Apple Awards shine for educators, staff

School employees honored for contributions to student success


Seven Douglas County School District employees were honored for their work during the eighth annual Apple Awards on Feb. 23. The event, held at the Sheraton Denver Downtown, celebrates the best of Douglas County School District and honors not only teachers but support staff and administrators.

• Honored as DCSD’s 2013 World-Class Educator was Russell Loukes, a language arts teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Highlands Ranch.

Loukes is known for his sense of humor and innovation. Co-workers say he constantly searches for and finds new ways to engage students. This top award includes $15,000 that will be used for improvements in Loukes’ classroom.

• Shannon Tafoya, of Sedalia Elementary, was named Elementary Educator of the Year.

The fifth-grade teacher is dedicated to giving students access to technology and teaching them how to use it effectively. While learning about the planet, students in Tafoya’s class investigated the impacts of Hurricane Sandy, inspiring one student to propose a schoolwide fundraiser for hurricane victims. Tafoya also worked to put iPads in the hands of all her students.

• Shawndra Fordham, a teacher at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch, received the Secondary Educator of the Year award.

Fordham teaches biology, honors biology and introduction to biotechnology. She also is an adjunct professor at Community College of Aurora. She helped developed Rock Canyon’s biotechnology program from a one-semester elective to a full-year course for which students can receive three college credits. The program’s success led to last year’s creation of the Biotechnology Club.

• The Early Childhood Educator of the Year award went to Leslie Gresham of Parker’s Pioneer Elementary.

Gresham is an early childhood special educator at Pioneer’s preschool with a self-described passion for teaching young children with autism and significant emotional delays. She focuses on developing social and other skills that allow those children to self-advocate and develop to their highest potential. Gresham is known for forming longstanding relationships with her students’ families.

• Karen Johnson, of Castle Rock’s South Ridge Elementary, earned the School Employee of the Year award.

Johnson is an educational aide at South Ridge, but has a diverse career background that includes mechanical engineering, retail and senior care. She weaves in stories of those experiences during her work with students. She also is a tireless volunteer, having led both Boy and Girl Scouts troops, coached Odyssey of the Mind teams, and coordinated volunteers for the Douglas County High School band.

• Douglas County school nurse consultant Celia Flanigan was named Administrative Employee of the Year.

Flanigan is part of the district’s severe brain trauma team, which works to protect children who’ve suffered concussions. She’s also worked with children who have long-term debilitating diseases as part of DCSD’s Child Find service, which provides free development assessments for children under 5.

Flanigan’s job brings new challenges every day, “whether she’s helping a student with their newly diagnosed diabetes or arranging for homebound services for a child that is receiving chemotherapy,” according to a DCSD press release.

• The DCSD Administrator of the Year award was given to Karen Tarbell, principal at Parker’s Cimarron Middle School.

Tarbell, who plans to retire in the spring, has a long history with DCSD, working as a math teacher at Cresthill Middle School and the nine-year principal of Sierra Middle School before taking the lead at Cimarron. As both a parent and educator, she has a special place in her heart for middle schoolers, and a keen awareness of the unusual emotional, social and physical issues they face.

The Apple Awards is a fundraiser for the Douglas County Educational Foundation.


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