J. Steven Czerniejewski’s impact as an educator in Orange County is near immeasurable. He taught for nearly 30 years and ultimately landed at Castleview Elementary in Horizon West. There, he was responsible for creating and launching the school’s media center when it opened in 2019.
And Czerniejewski was more than a teacher. He was a passionately loved husband, father, brother and friend, as well.
Czerniejewski died April 10, 2022, after battling pancreatic cancer and its complications.
But family and friends know Czerniejewski was more than just his illness, and his family believes celebrating his life is significantly more important.
The community now will be able to celebrate Czerniejewski’s life together. His school family at Castleview plans to dedicate the media center to memorialize his impact for generations to come.
‘THE SMARTEST MAN WE’LL EVER KNOW’
Czerniejewski was born May 2, 1965, in Seattle, Washington.
He moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he lived until middle school before making the transition with his family to Orlando, where he attended Milwee Middle School and Lyman High School.
Czerniejewski went on to attend the University of Central Florida, where he pursued his passion for teaching and education. UCF is where Czerniejewski met the love of his life, Kim, who also was studying education.
Kim Czerniejewski said her husband was inspired to pursue teaching because of his knack for both presenting information and performing. When he graduated from high school, he went to Seminole State College and studied theater.
Two years later, the couple was married. Less than two years later, they welcomed their daughter, Carissa.
Steve Czerniejewski taught with Orange County Public Schools for nearly 30 years.
Although he had been a classroom teacher for the majority of time with OCPS, he served as a media specialist for the last few years of his career. Steve Czerniejewski was the first media specialist at Castleview when it opened in 2019.
“Knowing that there was a new school that was opening where he could help create a literacy program and help the kids foster a love for reading was very enticing for him,” Kim Czerniejewski said. “When he met with the principal at the time, he was just very taken and loved the school’s message. He was all in.”
Kim Czerniejewski said her husband’s favorite part about Castleview was the children and the strong sense of community the school has.
“They (the staff) all had that shared purpose of really reaching the kids where they were and helping them to become lifelong learners,” she said.
Jonathan Rasmussen, current principal of Castleview, said although he never had the opportunity to meet Steve Czerniejewski, he knows what the students and the staff have said about him.
“The students always mention how nice he was, how helpful he was, how funny he was and how much he cared,” Rasmussen said. “Staff have mentioned many times how much he cared for students and wanted to give students everything he could. He was always here for the kids. I think his biggest impact was his positive attitude.”
Rasmussen explained the student leaders of the school are placed into four houses — Chivalry, Loyalty, Wisdom and Valor — and Steve Czerniejewski was the ultimate example of what the Loyalty house encompasses.
“Steve had a natural ability to reach kids where they were and help them see success as learners and feel good about themselves,” Kim Czerniejewski said. “He always focused on community-building first to create a safe space for them to learn and grow. … We have a family joke that he’s ‘the smartest man we’ll ever know.’”
Although the media center dedication was an idea that already was underway by the previous principal, Rasmussen said the dedication was more than fitting.
“He started the library program here, and he had such a big impact on everyone,” he said. “Everyone in our community came together to find a way to honor his memory here at the school.”
Kim Czerniejewski said she was overwhelmed when she heard the news from the school.
“When the former principal first mentioned it to me, I just broke down and cried,” she said. “It’s so beautiful. To see that the school realized that he had such an impact and that they want to honor that is just so moving.”
Kim Czerniejewski wants the community to remember the wide impact her husband had on children for 30 years.
“He taught at 10 or 11 different schools in Orange County,” she said. “At his funeral, there were so many former students that are now adults with their own children who still came. To see that impact he had crossing generations was so touching.”
Kim Czerniejewski said Steve Czerniejewski loved music and played guitar as well as sang. Music was part of what he incorporated into his classroom culture, and he was working on bringing that into the media center.
“As a media specialist he was getting to that point where he was willing to do that and able to bring it to the media center as well,” she said. “But he hadn’t just yet gotten to that point where he had achieved it the same way he had in the classroom.”
Steve Czerniejewski’s younger sister, Jeanna, said her brother was an amazing educator and thanked the school for dedicating the media center to him and his memory.
“He had an impact on students far more than he may have ever realized,” she said. “There are many occasions when I was in a situation where my last name was mentioned, and someone would approach me and tell me they were a previous student of Steve’s. They’d tell me how amazing he was and the impact he made on their lives. I would tell Steve those stories, and he always seemed amazed by them. I was never surprised, because I knew how passionate he was about education and how important it was for him to impact as many children as possible.”
Rasmussen said there will be a dedication ceremony in the future, and Steve Czerniejewski’s family and friends will be invited. His name will be placed above the media center doors.
“So many educators do so much for the students, their parents and the community as a whole, but rarely do they get any true recognition, so whenever there is a chance to recognize someone who made such a big impact and honor them in some way, then I think it’s important for us to do that,” he said.
HEART OF GOLD
Steve Czerniejewski was funny, had a great sense of humor, was smart, kind, and most of all, had a heart of gold.
Kim Czerniejewski said her husband had a deep voice and sometimes when he would project he would sound angry or scary, but really he was tender-hearted and very sensitive.
“He wasn’t one of those people who needed to be the center of attention; he just enjoyed it when that opportunity arose,” she said. “He was truly one of the good ones.”
Steve Czerniejewski was loved and will be missed by his wife; daughter Carissa Cooper; sister; brother Eric (Carla) Czerniejewski; his mothers Lucile Hammond, Carol Forsloff and Sherry Czerniejewski; and many nieces and nephews.
He was a member of the Winter Garden Masonic Lodge for several years.
Steve Czerniejewski had many interests and passions including reading, pottery, golf, bicycling, teaching, masonry, sports of any kind and his dog, Bella.
“My dad was such a special person,” Cooper said. “He had a love for learning, laughter and life itself. He never settled for less than his best, and he always inspired and encouraged those around him to do the same. He impacted the lives of so many children and adults alike — the world is a better place because he was here.”