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Meet Our 2021 Staff Excellence Award Winners

Each year, the Kennewick School District honors employees who exemplify dedication, skill, knowledge, professionalism and care. These employees go the extra mile for their students, families and co-workers, and we're proud to honor them with Staff Excellence Awards.

Administrator of the Year: Jennifer Behrends, Vista Elementary

Staff Excellence - Jennifer Behrends

Vista Elementary Principal Jennifer Behrends is a dedicated and skilled leader who gives her all to the students, families and staff in her building. She takes the time to listen and she’s always ready to talk through concerns, offer advice or provide encouragement.

She’s also super organized, with a binder for everything! Her professionalism and knowledge raise the game of everyone at Vista.

Congratulations on being named Administrator of the Year!


Staff Support Person of the Year: Thavone Phanekham, Tri-Tech Skills Center

Staff Excellence - Thavone Phanekham

Thavone Phanekham is a breath of fresh air and a bright light at Tri-Tech Skills Center, where she’s the lead custodian.

She always has a smile on her face and a kind word for students and staff. She views Tri-Tech as a special place, and she does her best to take care of it. She’s quick to help others and to step up when needed.

Her strong work ethic, her caring and her positivity make a big difference at Tri-Tech.

Congratulations on being named a Staff Support Person of the Year!


Staff Support Person of the Year: Danielle Gann, Ridge View Elementary

Staff Excellence - Danielle Gann

Danielle Gann is the definition of hard working.

She puts her whole heart into her job as a paraeducator at Ridge View Elementary, and her students and co-workers love and appreciate her.

Principal Naomi Puckett says that she, “goes above and beyond for our school, however we need her. When we’re in a bind, we can go to her for advice. She takes initiative, she helps solve problems – and she always keeps a positive attitude while she’s doing it.”

Congratulations on being named a Staff Support Person of the Year!


Staff Support Person of the Year: Claudia Marin, Transportation

Staff Excellence - Claudia Marin

Bus attendant Claudia Marin truly goes the extra mile for the special needs students she works with. She sings to them, reads to them and meets with Special Services staff to ensure she knows the best way to care for them.

She tries to treat every child on her bus the same way she would her own children – and that doesn’t go unnoticed. Her students and families appreciate her kindness and dedication, and her co-workers look to her as a role model and mentor.

Congratulations on being named a Staff Support Person of the Year!


Creativity in Curriculum: Kaycee Ferguson, Chinook Middle School

Staff Excellence - Kasey Ferguson

Chinook Middle School ELA and history teacher Kaycee Ferguson is an expert at incorporating technology into the classroom. In her classes, students have done everything from create podcasts to make videos using green screens.

If there’s a new program or app that might benefit her students, she’ll give it a shot. And she creates an environment in her classroom where students feel seen and valued. She gets to know them, she taps into their likes and interests when she builds lessons, and she creates routines and systems that they can count on.

Her classroom is a fun, safe place where students learn and thrive.

Congratulations on being named our Creativity in Curriculum winner!


Certificated Specialist of the Year: Carrie Armstrong, Sunset View Elementary

Staff Excellence - Carrie Armstrong

Reading specialist Carrie Armstrong from Sunset View Elementary is known for being a cheerful and positive presence.

She’s the first person to jump in to help her co-workers, and she has a true gift for connecting with students.

Her job as a reading specialist means she works with students throughout her school building. Her students make all kinds of reading gains during their time with her – in skill level and confidence. And many leave with a greater love for reading, which pays dividends their whole lives.

She’s respected for her instructional knowledge and is a resource to others around our district. When she speaks, people listen because they know she’s an expert and always has the best interests of students and co-workers at heart.

Congratulations on being named Certificated Specialist of the Year!


Elementary Teacher of the Year: Angie Lee, Cottonwood Elementary

Staff Excellence - Angie Lee

Angie Lee, a special education teacher at Cottonwood Elementary, is magic in the classroom, always coming up with engaging ways to help students learn and thrive.

She’s tuned in to the specific needs of each of her students, and she works tirelessly with them until they’re successful at whatever lesson or task is put in front of them.

She’s also known for her kindness. In her school building, she’s a friend to all and a confidante to many. She’s the person others go to when they need encouragement, when they need a listening ear.

She’s always positive and leaves students and co-workers alike feeling valued and loved.

Congratulations on being named Elementary Teacher of the Year!


Middle School Teacher of the Year: Jeff Wiens, Highlands Middle School

Staff Excellence - Jeff Wiens

Highlands Middle School math and science teacher Jeff Wiens is known for being inventive, innovative and dedicated. He routinely goes above and beyond to make sure students are engaged and successful.

Here’s just one example: when our district was in hybrid learning, he set up two cameras and a TV screen in his classroom so that students who weren’t at school that day could still tune into his lessons.

He makes it his mission to connect with students and learn their stories, and his students and families appreciate his enthusiasm and effort.

He truly makes a difference at Highlands and in our district.

Congratulations on being named Middle School Teacher of the Year!


High School Teacher of the Year: Joyce Donais, Kamiakin High School

Staff Excellence - Joyce Donais

Kamiakin High School English teacher Joyce Donais is not only a skilled instructor, she’s also a mentor, confidante, encourager and servant-leader. She inspires everyone around her.

When it comes to students, there’s no one better at engaging and connecting. She’s authentic and her students know that she truly cares.

She’ll show up to their sports games and other events. She’ll send emails. She’ll mail them postcards at home to praise them and let them know that they’re on her mind and in her heart.

When she’s with her students, she’s present and “in the now.” She doesn’t let other appointments or duties pull away her focus.

She’s also a supportive co-worker, routinely stepping up to encourage and help her fellow teachers and school employees.

Congratulations on being named High School Teacher of the Year!