life’s inevitable stresses pop up.
“I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support,” she said. “I’ve loved working with this staff here. I tell students at commencement to keep art in their hearts. You can always keep creating. Even if you go a long time without creating artwork, if you keep it in your heart, you can snap right back into it.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.