Apple Award Winners 2020

Apple Award Winners 2020
Posted on 02/29/2020
Apple Award Winners 2020

The Foundation for Douglas County Schools annually honors exceptional Douglas County School District educators and staff who are inspiring a love of learning in their students and trailblazing extraordinary innovation in our schools. Thousands of nominations are submitted every year. Just five receive an Apple Award. To read more and see all of the nominees, please visit the Foundation's website. 


Classified Employee of the Year - Joanna Blayter, Mesa Middle SchoolClassified Employee of the Year
Joanna Blayter
Severe Special Needs Education Assistant, Mesa Middle School


"My goal is to support students with love, compassion, empathy, and with as much fun as I can. I strive to make a connection with all students, figure out what makes them enjoy learning and, most of all, I try to make a difference in their lives."

Though she works in the Special Needs Education department, Joanna Blayter has built relationships and connections with students around Mesa Middle School. 

"Joanna is an indispensable part of my classroom," says Special Education teacher Jennifer Amos. "I feel so fortunate to work with a teacher as gifted as Joni because she never fails to serve as a shining example of what an innovative, intuitive, strong, and supportive educator should be."

Blayter strives to create an engaging and supportive environment for her students, such as leading students in writing notes of affirmation that were hid in library books. 

"I often see the gap in a student's needs and address it before it becomes a problem," says Blayter. "I also work with different teachers on a regular basis, creating modifications and accommodations for assignments or tests. I make it a point to share all my techniques for working with students & share my data collection strategies with my team as well."

Blayter also embraces school spirit as a coach, especially as part of the Mesa Middle School Unified program. She plays Staff vs. Students Unified games and integrates the teams she coaches regularly, including Cross Country, Seventh and Eighth Grade Girls Basketball, and Track. Blayter also helps organize "Run Wild" every year to raise awareness and funds for Riley's ARK, a non-profit organization that spreads random acts of kindness in memory of Riley Gutensburger.




Department Employee of the Year - Aaron Ragon, Personalized LearningDepartment Employee of the Year
Aaron Ragon
Lead Counselor, Personalized Learning

"The expanded role that education plays in teaching citizenship and social emotional learning in addition to academics is of paramount importance to the future of our country and our world. Education means a tremendous amount to me. It has really helped me to heal after my son's death."

Aaron Ragon stepped into the role of Lead Counselor at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. Shortly after, a Mill Levy Override passed and Ragon was tasked with recruiting, hiring, and training over 80 new school counselors. By the 2019-20 school year, all of the open positions were filled, many as the first school counselors for elementary schools. Student to counselor ratios in middle schools and high schools attained 250:1, among the best in the nation. Ragon also guided over 38 hours of pre-hire training for new counselors and oversees the ongoing implementation of a cutting-edge, district-wide anxiety training program.

"This is the only training of its kind in the nation," says Ragon. "By significantly enhancing our understanding of how to relieve anxiety in students and educating parents on approaching anxiety, we will help some of our most vulnerable and impacted students." 

Ragon's journey to his current role in DCSD has not been an easy one. In June 2017, his son, Noah, died suddenly in a hiking accident. 

"He was eight years old and, although he was young, he was very concerned with issues of social justice," says Ragon. "His death inspired me to apply for the Lead Counselor job when it was created so that I could impact more students in our district. My work is dedicated to Noah and my mission is to help advocate for vulnerable and at risk student populations."

Ragon is a board member of the Colorado School Counselor Association and is assisting in designing a school counselor course at the University of Colorado Denver.



Elementary Educator of the Year - Lisa Knudtson, Stone Mountain Elementary Elementary Educator of the Year
Lisa Knudtson
First Grade Teacher, Stone Mountain Elementary

"I will never underestimate any child. I am here to coach and help students actively construct their own learning. I will meet the academic and social emotional needs of each of my students no matter what it takes." 

After completing two additional degrees, a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction with an ESL Emphasis and a Principal License, Lisa Knudtson has tackled how she could improve the efficiency of the classroom while meeting her the diverse needs of her students.

"I believe in giving my students a choice in their learning," says Knudtson. "I individualize instruction, make it purposeful, and set high expectations."

A former collegiate soccer player, Knudtson knows how important teamwork is to success. She encourages teamwork among her students by setting goals that contribute to the whole team's success.

"They join forces, respect differences, follow class expectations, and use their social skills," says Knudtson. "My classroom is a second home for my students and I want school to be a positive experience for kids."

By focusing on a common team goal, Knudtson has created a student-centered classroom. Students seek answers from each other, group discussions encourage collaboration and empowerment, and students take responsibility for their actions and learning.

Knudtson is spreading what she knows to other professionals.

"I love mentoring future teachers, showing them that teaching is not just a job," says Knudtson. "We do a great deal of learning together! I learn the newest technology, hear different perspectives, and gain new ideas. They experience my professionalism, experience, instructional planning and delivery, and multitasking abilities."



Secondary Educator of the Year - Tim Smith, Sky View AcademySecondary Educator of the Year
Tim Smith
Life Sciences, SkyView Academy

"Every day, I teach knowing my students will soon be the ones standing between loved ones and darkness. Doctors. Scientists. Mothers. Fathers. They must fight for what they love. When they do, the world will need them to be competent, conscientious, caring, and brave." 

Tim Smith joined SkyView Academy when the school was only a year old. Right away, he knew he wanted to create an environment where students could impact the world outside of the school. Smith worked collaboratively with students, staff, and administrators to realize a science classroom centered around Project-Based Learning.

"I transformed my classroom into a lab," says Smith. "I bought lumber and lights and built grow tables in the back of the room. I ordered probes and tanks and supplies to design and execute research. I sank my budget into open-ended inquiry and away from pre-packaged labs with predetermined outcomes."

Students who take on Smith's class are required to complete a high-level project relevant to the larger world using real data, which they would then enter into a national competition. The first year netted a few victories, including six prizes, three trips to State, and the first qualifying entry for the International Science and Engineering Fair. Now, five to seven percent of the student body completes a Project-Based Learning science project.

But some victories can have a more significant impact than others.

"Students with disabilities or individual education plans found capacity they didn't know they had and won prizes regularly," says Smith, explaining the true awards that have come to his classroom. "Graduates who had struggled in conventional classes excelled in research and graduated from college summa cum laude. Some students were offered jobs doing science they had first learned in our program."

Smith lives with his wife, Jocelyn, in Littleton. His son, Nathan, works as a clerk at a Washington D.C. court, and his daughter, Erin, lives and runs with Smith in the summer to prepare for cross country at her high school in Illinois.




District Administrator of the Year - Lacey Dahl, Meadow View ElementaryDistrict Administrator of the Year
Lacey Dahl
Principal, Meadow View Elementary

"I have never worked for a person with such dedication to her staff, students and community. Lacey brings her best self to work every day even in the most challenging times." - Jenny Frueh, Administrative Assistant

When Meadow View Elementary flooded in September 2019, Lacey Dahl had to relocate an entire school community. Over 450 student desks, classroom. supplies, and work necessities moved in just three days. 

"Through this transition, Lacey supported her staff with positivity, admirable leadership, love, and humor," says Frueh. "Her happy, fun and resilient personality rubbed off on me every day. She gave me the confidence that we could pull this move off and pull it off well!







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