2022 Awardee for Career Achievement

2021 Awardee for Career Achievement

Dr. Stephanie Ochocki

I am honored to present the 2021 MSSWA Career Achievement Award to my friend and fellow social justice warrior Dr. Stephanie Ochocki. Dr. Stephanie Ochocki’s contributions to the field of School Social Work have been pivotal at the local, state, regional and national levels. Her passion for advocacy, human rights, educational equity and social justice has truly defined who she is as a professional. In 2005 while in graduate school at the Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville, Stephanie found her calling by not only obtaining her Masters of Social Work Degree but also choosing to specialize in the field of school social work by earning her school social work certification. Shortly after graduation, Stephanie moved to Minnesota and began working as a School Social Worker for the Anoka-Hennepin School District where she honed her gifts and mental health expertise. For example, she provided individual and group supportive counseling for identified students on issues such as family change, grief/loss, social skills, coping skills, and self-esteem; conducted school wide prevention programs supporting positive school climate and community character skills; provided crisis intervention and supports for students and staff and acted as a liaison between home, school, and community to bridge student success and so much more.

During her tenure with Anoka-Hennepin School District from 2005-2020, Stephanie emerged as a rising school social work leader in her district and also completed her Doctorate of Social Work degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2017. At the district level, Stephanie shared her expertise by offering staff professional development and training on mental health issues as well as collaborating with staff, administration and educational teams to meet the social/emotional and academic needs of students through multi-tiered interventions. Stephanie

stepped into the roles of Lead Social Worker from 2012-2016 and then the District School Social Worker from 2016-2020. As the District School Social Worker, her responsibilities expanded to the advancement of evidence-based best practices for adaptation and implementation by school counselors and school social workers across the district and coordinated district-wide trauma response teams, trained district responders, and provided clear communication within the organization regarding student and staff needs. Then in 2020, Stephanie accepted the position of Student Support and SEL Coordinator for Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan District 196, where she continues to build the capacity of staff in effectively meeting student social, emotional and academic needs and shaping programs that foster positive academic outcomes for all students.

Stephanie’s dedication to students, families, education and the communities she supports is also evident through her service at the state, regional and national levels. Serving in various leadership roles. For MSSWA she served as Region IV Representative 2007-2008, 2014-2017, President of the Minnesota School Social Workers Association 2009-2011, Chairperson for MSSWA’s Networking & Communications Committee from 2011-2015 and continues to be active on the MSSWA Legislative Committee. She joined with Sue Schroeder MSSWA Treasurer to offer their school social work perspective and expertise as a Committee Members on the Social Emotional Learning Competencies & Benchmarks Work Group hosted by the Minnesota Department of Education, 2016-2017. She also served as a Board Member for the Midwest School Social Work Council 2008-2011 and is the current Midwest Representative for the School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA).

Furthermore, she has co-authored numerous articles for SSWAA, contributed as an author for two chapters in the books Evidence-based practice in school mental health: Addressing DSM-5 disorders in schools and The Art of Becoming Indispensable: What School Social Workers Need to Know in Their First Three Years of Practice, both published by Oxford Press, and her research Evaluating the Zones of Regulation® intervention to improve the self-control of elementary students was recently published in the International Journal of School Social Work.

Stephanie as exemplified the value of micro, mezzo and macro social work practice. As you can see Stephanie’s contributions to the field of Social Work, the students, families and communities she has served is expansive. She continues to be a transformational leader on all levels. Please help us in congratulating Dr. Stephanie Ochocki as MSSWA’s 2021 Career Achievement Award Winner. Thank you Stephanie for continuing to be a bridge between research to practice, helping to empower school social workers across the nation and for being a fierce advocate. Congratulations!

by Christy McCoy SSWAA President

2020 Awardee for Career Achievement

Kathy Lombardi-Kimani 

St. Paul Public Schools

We are pleased to announce the 2020 Career Achievement award recipient, Kathy Lombardi-Kimani. Kathy has been the lead School Social Worker for the St. Paul Public Schools since 2002.  Kathy has a long list of achievements including being a presenter at numerous professional conferences.  She has provided clinical supervision and mentoring, as well as educating and advocating for the role of school social worker.  Kathy collaborates with community resources and is a vital member of school teams as well as community teams focusing on children’s mental health.  She was instrumental in obtaining funding for school mental health support and education.  Kathy continues to be a strong advocate for children and the profession of School Social Work. We are proud to have her representing the best of School Social Work in Minnesota! Congratulations Kathy!

We had the opportunity to celebrate Kathy on April 6th with a car parade, check out the video! 


2019 Awardee for Career Achievement

Tammie Knick

Dream Academy, Willmar

It is with great respect and honor that we recognize Tammie Knick as MSSWA’s 2019 Career Achievement Award recipient. Tammie is currently a Region Representative for Minnesota School Social Work Association and has been a part of MSSWA for the past 20 years; including serving as President from 2011-2013.  Tammie has always been a strong voice for MSSWA and is always one to think outside the box to get things in place for youth to be successful. She does not shy away from hard work and is charged with doing “whatever it takes” to connect with kids, families and colleagues so all can be successful.

A School Social Worker for over twenty years realized a passion by opening the DREAM Academy, a project-based school in Wilmar, Minnesota in 2014.  DREAM Academy has given many students an ability to pursue their education with hands on project-based experiences where student’s passion drive their learning. Commitment and compassion are two words that paint a picture of what Tammie means to DREAM Academy and those that come through the doors each day. Tammie is committed to supporting students even before they are committed to helping themselves and long after they seem to have given-up on themselves. She works tirelessly to dissipate the stigma around mental health issues and educate staff and students to take charge of their own mental well-being. She is the calm in the midst of crisis and has a listening ear for all who need.

Tammie and her husband Doug also opened the Delta Equine Center in 2014 to help support individuals and families integrating horses through Equine Assisted Therapy to start the healing process in client’s life journey.   They have spent countless hours building this amazing practice for people to participate in changing their lives and have the impact of this beautiful animal healing some difficult paths that people have had to journey.

Tammie’s passion does not waiver, it shows every time she talks about DREAM Academy and the Delta Equine Center.  MSSWA is honored Tammie is one of our own and pleased to provide this well-deserved award recognizing her career achievements.  Congratulations Tammie!

2018 Awardee for Career Achievement

Christy McCoy

St. Paul Public Schools

      “It only takes one voice, at the right pitch, to start an avalanche.”                     Dianna Hardy

For many school social workers across Minnesota, Christy McCoy was that voice. Christy’s commitment to the profession of school social work is undeniable. As Minnesota School Social Workers Association’s Legislative Chair and President, she traveled the State sharing her passion for social advocacy and empowering each one of us to make our voices heard about what matters for our students, their families, our communities and our profession. Christy’s voice inspires each of us by speaking so eloquently about what is happening in the world and what we can do to advocate and support those we serve. Her message makes school social workers believe “I can do it” and it becomes a call to action. Christy makes macro-level advocacy feel accessible and inspires others to assert an avalanche of voices.

Christy has worked in the St. Paul school system for 20 years. She currently is employed at AGAPE High School where she uses her voice to mentor, guide and empower pregnant and parenting teens to achieve their goals. “Her contribution in the areas of equity, trauma and restorative practices within the school setting has promoted a culture of collaborative healing for all of our students, especially those most disenfranchised.” wrote Lois Vosika-Weir, Administrator. Christy gives voice to her students by organizing leadership opportunities to speak and share their stories during Day at the Hill at the Capital. Heather Alden, President Midwest School Social Work Council wrote “She is a leader in her equity work with the staff and students demonstrating the need for all students’ voices to be heard and given the opportunity to be shared.” Christy’s passion for her students is clearly evident in the words shared in her nomination letters of support. Special Education teacher, Rebecca Andestic wrote in her nomination, “She puts her entire mind, body and soul into the work she does with students.” ...“She works relentlessly for the good of the students and it shows true by how much the rely on her and adore her.”

MSSWA has been fortunate to have Christy involved at a State level for 15 years where she has served as President, Legislative Chair and Secretary. Christy is a leader in the organization; never shying away from a challenge, difficult conversations or daunting task. Nominator, Molly Fox wrote, “Christy has always been a strong voice for MSSWA and is truly passionate about the roles she has taken on at a state and national level.” Her knowledge and passion about school social work is infectious and has provided her with opportunities beyond the boundaries of Minnesota as she is also the current Recognition Chairperson for the Midwest School Social Work council.

Christy’s voice has taken a national platform as she is now the Legislative Chair for School Social Work Association of America. Christy works tirelessly to make connections with legislators, news agencies, lobbying organizations, community agencies and build partnerships with groups who share the mission and vision of MSSWA’s legislative agenda. Her professionalism and the ease at which she speaks commands the attention of elected officials; who have now begun to consider MSSWA a viable resource as they are looking to understand the impact of legislative actions. The voices of Minnesota school social workers are being heard, the profession of school social work is recognized as making a difference, and MSSWA is grateful to the voices like Christy’s for initiating the landslide. Thank you Christy!

2017 Awardee for Career Achievement

Molly Fox

Mankato Area Public Schools

Molly Fox earned her MSW from The University of St. Thomas/ St. Catherines and has a B.S. degree in Corrections/Psychology from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Molly is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with 20+ years of experience serving youth and families. Molly is currently the district social work lead at Mankato Area Public Schools. Nominators, Mandy Kennedy, Mary Beth Patterson, Tiana Iverson, Lindsey Northenscold, Jenny Goff and Kaleb Lindsey-Stevens (Social Work Team) wrote of her leadership, “She helped create a presentation to show the need for mental health services services and presents yearly to our school board with other mental health support roles in the district. Her advocacy lead to the hiring of 6 school social workers; four of which were added in the last 4 years. This drive reflects how Molly demonstrates creative leadership and provides services for our students and their family. She is what we all strive to be as a Minnesota School Social worker.” Molly has served Mankato Area Public Schools for 14 years.

Beyond her advocacy to increase support to meet the mental health needs in her district, Molly has co-authored “Tools for Anxious Youth” curriculum with Amanda Bomstad, MS, NCC, NCSC and presented the curriculum around the state; including Minnesota School Social Workers Association conference, Minnesota School Counselor’s Conference and at the Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health Conference. Molly has also presented on homeless youth for Mankato Area Public Schools. Sherri Blasing, Assistant Principal at Mankato West High School wrote, “She is highly knowledgeable and collaborative and is an irreplaceable member of the many teams and committees she serves upon. She is often consulted with and asked to present at a district level, professional organizations and throughout our community.” She adds, “Ms. Fox does not shy away from challenging situations, but remains calm and respectful, solution focused and works through emotionally charged situations with grace.”

Molly’s support of children and families goes beyond the walls of her schools to include volunteering on several community boards, including the YMCA Mankato Board of Directors, Region Representative for MSSWA, Feeding Our Communities Program, YMCA - Women’s Leadership Program, YMCA Girls on the Run Race, YMCA Re Run Program, Child Protection Teams in Nicollet and Blue Earth County and the MSW Board at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She is a member of School Social Worker’s Association of America (SSWAA) and Minnesota School Social Worker’s Association (MSSWA). She extends her service to the profession of school social work by teaching School Social Work at Minnesota State University for the past 15 years.

Cheryl Hammond, Director of Social Responsibility, Mankato Family YMCA wrote, "Molly is someone who is continually connecting the youth and families she works with to resources that can help them take positive steps forward in their life. Molly lives and breathes helping others. It is beyond a job for her but it is in her DNA. " She sites Molly’s advocacy to decrease the gaps in local transportation for students and the development of the reUse Shoe program; a program which has given out hundreds of shoes to kids who don’t have shoes.”

Molly reflects the “vital link between school, home and community” every day in her work. Matt Ringhofer, Professional School Counselor at Dakota Meadows Middle School wrote, "Her constant search in helping kids and families connect with the school community is second to none… Molly searches for new ways to help families, not just with general needs, but during the holidays and extended breaks such as “summer vacation”. Molly is always asking what else can we do to help this family?” Amanda Bomstad, Director of School Counseling, spoke of Molly’s values in writing: “Molly approaches all situations with a positive, can do attitude, even in the most dire, complication or awful scenarios. She is a force to be reckoned with, as the ultimate advocate for those she serves and will do everything possible to push for what is needed.” Assistant Principal at Dakota Meadows Middle School, Ken Essay shared his observations of Molly as the “vital link”; “Molly brings contagious passion, creativity, and a willingness to take risks to engage our students. This creativity allows her to engage all learners and their families; she goes above and beyond to connect students and families including home visits, delivering furniture, planning funerals, scheduling doctors appointments, delivering meals, organizing gift giving at the holidays, parent meetings and courageous conversations with staff and myself.”, he wrote.

Molly lives in North Mankato, MN with her husband and friend, Fred Fox. She is the mother of four fantastic children, Zach, Hannah, Patrick and Jack. She is the youngest of 8 kids and a friend to many. MSSWA is thrilled to acknowledge Molly Fox and her dedication to the profession. Her knowledge to support her colleagues, her commitment to students, and advocacy to the families she serves makes her our Minnesota School Social Worker of the year for 2017!

Congratulations Molly!

2016 Awardee for Career Achievement

Deb Brecht

Owatonna Public Schools

Deb led the way for school social work in southern Minnesota. She advocated the important skills and talents school social workers offer students and their families, in the Owatonna community during the late 1980’s. Her initiative encouraged key decision makers to take a closer look and resulted in nine full time SSW in the Owatonna Public Schools.

She has been instrumental in building a strong southern region, where collaboration and regular contact helps school social workers develop their practice skills through learning from each other and become involved legislatively. Deb worked as a MSSWA Region 1 representative for several years and then served as President – Elect, President, Past-President, Secretary and Newsletter Editor. She also has served on the Student Services Coalition, encouraging positive collaboration between the various professions involved in this group.

Deb has a unique and steadfast ability to connect with students and their families in a meaningful way, assisting everyone around her to reach their full potential. Deb’s manner of building relationships makes people feel cared about, respected, listened to, and appreciated. Her genuine style of social work is the very essence of professional practice. She was blessed with a remarkable sixth sense, realized often in her ability to recognize interpersonal struggles her clients haven’t previously been able to give voice to.

Deb’s glass is always half full. She emulates a positive, “can do” attitude, which is contagious. She doesn’t waste her time complaining but rather looks ahead and finds other resources and if necessary, changes the course. Deb treats students and their parents with dignity. She encourages her clients to view the world as one in which they can find success and prosper. Deb is not afraid to ask the tough questions, nor afraid to advocate even when the path may not be easy. If the outcome is in a child’s best interest, she is tenacious in supporting change and accommodations. She is a big picture person, quickly recognizing both strengths and barriers that cause students to stumble. She is creative, and uses her gift of music to enrich the lives of her students and colleagues. Deb loves to laugh.

There are many ways to build any mouse trap, and Deb never only considers one or two options. She allows her natural creativity to permeate her practice, developing plans for service to her students that bring out their talents and strengths. She was involved in spear-heading new and innovative programs for kids in the Owatonna Schools such as YSHOC and Conflict Managers. Each of these programs helped link the strengths that kids have to offer each other. She is not afraid to think outside the parameters of what is typical and will go the extra mile regularly to support people helping themselves. She was especially talented in leading parent support groups for parents of kids with significant emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Deb works very well with others and is viewed as a team player who builds relationships easily with colleagues, community professionals and peers. She has worked extensively in county social work and early childhood family education. Over the years, she has served on the boards of many organizations including the Steele County Mental Health Collaborative, Food Shelf, BB/BS, Cultural Diversity Network, Little Theater of Owatonna and the Clothesline. She has lead music worship in each of the churches she has been a member since the 1980’s.

Since her retirement from school social work in 2013, Deb has continued to provide professional supervision to a number of graduate level social workers, volunteered each year at the annual MACMH conference and kept her finger on the pulse of legislative initiatives impacting school children. She also has been hired as the Music Coordinator and pianist for The Recovery Church in St. Paul. But she would tell you, her new vocation is being “Oma” to a tribe of 12 and providing weekly childcare for three of her grandsons, Ben, Will and Joey.

Both well-known and well regarded, Deb brings positive energy, encouragement and competency to each task she embarks upon. Debra Brecht is the essence of excellence in social work in Minnesota.  

The first MSSWA Career Achievement Award 2015

Anne McInerney

St. Paul Public Schools

Congratulations Anne McInerney President of SSWAA, School Social Worker and Program Lead for Project REACH St. Paul Schools on receiving MSSWA's 1st Career Achievement Award during MSSWA's annual awards banquet. Your passion and dedication to the profession of school social work is admirable! Anne is truly an inspirational leader and MSSWA is honored to celebrate your many accomplishments such as MSSWA Legislative Chair, MSSWA Past President, Midwest School Social Work Council Vice President, SSWAA Midwest Representative, SSWAA Standards and Practice Chair and now SSWAA President.

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