Chef Polk ‘humbled’ by Teacher of Year nomination

The popular educator reached the semifinal round of the 2021 Pennsylvania competition.
Posted on 05/06/2020
Chef Chris Polk, wearing a white chef's outfit, including white hat, helps a student prepare a plate of food.By Gary Weckselblatt

Chris Polk, one of Quakertown Community High School’s most popular teachers, advanced to the semifinal round in Pennsylvania’s 2021 National State Teacher of the Year competition but was not chosen as a finalist.

QCHS Principal Mattias Van't Hoenderdaal had nominated Mr. Polk for the highly prized honor earlier this year.

“I’m very proud of the nomination, and I thank everyone who has been part of this process,” said Mr. Polk, an educator for 20 years, including the last 12 at QCHS. “This is truly humbling. It’s an honor to represent Quakertown. That really means a lot to me.”

Mr. Van't Hoenderdaal, who described Mr. Polk as an “exemplary teacher,” said that “Chris' contributions to the school community are numerous” and his letter of recommendation “cannot do justice to the impact he has made. To me, it’s hard to believe there is someone more deserving. I am so very grateful to have Chris on our team and very proud of him for what he does for our students and school community.”

Superintendent Dr. Bill Harner said Mr. Polk’s accomplishment is appropriate for Teacher Appreciation Week. “Chris is an excellent example of the quality of teachers we have throughout our school district. He is an outstanding professional educator.”

Mr. Polk, a professional pastry chef at the Reading Crowne Plaza Hotel, teaches the QCHS Chefs Program and Project Lead The Way courses: Engineering Design and Development, and Computer Integrated Manufacturing. He is also the department liaison for the Electives.

His personal goal as a teacher is to help students “create a passion for what they are learning,” he said. “When students are excited, they are eager to learn new skills and exert as much effort as possible. I do not want my students to just complete activities to be compliant; I want them to complete activities because they are excited and want to learn more. I want a student to come in and show me a picture of something that they baked over the weekend or a project that they created in their garage at home. To me, this passion is what drives my classroom and sets the tone for the culture of learning.”

Mr. Polk’s emphasis to include all students in his curriculum is well known. He created and manufactured special knives and cutting devices that allow students with physical disabilities to safely participate in the chefs courses. For another student he designed and created a device to allow the calm flow of glaze to be spread, regardless of how hard the student squeezed the device. “I love that I have been able to positively impact students by sharing my passion for engineering and the culinary arts,” he said.

When the district began its summer camp program several years ago, Mr. Polk developed the popular baking and cooking camps that range from middle school beginners to an advanced high school-aged camp with a pop-up fine dining restaurant where students serve a four-course lunch to eight guests.

He also started the Quakertown Q-Botics Robotic Club, which competes in the National Robotics League.

In January, Mr. Polk and School Resource Officer Bob Lee organized a group of teachers, students, and administrators to volunteer as guest chefs at the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. “This is a great experience for my students because it is a chance for them to give back and a chance to work in a commercial kitchen,” he said. “Our goal is to make this an annual event.”

Laurie Christine, AP Art History and Visual Arts Teacher, teaches across the hall from Mr. Polk.

“I can honestly say that he inspires me daily,” Mrs. Christine wrote in her letter of recommendation on behalf of Mr. Polk. “Whether it be his leadership qualities, strength in connecting with our students or the manner in which he teaches, Chris makes a tremendous difference in our community.”

She praised his “broad knowledge, versatility and sense of humor” for making him “a favorite among our students. … One of many ways Chris stands out is how he contributes an enormous amount of extra time beyond the normal workday to give his students memorable, fun and exceptional educational experiences.”

Celia Graham, who had two children taught by Mr. Polk, said “As a parent, I have found him to have a true passion for teaching and bringing that passion and enthusiasm to each and every student. He engages the students with his knowledge, experience, and good nature.”

In the last several years, QCSD has had several faculty and administrators receive state and regional recognition for educational excellence. Earlier this year, Rob Christine, the district’s Director of Facilities, won the Gold Award in the PASBO Award of Excellence in School Facilities for 2020. The award is designed to recognize local education agencies with exceptional school facilities’ best practices.

A year ago, former Quakertown Elementary School full-day kindergarten teacher Kristen Martin, like Mr. Polk, reached the semifinal round in the Teacher of the Year competition.

Last August, Amy Migliore, Digital Design teacher at QCHS, was named Pennsylvania Art Education Association 2019 Secondary Art Educator of the Year. In 2015, high school teachers Janet Bassett and Ryan Stetler were recognized by different organizations as teachers of the year. Ms. Bassett, who retired after a distinguished career, won the 2015 Secondary Teacher of the Year from the Pennsylvania Council for the Social Studies. The PA State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance named Stetler the 2015 K-12 Health Education Teacher of the Year.

In 2016, Assistant Superintendent Nancianne Edwards was one of 28 women to receive the Lehigh Valley Business' Women of Influence award. In 2017, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lisa Hoffman won the Outstanding Curriculum Development award from the Pennsylvania Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. In 2018, Trumbauersville Elementary School Principal Adam Schmucker was named Pennsylvania’s National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].
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