LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Kerry Koontz

Position: Career Counselor
School: Van Wert High School
School District: Van Wert City Schools
City, State: Van Wert, OH

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Kerry Koontz was nominated by his principal, Bob Priest.

Mr. Koontz has been in education for over 30 years, and has shown no signs of slowing down!  As a school counselor, he was interested in creating more for his students.  He noticed that a large percentage of students graduated and attended a four year college, but didn't finish. Through his years as a counselor, he learned that students were doing this as the “next step” in life.  Many students were attending college and didn't know why they were attending, but the expectation was that they should attend, and so they did.  Through this experience, students were leaving college, accumulating debt, and moving back home, where they struggled to “get ahead.”  

In 2015, Mr. Koontz created a student internship program designed to afford senior students a hands-on experience in a career field.  Although the purpose of this program was to better prepare students for career choices, the result has changed his community and many students' lives.

On December 17, 2015, Mr. Koontz organized an event for local businesses to learn of a new program being started by Van Wert High School.  The Career Education Opportunity (CEO) program is a student internship program allowing students to leave school for two of their seven periods of educational courses to gain “hands-on” experience in a career field of the student’s choosing.

At the event, Mr. Koontz explained that the statistics show the job market is no longer in need of students with a bachelor’s degree, and that training, certifications, and possibly associate’s degrees were in higher demand.  The challenge is trying to get students’ parents to understand that it is “ok” for their son or daughter to not have a four year degree, and if they choose to pursue one, they should know what that major is, and the requirements for the career they are pursuing.  He explained that the CEO program would give students hands-on experience that cannot be offered in a traditional school.  Van Wert High School had committed to a Project Based Curriculum four years prior, and the CEO student internship would be the culminating event for such an education.

Over 50 businesses attended this kick-off meeting, but it was a difficult task getting them to open their doors, spend billable hours training students, and give students specific tasks which would benefit the organization.  Needless to say, many businesses had strong reservations, and were reluctant to participate.

The first year of the program had eleven businesses willing to work with seventeen students. To be a participant in the CEO program, students must submit an application.  This application is similar to what's required when applying for a job in the workforce.  Participating students submit their application and a resume to Mr. Koontz in the spring.  Mr. Koontz then reviews each application and learns where students' desired interests are.  Once he knows this information, he seeks out businesses for internships.  Mr. Koontz does not guarantee any student an internship and does not place any student with a business.  He works to arrange an interview for the student, but the final decision lies with the business on whether or not to offer the internship.  It is a competitive experience which mimics that of applying for employment.

While all of this time and energy was being devoted to the CEO program, Mr. Koontz maintained his full time position as a school counselor, and he coached a winter and spring sport.  He was not slowing down, but increasing his commitment and being energized!  It was common for Mr. Koontz to enter the building at 5:30 AM and not leave until 6:30 PM on a daily basis.  This man was full of energy, and this energy was becoming contagious! 

The program doubled during its second year and was the “buzz” of the community, which included the two remaining schools in the county.  During the second year of the program, business leaders began asking why the program was not offered to the county schools and what needed to be done in order to accommodate them.  Business leaders had now experienced and were discussing the abilities students possessed, and how valuable to the business these students were.  These interns were no longer “kids," they were educated adults who had abilities greater than what was originally perceived.

In its third year, the CEO program opened to the students of the county schools, and it consisted of over 70 students and 35 businesses.  In this community of just over 10,000 people, this program continues to be the talk of the town and is a direct result of the work of Mr. Koontz.  The CEO program has made a big impact on the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), which works with local school boards.  The BAC of Van Wert County consists of a superintendent from each school, and has business leaders from each area of business (service, manufacturing, healthcare, etc).  Bringing these groups together has helped create more opportunities for educators to understand the needs of businesses, and for businesses to understand that demands placed upon education. 

Mr. Koontz has been invited to speak about the CEO program at the High Schools That Work regional conference, the Ohio School Board Association’s state conference, and multiple community groups in Van Wert County. Numerous schools have visited Van Wert to observe the program, and Mr. Koontz was the recipient of the Dominion Energy Community in Action award.  Additionally, State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria has visited to learn more about this program, and the school is being contacted by members of the Ohio General Assembly’s House Educational committee, who would like to learn more about the program and its impact. All of these accolades are noteworthy, but if a person was to ask Mr. Koontz which is most important, the answer would be clear: the impact the CEO program is having on students.

Because of this program, students have observed numerous surgeries, earned their STNA, and are working for pay at their internships. They have earned full time employment upon graduation, interned with the fire department, and are now earning their certifications for employment.  As one manufacturing company was going through an expansion, a CEO student redesigned the entire floor plan of the business to make it safer and more productive.  These students are changing the mindset of their community, and it comes as a result of their experiences in the CEO program.  The success of this program and the students within it have prompted some businesses to offer tuition assistance in exchange for the student to return for employment.  These initiatives are impacting the community and hope to provide a solution to the “brain drain” which had been taking place for decades.

There are other student successes that aren't as visible, including the number of students who interned in a specific field, only to learn it was not what they wanted to do.  One student had been very successful in the biomedical program, and a nursing career had been her goal for a number of years. When the student was in the room the first time a patient had blood drawn, however, she passed out and soon realized this wasn't the field for her. Then, she pursued business, but that didn't fit, either. Finally, she pursued education, where she developed a passion and entered college with a semester’s worth of experience.

"On the surface, this may appear as a series of failures, but I see it as a series of successes," said Priest. "This student had learned that two career choices were not for her, and it cost her nothing.  Had she entered college, she could have been thousands of dollars in debt before realizing it, and no one knows if she would have ever explored education."

Many students have discussed the impact Mr. Koontz has had on them. He not only established a program which has impacted their lives, but he has had made a personal connection with each student.  His background in counseling has been extremely advantageous, as he helps to mentor each of these students.  This past October, a graduate of the CEO program had dedicated a percentage of his proceeds from a local festival to the CEO program.  The student proudly stated that he wouldn’t be where he was today without the assistance of Mr. Koontz and the CEO program.  The student currently has his realtor’s license, as well as a side culinary business.  He was a finalist for a local business entrepreneurship program, where he earned $2,500 to help start his business.

"As I watch the number of educators visit Van Wert to learn more about the program, I often wonder about the expanded influence Mr. Koontz will have on hundreds of other students whom he has not met," said Priest. "Additionally, will his efforts impact the congressmen working to reform the Department of Education, and will this lead to changes in legislation? The Ohio Department of Education has already established a Personalized Professional Pathway (P3) program which will provide funding for programs such as the CEO program.  Leaders of ODE had visited Van Wert, witnessed what our students were doing, recognized the difficulty of maintaining these programs with no funding in place, and made changes.  Again, not only does this benefit our students, but countless others around the state of Ohio."

"Kerry has directly and indirectly impacted the lives of students and has changed the direction of a community," said Priest. "He works relentlessly for the betterment of others, and seeks no recognition.  His upbeat and energetic personality is contagious, and one simply feels better after spending a few minutes with Kerry Koontz."



Comments (37)


Shannon Akerman Posted 5 months ago

So deserved! Mr. Koontz was one of my favorite teachers in high school. He truly cares about his students.

Lynette Westgerdes Posted 7 months ago

As Mr. Koontz’s secretary for many years, I have seen him work with numerous students, parents and faculty at Van Wert High School. He was always available to students to listen, give them direction and he continued to be concerned about each one of them after they graduated from VWHS. His dedication, awareness of student’s needs, concern and direction have helped many students find their career goals. It is with great passion that he had a vision for the CEO program which was implemented a few years ago. He wanted students to experience and explore vocations before entering college or the work force. Mr. Koontz has taken the initiative to introduce students and area businesses to the CEO program. Students have been given job opportunities before graduation with local companies, and local companies have found that students are wanting to learn and to take on responsibility. Mr. Koontz is very deserving of this recognition.

Aubree Hines Posted 8 months ago

He's not only an amazing teacher but an amazing coach and overall person. He pushed me to go in races that I never even imagined for myself to be in. He pushed me to be the best me when it came to coaching. As a teacher, he always checks up on me and asks me how I'm doing and how my grades are. He gets along with everyone and is always such a positive person.

Nate Hoverman Posted 8 months ago

I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mr. Koontz as my coach, teacher, and now a colleague. I have witnessed his enthusiasm in all of these aspects. As a coach and teacher, he challenged us to be our best and we respected him to the utmost degree. As a colleague I have come to respect the hard work he puts into building relationships with kids. He has taught me countless lessons to be a better person, teacher, and coach. His guidance and loyalty has taught me what it takes to be a respected and quality teacher and coach. Lastly, I have seen first hand the maturation of the CEO program at Van Wert High School. From the beginning, when it was only an idea he had, to now when people are coming from all over the state to see the program, he has been the humble leader. When he talks about the opportunities that kids are getting through this program he lights up. He genuinely cares about each and every student that walks the hallways of VWHS. We are all better for being associated with Mr. Koontz and the positively he brings to our district.

Connie Hoverman Posted 8 months ago

I've known Kerry for many years. He is very active with our high school and middle students not only in this endeavor. He has been a track coach and a middle school boys basketball coach. He is very patient and kind always a smile on his face. I had contact with one of his students in his CEO program. This boy along with other professional programs he was pursing set up his homemade baked good at a farmer's market. He at the end of summer was so grateful for his opportunity through Kerry's program made a donation to said program.

Debby Compton Posted 8 months ago

Love Kerry’s enthusiasm for the CEO program!

Melissa bockrath Posted 8 months ago

Very well deserved.

Ava Burkheimer Posted 8 months ago

I was a special education teacher in another district for 25 years before beginning a new role at Van Wert High School this year as a high school counselor. Mr. Koontz has been a tremendous source of support to me despite his incredibly demanding role as CEO coordinator and career counselor. I have been so impressed as I see the impact his innovative program has on the students and on the community. Mr. Koontz is a dynamic individual with a contagious enthusiasm for student success in all areas of their lives. He is so deserving of this honor!

Shanann Jackson Posted 8 months ago

VERY WELL DESERVED!!

Lydia Carter Posted 8 months ago

I've gotten to know Mr. Koontz through the CEO program. Even though I wasn't able to get into the position of my choosing he helped me get into something that I enjoy and is also trying to get me the experience I initially wanted.

Lisa Dicke Craig Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz is hands down one of the best educators out there. I was blessed to take his business classes in high school and he encouraged me to pursue accounting as he saw I was gifted in that area. He helped me by giving me guidance in pursuing my future college and degrees. He was a turning point in my education and future. He has a way of letting each and every student know that he/she matters and he believes in each and every one that he comes into contact with. Coming up on my 20th high school reunion and the path my life has taken, it truly starts back with my first accounting course under his leadership. I am now a CPA and run a successful tax business out of my home all while staying home with my wonderful children. I am so thankful for Mr. Koontz and his encouragement over 20 years ago that has helped shape my life and career today. He is so very deserving of this award and has made an amazing impact on so many lives.

Hannah Kraner Posted 8 months ago

Mr.Koontz is extraordinary. In and out of the school. I was in the CEO program and thought that middle school education was what I wanted to pursue, so I was placed in a middle school class room. I realized early on in the semester that it wasn’t for me and wanted to try elementary education. He worked non stop to try and find another placement for me. I had the time of my life. I never would’ve thought about elementary education. Now I am in my first semester of college and I can’t think of any other career I would rather have than elementary education! Even though I’m not a high school student anymore, he still sends out messages asking how everything is going! No matter what he puts others first!

Vicki Keber Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz has been both a coach and school counselor to my children. He goes above and beyond for his students and athletes. Always quick to give encouraging comments, write a recommendation or whatever is needed to help kids succeed. His outgoing and positive personality make him approachable. The CEO program is such a great tool to help kids decide on a future path. Thanks, Mr. Koontz, for all you've done for the students in the Van Wert School District. You are above deserving of this award!

Bob Spath Posted 8 months ago

I have known Coach/Mr Koontz for 14+ years as a fellow coach and educator. His drive to connect and help each student/athlete he interacts is contagious as other educators follow his lead in the high school. The ripple effect he has created by positively and directly impacting thousands of students over his 30+ years in education will continue to affect future generations.

Bill Clifton Posted 8 months ago

Congratulations to Mr. Koontz for this honor. As his former principal and colleague I certainly respect and appreciate everything he has done and continues to do for the students of Van Wert High School and many other students throughout Van Wert County. His positive spirit, high energy, work ethic, and his personal vision and follow-through to assist and support our students as they prepare for "what comes after high school" is why our CEO Program has become so successful for our students. What a great honor that has been bestowed upon Mr. Koontz, and in my humble opinion, he is very deserving of this recognition. Well done Mr. Koontz!

Kris Sanders Loughrie Posted 8 months ago

I would like to echo the sentiments that have been stated already. My first 7th grade sport was track and field with Coach Koontz.....that probably set a tone for me I structured athletics and placed me on a very successful Highschool and College sport path. Our path crossed again as a Sophomore in his intro to Accounting class. 3 years later with all accounting classes taken, I declared an intended major of accounting at Ohio Wesleyan. I had found through Mr Koontz class how to channel my love of numbers. With many influences throughout college with professors, internships and mentors, I succeeded in the Big 4 Accounting world. I am proud to be the CFO of West Chester Hospital currently. Thank you Mr. Koontz for and VWHS for teaching and offering Accounting more than 25 years ago! This award is well deserved. Thank you for putting students and education at the top!

Rich Spridgeon Posted 8 months ago

Mr Koontz is very deserving for this prestigious award. He works very hard to help guide, direct and lead these young people in the direction they should go. Our son Trevor had dreams of becoming a firefighter since his Sophomore year. Because of the CEO program he is working towards achieving that goal. Michelle and I are grateful for this man's dedication, his heart for kids and his determination in making our community a better place to live and raise a family. Rich and Michelle Spridgeon

Nicole Hampton Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz was one of my favorite teachers in high school. He taught the accounting class I was in. I loved that class. He made learning fun. He made sure we understood the things we were learning. It was there where I learned all about budgeting and balancing a check book. To this day I credit him for my awesome budgeting skills and keeping my family's finances straight. His sense of humor and bright smile also kept things lively in class. I think that helped keep a lot of us focused and on task. I Congratulations on your nomination Mr. Koontz. I am sure you deserve it. Blessings to you!! Nicole (Davis-Glass) Hampton

Jeff Pratt Posted 8 months ago

Coach, Congrats and thank you especially for Ryan. He is building his resume toward his goal of becoming chiropractor while in high school. I am fairlu certain this opportunity has alreaft made a positive change his life. Nice work sir, Jeff & Lee Ann

Brianna DeAmicis Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz is one of the only people I know that has the ability to walk into a room and make everyone smile, no matter how downhill their day has gone. Not only is his personality radiant, but his will for success is also radiant. He puts every student before himself, helping them with tough situations, to helping them find their passions in life. By creating the CEO program, he has changed so many students lives. Those who had no idea what they were going to pursue after high school, and even those who knew what they wanted to do but needed hands on experience to be sure. As a senior at Van Wert, he has helped me find my passion, and my drive for success. He is the very definition of a life changer.

Jann Posted 8 months ago

Mr Koontz was extremely encouraging and helpful when my son decided to apply to the US Military Academy at West Point. When my son was accepted Mr Koontz was in the area and made the effort to attend the Acceptance and Oath ceremony on the first day. When my son graduated Mr Koontz made the trip To New York to see him graduate and celebrate with us. Even today Mr Koontz asks about all of my children that attended high school at Van Wert. He goes above and beyond what is asked of even the best teacher.

Emma Verville Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz has been instrumental in directing what has become not only a career path, but a mission. He never made me feel as if he was too busy or bothered to listen to my concerns and worries. I was in the second class of students to have the CEO opportunity; he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Thanks, Mr. Koontz!

Mark Verville Posted 8 months ago

Kerry Koontz is a dedicated and positive colleague who has created a unique opportunity for Van Wert County Youth. He’s a visionary leader who has served on the Junior Achievement Board of Directors for over 20 years. As the President of the Van Wert Area Chamber of Commerce, I can attest to his positive contributions in every imaginable area. I hope those responsible for selecting the Life Changer of the Year give Kerry their most serious consideration.

Ella Posted 8 months ago

So deserving!

Jessica Springer Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz has always been an amazing person and role model! I remember him from my school years and he always has a special way of making you smile and brightening your day no matter what is bringing you down. He is so very dedicated to the school and the students and we are proud and so very lucky to have him working in our school district! Way to go Mr. Koontz!!

Veronica Cuevas Posted 8 months ago

Kerry has played a tremendous part in both of my daughters decisions in continued education. Because of his CEO Program, they’ve both been able to use their experiences to their benefit in deciding about their future. Thank you Kerry for all that you do but most importantly...Thank you for being wonderful you!

Kayla lakey Posted 8 months ago

He is very good and also very supportive and loves to help others way to go keep up the good work you donfor everyone and for the school

Breanne Sudduth Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz taught my very first high school accounting class in 1995. I knew after the first couple months that I wanted to pursue a future in the field. He made sure we understood and made it as fun as possible. Even 20 years before the CEO program came to Van Wert High School, Mr. Koontz was trying to create opportunities for upperclassmen to gain experience through part-time work. He always saw the best in me and encouraged me to live up to my potential. That followed me through high school, college, military, and in to my current career as an accounting supervisor. Mr. Koontz is definitely deserving of this recognition!

Kevin & Jesse Posted 8 months ago

Kerry we are proud of you down here in Celina!!! VanWert and the community is lucky to have someone like you in there system!!!!

Kisha Blue Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz has been one of my favorite teachers and coach’s since he was my middle school track coach. I then went on to have him as a teacher for a few classes in high school. #LCOY

Tonia Verville Posted 8 months ago

I’ve known Mr. Koontz for more than thirty years- first as a coach, second as teacher, third as a supervisor when I became a school counselor myself, and finally as a parent whose children have greatly benefited from his guidance. He’s helped them discover their own paths, find a meaningful career, and understand what is required of them as a student and in the workforce. I treasure the knowledge he’s bestowed freely and kindly as a mentor and colleague. Mr. Koontz is the most engaging person I know, and he makes people feel important. I believe he’s done more for our school community than anyone else; in fact, he’s been instrumental in bettering neighboring schools and their students as he’s helped develop their career programs. Being committed to global improvement with no expectation of credit is why I think he is a servant leader who deserves this award.

Delaney Eyanson Posted 8 months ago

Mr. Koontz has been a life changer for every student he has crossed paths with. His counselor role and CEO Program have helped me determine what I do and do not want to do in the future, when many students go through college and have no idea what they want to do. He could easily get caught up in his crazy amount of work, but he makes time to build relationships with students and make sure each one is on a path of success. His CEO Program is one of a kind and is making an impact on his students, his community, and much more. He welcomes me and others with open arms even when we are hard to deal with and has made sure we are prepared for the years after high school. I cannot think of someone more deserving of this award! Thanks, Mr. Koontz, for all you do!

Makenna Nagel Posted 8 months ago

On my first day of High School Orientation, my schedule had been errored, and I began to panic that it wouldn’t be corrected before the first day of school. Mr. Koontz then helped me fix my schedule on my computer, by fixing my classes and I was stress free until the first day of school! Because of him, I enjoyed my first day of freshman year. He even visited me and asked how my day had gone, and how my schedule turned out. He’s an amazing teacher and he deserves this reward for all he does for VWHS. Thank you Mr. Koontz!

Cheryl Bowen Posted 8 months ago

Well deserved recognition!! Anything positively impacting young people finding the right career is so needed. No family wants to see their children drowning in debt, only to find out they aren't suited for that field. Thank you Kerry for your devotion and caring attitude!

Kyle Klinker Posted 8 months ago

Kerry's efforts are directly impacting not only our local high school students, but also our local economy. Retaining students in Van Wert county has been difficult over the past few decades. His program is empowering students to get hands on experience with local companies that in many circumstances are resulting in higher retention and job placement. I personally had Kerry as a basketball coach and as a guidance councilor. He has had a role in my development not only as an employee, but also as a person. He is very deserving of this award!

Kassidy Klinger Posted 8 months ago

Thanks to Mr. Koontz, I was able to get my foot in the door at a local Sheriffs office my senior year of high school. Mr. Koontz helped me get an interview at the office in order for me to job shadow all of my senior year. Without Mr. Koontz and his willingness to help his students, I wouldn’t have a part time job at the office where I plan to one day work full time! Mr. Koontz is a great role model and cares about each and everyone of his students. Without him and the amazing CEO program he created, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I couldn’t think of anyone else more deserving of this award. Thank you!

Max Laney Posted 8 months ago

Mr.Koontz helped me get a career I never thought I could do on my own, my life has changed for the better, he's helped boost my confidence many times and I'm sure hes doing it to more kids this year!