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The 2022-23 District-level Annual Award nomination packets were overflowing with inspiring stories of passion, teamwork and determination. Finalists shared their education philosophies, internal drivers and hopes and dreams for the future of education.

Selecting just seven honorees was an incredibly challenging task. Those who were chosen shared a laser focus on building relationships and harnessing the power of connecting with students, their teammates and families.

During the past week, school and department staff surprised the winners with the good news. Some called “mandatory,” aka “surprise” staff meetings while others relied on fire drills to get all staff together to share the news. This afternoon the winners joined the Academy District 20 Board of Education and Superintendent Tom Gregory for a special celebratory lunch.

Next August the winners will be honored at the district’s Back-to-School Rally, and throughout the year, they will be featured on ASD20.ORG.

You can find a list, and short summary, about each 2022-23 Annual Award Winner below.

2022-23 Thomas S. Crawford Team Award

Aubrey Ranson, Heidi Solis, Tarah Patterson of the Family Resource Center Food Pantry  and Clothing Closet

The Family Resource Center Food Pantry and Clothing Closet Team of Aubrey Ranson, Heidi Solis and Tarah Patterson started as a small food pantry with a few canned goods and is now a vital resource to Northern El Paso County community members.

The team works with families in their native languages, through a trauma-responsive lens to connect them with the resources they need to thrive. They provide basic living necessities, food, clothing toiletries, and help remove barriers. This year they have strategically worked to identify families in need, while also connecting schools to their community through donation drives and support programs.

One of their nominators, a patron of the Resource Center said, “They consistently treat everyone with dignity and respect. They are friendly and are truly invested in helping the ASD20 community. They allow you to keep your humanity, and they treat you as equals, and they always do it with a smile.”

The team shared the foundation of their work are people and relationships, and the belief that connecting families with resources directly correlates to success in the classroom and the community.

2022-23 School Administrator of the Year

Elizabeth (Liz) Walhof, Air Academy High School

Liz Walhof’s administration philosophy has evolved, but she still believes, “deliberately cultivating candid and compassionate relationships creates the foundation for a safe learning environment. As administrators, we try to spend time listening with empathy to the needs of our communities, and need to seek out those voices who may not traditionally be heard.”

She also believes her role is to help behind the scenes so everyone else can shine. Described as an administrator who “consistently goes above and beyond,” Liz loves to help cover classes and feels lucky to coach and mentor new and veteran teachers.

This year, Liz’s teams helped implement an English intervention center that has reduced the school’s D/F rate by 30% in the first four months. She is also pleased to support ASD20’s Seal of Biliteracy efforts. Liz even helped organize in-state staff field trips to visit innovative schools in the region.

Josephine Robles, Liz’s nominator, said “She is a leader by example. Her tireless commitment to serving others and going the extra mile to ensure everyone feels valued and included, in addition to her knowledge and forward-thinking, is an inspiration.”

2022-23 John Asbury Secondary Educator of the Year

Alexis Bailey, Rampart High School 

Rampart High School (RHS) has been Alexis Bailey’s home since she was 14 years old. After graduation she completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and then returned as an English Teacher. She revitalized the print journalism program to new heights of excellence and improved the yearbook standards of instruction while increasing student involvement and learning.

This year Alexis and her students earned numerous awards and honors. Her students and

programs were recognized at the Colorado Student Media Association, and she received a nomination as the RHS Class of 2023 Favorite High School Teacher.

“Teaching is the honor of a lifetime... I have found success in the belief that people and human connection matter more than just about anything,” Alexis said.  “We must recognize the student first as a human being and serve them as such. Human connection matters, being valued matters, and being seen and understood matters.”

Nominator Patrick Morning said, “It is not an over exaggeration to say Alexis succeeds every day, frequently better than she realizes herself. She has improved every staff member and student she comes across.”

2022-23 Charles W. Tewell Elementary Educator of the Year

Lora Tannehill, Foothills Elementary School 

Lora Tannehill was a kindergarten student at Woodmen Elementary before the “-Roberts” was added. She was also her daughter’s kindergarten teacher at Foothills Elementary School (FHES). Now she shares her love of learning with her granddaughter. She believes her biggest accomplishment is “. . . seeing the circle completed. A circle that fills me with joy to see yet one more child love all that school can be.”

Lora’s nominators, her very own students, shared notes about their teacher containing words of joy, excitement and care. Perhaps one student’s words summed up Lora’s impact best, “She inspires us to do big things!”

In her own words, Lora said, “I may never know what my students have battled to get here, and I certainly do not know nor have control of what lies in each of their futures. However, I can do my best in the moments we spend together. I do this by creating a classroom that offers a safe haven, well planned engaging lessons, acceptance and the opportunities to explore and grow.”

She added, “I want my students to hear my voice above the circumstances surrounding them telling them, ‘You can do it, you are loved!’”

2022-23 Classified Staff Member of the Year 

Christie Rinard, Pioneer Elementary School

Christie Rinard wears many hats including Title I Paraprofessional and Bookkeeper. She supports her school and students in a myriad of ways, but her goal is “to meet family’s needs with respect and care so students can focus on learning. I do this by fostering relationships with the community.”

Her nominator, Kerry Manzo, lauded Christie for her commitment, creativity, and compassion. She said, “In a short time she has sustained and improved ongoing programs and established herself as ‘the one’ to reach if there is a need for volunteers or community support for building improvement or fulfilling needs.”

Due to Christie’s hard work this year, 70 families received two holiday meals and more than 100 students received holiday gifts. She also reimagined the school’s library by creating a 40 by 23-foot mural, drop-down hot air balloon and secured additional resources for a circular desk. She was a member of the Pioneer Team of the Year and received a commendation as a bookkeeper.

 “I want to make a difference, I want to make people happy, and I love to be part of enriching the lives of others,” Christie shared.

2022-23 Volunteer of the Year

Theresa Land, The da Vinci Academy Elementary School

A former Academy District 20 (ASD20) student, and now parent of two district students, Theresa volunteers because the district is close to her heart. “The mission of the district and how it’s going to shape my children is important to me. I want to be a part of something that has such a huge influence,” she said.

Theresa is the school’s PTO president, volunteer coordinator, DAC representative, SAC committee chair and she also helps in the classroom. This year she spearheaded the school’s biggest Fun Run, collecting more than $27,500. She also created a “Quiet Run” for students with sensory concerns. Her personal mission, and the primary focus of the PTO, is to ensure all students and parents know they belong.

“I do my best to encourage volunteerism and provide our teachers and staff the gift of time,” Theresa said. It’s working, because the school leadership said, “Her dedication to our students, staff and parents is unquestionable and unwavering. She is a persistent and collaborative leader for our community.”

2022-23 Special Education Specialist of the Year

Mandy Leap

Mandy began her career at Academy District 20 (ASD2) in 2018 as a Speech Language Pathologist, and one of her nominators shared “I am surprised she has not already won this award! She is one of the most passionate, dedicated and hardest working educators I have had the pleasure of working with. Her knowledge and expertise, specifically around Special Education and high-quality instruction, sets the bar for instruction.”

Mandy is described as someone who always goes above and beyond. While providing top-quality care to her students and guiding her team, she has gone beyond her caseload to assist other schools lacking in services along with support for new staff members. 

“When you meet with Mandy you feel heard and honored knowing that your child is in the best possible hands,” her nominator explained. “Her kind heart allows her to make deeper level connections with students, staff and community members that promote a sense of belonging through collaboration and support.”

2022-23 Early Childhood Educator of the Year

Jennifer Briggeman

Jennifer is a Preschool Language Pathologist who is known for her unwavering dedication, passion and commitment to her students, their families, and their academic and life success.

Her nominators could barely control their excitement for the possibility she could become the Early Childhood Educator of the Year.

They explained that Jennifer, “ensures her students receive their special education services in a passionate, fun, and positive environment, in and out of the classroom.” They also explained she encourages her students to build relationships with each other by understanding and being accepting of others’ talents and needs. 

Jennifer takes careful time to connect and collaborate with each student’s team regularly and is always, “kind, patient, fun, energetic, and positive.”