Educator Awards
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Education Awards

2009 Teacher of the Year

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ESD 105
Susan Johnson

Cle Elum-Roslyn High School
Cle Elum-Roslyn School District

At Cle Elum-Roslyn High School, Susan Johnson doesn’t just teach language arts. She educates the whole student and empowers the young people who enter her classroom to live their lives as engaged and informed citizens of the world. Johnson’s focus on developing the writer in every student, creating safe learning communities where students can share personal experiences and nurturing the ‘divine essence’ in each one of her students has had a profound effect in her community.

Johnson is also a highly respected and inspiring colleague. In her district she serves as the K-12 writing content team leader, sits on the District Curriculum Cabinet and facilitates a grant funded professional development initiative at her school. Johnson is an adjunct professor at Central Washington University where she mentors aspiring educators and serves as co-director of the Central Washington Writing Project (CWWP). Because of Johnson’s efforts, teachers across her district participate in CWWP. In his letter of support for Johnson, Boyd Keyser, Cle Elum-Roslyn principal, wrote, “We are a better staff and a better school because of Susan.”

Keyser’s admiration for Johnson is personal as well as professional. His daughter struggled as a writer early in high school, but under Johnson’s guidance became a proficient writer and fell in love with literature. Today, she is a college student studying to become a secondary English teacher. “Like Mrs. Johnson, (my daughter) wants to inspire students to be more than they see in the mirror,” Keyser wrote. “She wants to challenge their thinking on the big issues that authors throughout the ages have explored. She wants to bring the joy of being good at something into the life of young people. In reality, she wants to be like her hero, Mrs. Johnson.”


2009 Regional Teachers of the Year

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ESD 101
Dave Gamon
Northwood Middle School
Mead School District

A seventh-grade life science teacher at Northwood Middle School in Spokane, Gamon makes his classrooms interactive. A recent field trip to the Grand Coulee Dam ended in his dark classroom the next day with a demonstration of how electricity works using a lightning globe. As his assistant principal says, “You can smell the learning” in Gamon’s classroom.

To help his students connect their learning with the community around them, Gamon established the Life Project in 2002. Students identify a problem or an issue they care about, then use the scientific method to create a hypothesis and design and carry out an experiment. The mother of one student wrote that her son decided to devote his project to leukemia awareness the day after his father was diagnosed with the disease. The family is now involved in leukemia awareness and fundraising projects.


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ESD 112
Katie Hebner
Alki Middle School
Vancouver School District

A music teacher and choral instructor at Alki and Jefferson Middle Schools in Vancouver, Hebner is a relationship builder with high expectations of her students. She encourages her more than 200 vocalists to take risks that go beyond the level of music she challenges them to master. As one of her current students, Janelle Harriman, wrote in a letter of support, “She tells all of her students it’s OK to make mistakes, and if you do, sing them strong!”

Her deep caring for students – she knows about their pets, their lives, their dreams – is based on the lessons she learned from her own middle school choir teacher, who helped her gain much-needed confidence and discover her personal voice. From learning that the student with autism just needs to be able to take off his shoes to sing, to understanding that the young girl in black make-up and chains who dares her to make a connection is indeed begging for that connection, Hebner has an innate ability to tap into and capitalize on each student’s abilities and make him or her feel safe and respected.


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ESD 113
Heather Byington
Evergreen Elementary School
Shelton School District

An English-as-a-second-language teacher at Evergreen Elementary School in Shelton, Byington spends half her day teaching in English and half teaching in Spanish. She knows it’s critical with language learners to meet them where they are and take them one step further.

A colleague noted that Byington’s students sing about nocturnal animals, re-enact the Lewis and Clark expedition or dance the “electron bump” to learn about atoms and electricity. To expose her students to Native American history, Byington researched more than 100 Native American legends. She used six to introduce her students to Native American culture, a project that blossomed eventually into explorations of other cultures and a series of plays students wrote and performed based on their research into legends.


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ESD 114
David Young
Clear Creek Elementary School
Central Kitsap School District

A second- and third-grade teacher at Clear Creek Elementary School in Silverdale, Young creates a true love for learning in his classroom. As his principal, Ninette Haynes, wrote in a letter of support, “Watching Mr. Young teach is like watching a carefully planned and successful experiment.” Many of his students are from military families – they have moved frequently, and often one parent is absent for months at a time. All of them find a home with Young, and in the family environment he creates.

Young is highly adept at helping his students see the purpose in what they’re learning. An example is the Readers’ Choice Award that Young created. All K-6 students are encouraged to write and publish stories. Their completed books are placed in the library, where students, staff and other adults read them and select the award-winners. Every author is recognized for his or her writing, award or not. In six years, students have written and published more than 1,200 books.


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ESD 121
Kimmie Read
Zeiger Elementary School
Puyallup School District

A fourth-grade teacher at Zeiger Elementary School in Puyallup, Read is a natural in the classroom after only six years of teaching. A colleague who has been teaching for more than 20 years called Read “one of the surest examples of an exceptional educator I have ever seen.”

Her ability to tackle challenges and build lasting, trusting relationships gives her the reputation of a teacher students remember long after leaving the classroom. During her first year of teaching Read took on a young boy who was receiving special education services and was labeled a behavior problem. What she found was a boy with wonderful creativity, a rich vocabulary and a great sense of humor. She cried when he passed all sections of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning the following spring and left special education to become enrolled in the gifted and talented program. Two years later, the boy escorted Read to the school’s awards assembly and waved proudly to her as he won an award for academic improvement.


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ESD 123
Toni Cuello
Emerson Elementary School
Pasco School District

A kindergarten teacher at Emerson Elementary School in Pasco, Cuello teaches at a school in which more than 85 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches and nearly 90 percent are Hispanic. Understanding that many students from poverty need extra instructional time, she helped plan and implement an “early-start kindergarten” and got teachers from four schools to volunteer to start their school year early so they could give more time to these children.

In her application essay, Cuello wrote of her pride in seeing the younger sister of a former student enter kindergarten already knowing much of the alphabet and how to write her name, skills her older sister didn’t have the year before. The difference? Cuello spent hours with the girls’ mother on the phone, in conferences and in other conversations outside school to give her the tools and encouragement she needed to help her kindergartner build literacy skills.


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ESD 171
Ted Mack
Discover Elementary School
Moses Lake School District

A special education teacher at Discover Elementary School in Moses Lake, Mack works with students with severe, profound disabilities. “Teacher Ted” has created a safe, caring, family environment in his classroom that students don’t want to leave. And he is actively engaged with his students’ parents to make sure they are partners in learning goals that are set and achieved.

The parents of a student with Down syndrome wrote, “We never expected for our son to be able to learn to write his name, recognize and name colors, count items, or be trusted with scissors. The practices Ted has instilled in his Life Skills Class have taught our son these things and much, much more. He has learned computer skills that amaze us every day. Ted has been a life-changing opportunity for our son.”


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ESD 189
LaLani Pitts
Mount Baker High School
Mount Baker School District

A language arts teacher at Mount Baker High School in Deming, Pitts is well known among her students and her colleagues for building strong relationships, creating an environment of trust and respect, and knowing exactly how hard to “push” her students to achieve their potential. A soon-to-be college student wrote, “My essays would not be so drenched in ‘love’ if Mrs. Pitts didn’t have high expectations for me. Each day I am pushed to improve. Improvement now means a better education and success in the future.”

Pitts’s college preparatory English courses are just that – preparation to succeed in college. Out of the classroom, she helps with college applications, scours scholarship opportunities and writes about 100 letters of recommendation each year. About half of her students quality for free or reduced-price lunches but are routinely admitted to prestigious universities and earn significant scholarships.


   Updated 9/18/2012

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