WDE Educator Awards:
- K-12 Digital Learning Awards
- Milken Educator Awards
- STEM Educator Awards
K-12 Digital Learning Awards
The K-12 Digital Learning Innovations Awards were created to honor leaders and educators to create cultures of innovation and forward-thinking through effective uses of digital, 21st century technologies to engage students while empowering them in owning their learning.
The WDE is seeking Wyoming’s innovative thinkers to recognize them with the K-12 Digital Learning Innovations Awards.
Submit an application by April 12, 2019.
The 2019 awards include a new category, Wyoming Student Voices Award, for K-12 schools or districts that have leveraged technology to dramatically improve the educational experiences and achievement for students. The category looks at how students embrace their own education, and helps to create or implement innovation. The Wyoming Student Voices winners, including both teachers and students, will be honored and asked to present at the Wyoming Innovations in Learning Conference Innovations Showcase on November 6, 2019 and award ceremony on November 7, 2019 in Gillette. The winner will also be submitted to the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) to be considered for the 2019 national Student Voices Award.
The Digital Learning Innovations Award is an acknowledgement of educators utilizing new and innovative ways to incorporate digital learning into their work. Please consider nominating outstanding candidates for one of the following four categories:
- Student Voices (Students and leaders working together)
- Education Leader (School Level including School Leaders)
- District Leader (District Level)
- Program Leaders (Statewide Level)
Examples for each category
Innovative Classroom Award
Example – Students and Educators working together to create Open Educational Resources.
Education Leader (School Level including School Leaders)
Example – The winner in 2017, Julie Weitz, used technology to transform the Sheridan Junior High School library and its services to become the school’s learning nerve center. She revisioned labs and created a high-tech makerspace for all students and teachers at the school. Julie also helps students select books and then has them create video book talks for the next students to decide it they would like that book.
District Leader (District Level)
Example – The winner in 2017, Cameron Kukuchka, took charge of Johnson County School #1 District’s technology infrastructure and partnered with local and state officials to create access to innovative digital learning opportunities for students. Cameron also created five internships to teach students about the nuts and bolts of Chromebooks, iPads, PCs, configuring servers, and networking. Proving these students with invaluable life skills such as teamwork, problem solving, responsibility, accountability and strong work ethic.
Program Leaders (Statewide Level)
Example – The winner in 2017, Erin Moore from Gannett Peak Technical Services, developed the Coders of the West internship program in partnership with the WDE. By leading this internship program, Erin advocated and advanced student learning in computer science and gave students an avenue to connect learning in computer science through internships. Students learned about different components of software development from working with clients to define customer requirements, learning about frontend and backend development, cloud hosting, and GIS.
2018 Award Winners
Innovative Classroom Leader – Charlie Richardson, Laramie County School District #1
Charlie Richardson is a science teacher who works with at-risk students to help students overcome their stories in the hopes of guiding them to their greatest happiness.
Charlie has worked with the at-risk population as both a paraprofessional at the elementary level as well as a high school science teacher. This is Charlie’s sixth year of teaching, four of those years have been at Triumph High School in Cheyenne. His teaching is continually evolving and he is always looking to improve his classroom and “teach to the edges”, in hopes of challenging students who need more while providing additional support for students who need it. He is a firm believer in acknowledging each student as a human being and that school isn’t always the most important aspect in a student’s life. Charlie’s goal is to connect with each and every student and working in an alternative school ensures that he is able to do so. Charlie has always wanted to have a positive impact on people’s lives and there is no better professional to do so than teaching.
Charlie believes that education is a vital portion of the road towards greater happiness. He believes that there is a great deal about education that needs to be changed for the modern world and he aims to innovate through classroom design to lead to those changes. Technology can be a great asset in the classroom and can allow for every student to have an individualized education.
That is what Charlie strives to create in his classroom. A classroom where learning is the main requirement, not constrained by arbitrary timelines, but based on each individual students’ own level of understanding. Ensuring that each student will pass, not allowing them to fail, by instead eliminating time as a factor and pushing every student towards mastery with whatever methods students’ need to be successful.
Charlie holds a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Zoology and Physiology from the University of Wyoming. He plans on continuing his education to further improve his teaching.
Education Leader – Stacey Dickson, Campbell County School District #1
Stacey Dickson is a Google Certified Educator who has taught in Campbell County School District #1 for 15 years. Stacey strives to share her passion for technology integration with her students and colleagues. She believes in using technology as a tool to transform learning, empower students and inspire teachers to be co-designers in the learning process.
Her passion for technology integration became evident when she won a grant to become a 1:1 iPad classroom in 2014. While working with her students, Stacey noticed a path of digital learning that was opening new doors for her students. She started an after school Tech Club where students spent an hour exploring their digital passions from coding to stop motion videos. She quickly learned she had to be a digital learner along with her students.
Moving into the technology teacher position in 2015, Stacey Dickson empowered her K-6 students to be creative, communicate, collaborate and use critical thinking in a digital world. Her latest passion is using virtual reality and augmented reality to transform student learning experiences. Additionally, starting in 2018, Stacey facilitated the new STEM lab at her school where she challenged her students to become innovators who ask questions, make mistakes, and discover new learning.
Stacey also teaches classes for the district on using technology to enhance learning, promote creativity and engage students in assessment. This school year, Stacey hopes to inspire teachers to become innovative thinkers with her newest title as Professional Development Specialist, and work with teachers to integrate learning and new technologies into the classroom to empower students to create, collaborate and share their learning through technology.
District Leader – R.J. Kost, Retired Park County School District #1
R.J. Kost started out in Basin, Wyoming, graduating from high school in 1971. I received a double major (Mathematics and Physical Education/Health) at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana in 1975.
R.J.’s career started in Dubois, Wyoming teaching Math to students from 7th through 12th grade. He made the statement that in 5 years he would probably look to another job but as the years moved forward he fell in love with the profession and the students he had the wonderful opportunity to work with every day.
The Apple computer came along and caught R.J’s interest. He was fortunate enough to take a huge computer down to Laramie for a course in computer programming in Basic. Making geometric shapes and developing instructional strategies as he learned more was habit forming and he found he could get lost in time working on the challenges.
In 1982, R.J. was fortunate enough to get hired at Park County School District #1 in Powell, Wyoming where he has been ever since. Learning about graphing calculators,
programming graphing calculators, and finding out the difference between a tool and a crutch was not only exciting but rewarding. He was fortunate enough to build a makeshift computer lab of Macintosh computers which were rejects at the other schools so our students could do some amazing things with the programs we used. Grants from Texas Instruments kept my learning current with the computers and the calculators. Geometer Sketch Pad was one of the programs which fit very nicely into the instructional pedagogy and taught me that our students not only knew more about computers but also
had been raised on them so it was necessary to find ways to utilize the computer in the classroom.
Online learning started taking off and many heads turned in doubt as the higher education schools in the United States started providing online learning for some courses. Even through this doubt it was obvious this was the direction to go. In 2006, R.J. moved from the classroom to administration as the curriculum coordinator for the district. As virtual instruction has migrated he had the fortunate opportunity to be on committees and learn even more. Along with that, he could make positive changes for students in
our district. About 4 years ago the district was able to bring Canvas into our district and things have moved forward quickly from there. Working with grants to help in the classrooms and with materials such as drones and robots the district moved up the ladder rapidly and, keeping the student in mind, provided opportunities for our students allowing flexibility and options. The district is far from completed with this undertaking but it is exciting and R.J. feels blessed to have been able to be part of the movement. R.J. hopes,
as he retires from education, he can continue to be active and innovative for our students as we continue to grow with technology.
State Leader – Dennis Ellis, Microsoft
Dennis recently joined the Microsoft TechSpark initiative as the Cheyenne, WY Community Engagement Manager. He came to Microsoft from a public relations firm he
founded, Ellis Public Affairs, where he consulted for clients such as Wal-Mart, Google, Denver Children’s Hospital, Johnson & Johnson and Anadarko.
Prior to his return to Wyoming, Dennis served as Deputy Attorney General for External Affairs in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and in Governor Bill Owens’ cabinet as Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the organization tasked with protecting the environment and public health of Colorado. Ellis also served as Legislative Director and Counsel for United States Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY).
110 years. He is married to Wyoming State Senator Affie Ellis, and is the father of
Marlo (10), Archer (8) and Linden (4). He holds undergraduate and law degrees from the
University of Wyoming. Ellis serves on the Steering Committee of the Wyoming
Business Alliance, is past President of Wyoming Ag in the Classroom, past Vice
President of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming and currently serves on Wyoming’s
Mixed Martial Art Commission.
2017 Award Winners
Tighe Fagen (accepting on behalf of Erin Moore), Cameron Kukuchka, Superintendent Balow, and Julie Weitz at the 2017 Wyoming Innovations in Learning conference.
Education Leader – Julie Weitz, Sheridan Junior High School
Julie Weitz is a true innovator in digital learning. As the Librarian and Media Specialist at Sheridan Junior High School (SJHS), Julie has led efforts to transform her library and its services to maintain relevance and establish itself as the school’s learning nerve center. Julie and her team were instrumental in rolling out 1:1 Chromebooks at SJHS. Since the seamless rollout several years ago, Julie and her team provided ongoing support, teacher training, repair, and leadership to keep the 1:1 program strong. With the dawn of 1:1 in her school, the computer labs that Julie maintained for years went by the wayside. Instead of becoming irrelevant, Julie revisioned the labs and created the SJHS Einstein Lab, a high-tech makerspace available to all students and teachers in the school. This makerspace is now the heart and soul of a strong after school program, where students create and tinker in a variety of technology-rich courses. Julie also utilizes technology to maintain her school’s rich reading culture. SJHS students devour books, and Julie has used technology to help students select the right books for them. After school, under Julie’s supervision, students create video book talks and link them to QR codes. Their peers can then access the videos using tablets or phones to help them decide whether to read a book. She has also worked to build up her storehouse of e-books for students who wish to read in a digital format. All of these examples clearly point to Julie’s innovation in digital learning. But Julie is also a leader in her school. Her credibility with teachers, vision for technology learning, and ability to get the job done have contributed to the strong digital learning environment and focus at Sheridan Junior High School.
Julie Weitz has been a teacher since 1981, and a school library media specialist since 1991. Her career has spanned the incredible revolution in how we teach, access information, communicate, and support teachers and students in our schools. It’s been an amazing journey.
Julie graduated from Utah State University in 1981 with a degree in Elementary Education. After teaching third grade for five years, she and her husband Mark moved to Laramie to continue their respective educations. It was at UW that Julie met the three professors in who helped her chart her future: Landra Rezabek, Professor of Instructional Technology, Barbara Chatton, Professor of Children’s Literature, and Audrey Kleinsasser, Professor of Educational Research. While working on her Master’s Degree in Library Media and Instructional Technology, Julie was given amazing support and inspiration by these dedicated and creative women.
The foundation of Julie’s work as a school library media specialist has been the enduring aspects of teaching and learning: curiosity, vision, perseverance, teamwork, and fun. Blending these attributes with the incredible changes and challenges in technology over the last 35 years has helped keep Julie grounded in what matters most: developing relationships and helping kids learn.
For Julie, there is always more to learn, more good books to read and share, and always more wonderful people helping along the way. Julie couldn’t imagine a finer way to have spent her professional years than that of a library media professional at Sheridan Junior High School, having had the opportunity to work with so many remarkable professionals and amazing junior high kids.
District Leader – Cameron Kukuchka, Johnson County School District #1
Cameron Kukuchka joined the Johnson County School District #1 team in July, 2015. Several days after he began, JCSD #1’s server hut experienced a catastrophic failure. Cameron immediately took charge and restored the district’s technology infrastructure: networks, servers, user accounts, etc. Cameron continued to put out fires and stabilize the district for some months after and could easily have made it his sole focus. Instead, Cameron immersed himself in both the administrative and instructional aspects of IT. He has become proficient with Standards Referenced Grading and mastered his understanding of educational software. He has consolidated the district’s licensing needs, saving money and assisting teachers in determining what they really require. Nonetheless, perhaps his greatest strengths lie with his passion for the instructional needs of our students.
Cameron has been an integral partner collaborating with local and state officials to create access to innovative digital learning opportunities for JCSD#1 students. His insight helped to refine a partnership with local officials and a proven company Interapt to bring real world training in coding to up to 16 JCSD#1 students. He has also worked with state officials at the Wyoming Department of Education and the Department of Workforce Services to bring opportunities to every JCSD#1 middle school student via a pilot project with industry volunteers.
As important as these efforts are, Cameron significantly impacted the lives of five high school students. Paid internships were created from an idea generated by Cameron. The five selected students were identified using a rigorous interview process. They worked diligently and learned the nuts and bolts of Chromebooks, iPads, PCs, and networking. Some even learned to configure servers. All were provided with invaluable life skills such as teamwork, problem solving, responsibility, accountability and strong work ethic.
This summer was exceptional for Cameron, his staff, and our student interns. Thanks to his leadership and their teamwork, every JCSD #1 school was prepared for the start of the year equipped with Chromebooks and IPads, loaded with the latest versions of software. As Jason Moss, Principal of Kaycee K-12 School, noted: “Cameron has increased the instructional capacity of Kaycee School by stabilizing our network capability, increasing our bandwidth, updating our guest network, and successfully rolling out a 1:1 Chromebook initiative in the middle school and high school. “
As one intern’s parent wrote:“… his first “real job” was an excellent life lesson. He learned to communicate with his superiors, be on time and do what he was asked. These are valuable lessons that only come with experience thanks to Mr. Kukuchka. Mr. Kukuchka took time to explain things, answer questions and even give advice….Mr. Kukuchka was patient and helpful.”
Cameron is a dedicated professional – thoughtful, innovative, personable and dependable. He works long hours, without complaint, and is always seeking new and better ways to administer the district’s technology department. We cannot think of anyone more worthy of this honor.
Cameron Kukuchka is a “Techie” at heart and computer professional who enjoys the evolution of Technology. He is detail oriented with vast knowledge in hardware, software, networking systems, disaster recovery, and end user support. Cameron is currently the Director of Technology and Innovation at Johnson County School District One. His career in information technology began in 1999 in K-12 education in northern Wyoming and his eighteen plus years of experience is comprised of serving various K-12 Districts around the state of Wyoming. After nine years of supporting Technology in K-12, he expanded into the private sector where he supported various verticals in business across Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota. He has provided essential training and solutions to a number of district’s, agencies, and businesses across Wyoming. Cameron utilizes his experiences in business and education by implementing automation, enterprise solutions, and total cost of ownership (TCO) practices.
In addition to the globally recognized standard of achievement CISSP – Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification, he holds various vendor certifications including; Microsoft (MCPS, MCNPS, MCTS, SA), Cisco (CCNA, CCDA, CCNA Voice, CCNP), VMware (VSP, VTSP, VCA-DCV, VCP).
Program Leader – Erin Moore, Gannett Peak Technical Services
Erin Moore, from Gannett Peak Technical Services, is an incredible and valuable partner with the Wyoming Department of Education in developing the Coders of the West program by advocating and advancing student learning in computer science and giving students an avenue to connect learning in computer science through internships.This program she designed began with 11 students from two school districts completing internships with two industry partners. This pilot is expanding in the 2017-18 school year, now in its second year, and is currently involving at least 8 industry partners in 5 different communities. As a part of this expansion, Erin is bringing together partners from both industry and schools to develop a semester long online computer science course designed to teach content industry needs while keeping students engaged and energized about computer science. Students will then take this learning and apply it to a variety of different fields within computer science.
Thanks to Erin, this program has experienced a number of success indicators. Students learned about different components of software development from working with clients to define customer requirements, learning about frontend and backend development, cloud hosting, and GIS. These students also learned a host of employability skills including showing up to work on time, grit, team collaboration, working with remote teammates, and self-management. All student interns learned how to document the work they have done to show prospective employers along with how to describe their work on a resume.
In the first year, students participating in the internship completed a two week coding bootcamp co-taught by industry and postsecondary.
- Eleven students participated – 8 males & 3 females; 3 students were from an alternative high school; 8 students were considered at-risk students.
- Coordination on computer science needs between K-12, postsecondary, industry.
- Increase in students taking computer science classes at postsecondary level: 5 students will take postsecondary computer science courses in the 2017-18 school year; 1 student continuing postsecondary computer science courses at community college; 2 students entering military; 1 student left program since coding is not going to be his future career; and one student will be in 11th grade.
- Industry able to recruit increased number of employees from Wyoming.
- Increased number of students from diverse backgrounds participating in computer science.
Erin is partner and Chief Operations Officer for Gannett Peak Technical Services, a Wyoming software development company. She has over ten years of experience in software development and project management. She has worked with various programs over the years focused on giving youth unique educational opportunities in their communications; and believes youth if provided with opportunities and challenges will with take them head-on, excel, and help drive Wyoming’s future in a positive direction. Erin graduated from the University of Wyoming with bachelor’s degree in business economics and political science with a minor in decision science. She has a supportive husband and two wonderful children who remind her daily, what life is about and how much potential our future generations hold.
Milken Educator Awards
2017 – Shannon Hill, Thermopolis
It was the surprise of a lifetime, when Shannon Hill was presented with a prestigious Milken Educator Award by Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Milken Family Foundation Senior Program Administrator Greg Gallagher. Hill is Thermopolis Middle School’s seventh- and eight-grade Health and Physical Education teacher. Hill’s dedication to her students is one of the many reasons that Hill was selected for this award.
Hill stated after learning that she had earned the Milken Educator Award, “I am completely humbled and overwhelmed. I was not expecting it at all and I just can’t wrap my head around it right now. I absolutely love what I do and I show up every day loving what I do, not thinking about awards, not working towards anything specific, just teaching the kids. I love the kids that I work with every day.
Milken Educators are selected in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. In addition to the $25,000 prize and public recognition, Hill’s honor includes membership in the National Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,700 top teachers, principals and specialists dedicated to strengthening education.
Shannon Hill believes and demonstrates that physical health improves classroom performance. But kids will tell you they’re just having fun. In student climate surveys, they have rated her class as their second favorite part of school for two years in a row. And that’s no surprise. They enjoy 45 minutes of adventure every day as they swim, hike, bike, canoe, and even try archery.
Hill redesigned the Physical Education classes to promote safety and improve physical and mental health. She has presented its success during state and national conferences, including the National School Board Conference in March 2017. As students have become more active, math and reading scores at Thermopolis Middle School have steadily climbed. Five out of nine core areas at the school ranked top 10% in the state, and administrators credit this to the positive culture Hill has helped create.
Her PE model teaches kids skills they can use for a lifetime and maximizes various activities available in small towns that get students outside and on the go. Hill incorporates cross-curricular concepts, supporting math and literacy standards, within her physical education and health classes. Hill arranged to purchase 40 bikes so students could ride during class. Besides promoting health and fitness, the bike rides serve other educational purposes as well. The students bike to the grocery store (1 mile each way) and purchase fresh foods. The next day they learn how to cook healthy meals in class and use their math skills to calculate nutrition values. For mental stability, Hill engages students through lessons and surveys to improve self-perception and body image, stand up to peer pressure and avoid the pitfalls of drugs and alcohol. As an end-of-year treat for 8th graders, Hill sponsors an overnight camping trip. The trip has to be earned and students must keep their behavior in check to not jeopardize their standing.
Hill mentors new teachers on building strong student relationships and effective classroom management, and partakes in school duties beyond the classroom. She is the student-council advisor and an active member of the Bobcat Booster club raising funds for school activities. Hill also supports the high school as the head varsity girls’ volleyball coach, and hosts open gyms for other athletes to work out during practice. Active and visible throughout Hot Springs County, Hill has also changed the community. She coordinates the Ready, Set, Run program to get kids running and the annual Running with the Buffalo race, while her PE methods have extended to the high school. She hosts Challenge Days to teach at-risk students how to self-reflect and make better choices, and volunteers with students and community members to deliver Meals on Wheels on Sundays.
Hill earned her Bachelor of Arts in Health and Human Performance/Exercise Science in 2009 and her Master of Education in 2012, both from the University of Montana.
More information about Hill, plus links to photos and a video from today’s assembly, can be found on the Milken Educator Awards website at http://www.milkeneducatorawards.org/educators/view/Shannon-Hill.
The Milken Educator Awards alternate yearly between elementary and secondary educators. Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Award is completely unique: Educators cannot apply for this recognition and do not even know they are under consideration. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then are reviewed by Blue Ribbon Panels appointed by state departments of education. Those most exceptional are recommended for the Award, with final approval by the Milken Family Foundation.
For more information about the Milken Educator Awards, visit www.MilkenEducatorAwards.org or call MFF at (310) 570-4772.
STEM Educator Awards
The STEM Educator of the Year Award recognizes educators who are exemplars in the integration of hands-on, minds-on experiential learning opportunities in their classrooms. These educators incorporate the applied integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics into their everyday teaching environments, and facilitate meaningful connections between what students are learning and the world of work.
2017 Award Winners
- Elementary – Adrienne Unertl, K-5 STEM Educator, Clark Elementary School, Evanston
- Secondary – Michael Power, Middle/High School Science Teacher, Meeteetse Schools
- Post-Secondary – Jared Bowden, Physics/Astronomy Instructor, Casper College
2016 Award Winners
- Elementary – Christine Horsen, First Grade Teacher, Meeteetse Schools
- Secondary – Teresa Strube, Middle School Science/Math Teacher, University of Wyoming Lab School
- Post-Secondary – Dr. Edwin Bittner, Veterinary Technology Instructor, Eastern Wyoming College
2015 Award Winners
- Elementary – Abby Mowry, Teacher, Sagebrush Elementary School, Sheridan, WY
- Secondary – Miken Harnish, Wheatland Middle School STEM Program, Wheatland, WY
- Post-Secondary – Dr. Evert Brown, Science Professor, Casper Mountain Science School and Casper College