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August 30, 2017

2017 Staff Excellence Award winners named

All Kennewick School District staff work hard to help students succeed. The district recently recognized 17 employees with 2017 Staff Excellence Awards for going above and beyond in making our schools great places to learn.

All winners are nominated by district employees and were honored during the Welcome Back event for staff on Aug. 28 at Kennewick High School. Congratulations and thank you to all of them for the outstanding work they do every day.

Administrator of the Year

Coleen Culmer, Assistant Director of Special Services, Administration Center 


Coleen Culmer started as a speech and language pathologist with the district's Special Education department in 1979 before moving into administration as assistant director of special services. She secures grants and services for the district's special education programs and is a resource to students and teachers, helping them be successful in the classroom and meet their goals.

"She always says she wishes she could do more," says Matt Scott, director of special services.

Creativity In Curriculum

Karen Leonard, Fourth Grade Teacher, Cottonwood Elementary School


Karen Leonard joined the district as a teacher nearly 20 years ago. She's spent the past several years at Cottonwood Elementary, where she is on the frontline of new teaching methods and curriculum development. She eagerly shares her expertise and time with other teachers.

“The first thing she ever said to me was that she wanted to be part of a team that not only helped students succeed but helped teachers succeed, too," says Cottonwood Elementary Principal Mary Ann Kautzky.

Staff Support Person of the Year

Two individuals and a team were awarded Staff Support Person of the Year awards

Cathy Dickey, Secretary, Chinook Middle School


Cathy Dickey has worked in several district schools since 1997. She moved to Chinook Middle School last fall to become its lead secretary for its inaugural year, helping to get the school running as well as orchestrate the move mid-school year to the new building on 27th Avenue near Southridge High School. Chinook staff say she keeps the school running smoothly and all with a positive attitude and a smile on her face.

"She is our air traffic controller," says Chinook Principal Kevin Pierce.

Jesus Barajas, Benefits Specialist


Jesus Barajas has served as the district's benefits specialist for more than six years, keeping track of the regularly changing health insurance plans, retirement programs and other benefits for 2,500 district employees. Co-workers say his knowledge and dependability are only matched by his patience and concern for every staff member who comes to him looking for answers.

"He treats us like his family," says Nikki Amundson, payroll technician.

Warehouse Staff - Brad Staudinger, Brian Howard, Brian Kolp, Trevor Watson, Adam Griffin, Brandon Wright, Cameron Razor, Alex Sanchez, and Eileen Freeman


The nine members of the Warehouse Staff have served the district for anywhere between 36 years to nearly a decade. Their high level of coordination, efficiency and teamwork ensures that school meals can be served, schools have everything they need and even custodians have the supplies they need to do their jobs each day. It's their team effort that has allowed the district to meet all these needs even as the district has added new schools and thousands of students and staff in recent years.

"Every one of them makes sure the work gets done," says Quana Billado, warehouse secretary.

Certificated Specialist Teacher of the Year

Susan Adams, Counselor, Hawthorne Elementary School


Susan Adams has spent nearly all her 25 years in the Kennewick School District at Hawthorne Elementary and staff say she makes the school a magical place. She knows about the lives of every student, is a resource to parents and is always there for her fellow school staff members, whether they need some comforting or are celebrating something special in their lives. 

"It's no coincidence that she is commonly called the mom of the school," says Hawthorne Principal Craig Miller.

Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Joan Curtis, Life Skills Teacher, Canyon View Elementary School


Joan Curtis came to the district in 2000, spending her time working with students facing some of the greatest challenges when it comes to learning. Her fellow teachers say the transformations her students go through while under her care are extraordinary. Her kind and understanding approach to her students as well as their parents creates tight bonds as well as growth and success.

"Because of her, I watched a student grow into someone striving to achieve in all areas of life despite the challenges that he faced," one fellow teacher says.

Middle School Teacher of the Year

Angelene Martin, English Language Arts & Washington State History Teacher, Chinook Middle School


Angelene Martin briefly left teaching after first joining the district 10 years ago. She soon returned, though, and has developed a reputation as a model teacher, skilled at engaging students and empowering them to guide their own learning while using student data to see where students are excelling or need support. She gladly shares her insights with fellow staff and no one can resist being inspired by her encouragement and optimism.

"She's just this ball of positive energy," says Horse Heaven Hills Principal Diana Burns.

High School Teacher of the Year

Carrie Julian, Special Education Teacher, Kamiakin High School


A lot of high school seniors may not have walked at graduation over the past four decades without Carrie Julian. She's worked in the district's high schools since 1980 with much of that time in Kamiakin High School's resource room. She is committed to every student and willing to do whatever she can so they can soar, from tutoring them during summer break to regularly checking student test scores to ensure they are meeting graduation requirements.

"She is the kind of teacher I aspire to be. She hits all the marks when you think of the kind of teacher you want your own child to have," says Charlotte McCallister, another special education teacher at Kamiakin.