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May 18, 2014
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Diane Cotner named L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year

When Wamsley Elementary teacher Diane Cotner looks back, the thought of becoming a teacher and influencing the lives of children scared her.

“Luckily, I had my sisters to remind me of our childhood in Arvada, Colorado, and all of the times I coerced them into playing school,” wrote Cotner in her L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year biography. “My disgruntled sisters would have to be the students, while I was always the teacher.”

Lucky indeed! Lucky for the Garfield School District Re-2 where Cotner began teaching in 1992 and lucky for Wamsley Elementary where she has spent all 14 years of her teaching career. The instincts she showed as a youngster have bloomed into an honored teaching career at Wamsley Elementary and earned her the L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year award for Garfield Re-2.

The presentation was made at a Wamsley Elementary school staff meeting on May 12. Cotner was one of six nominees — one from each elementary school in Garfield Re-2 — and never considered the possibility that she would be the winner.

“I didn’t truly think that I would win,” said Cotner. “There are so many people that deserve it. I am very humbled and very honored to be an L.S. Wood Charitable Trust Teacher of the Year.”

In her nomination letter, Wamsley Elementary principal Kathi Senor said Cotner is a one-in-a-million educator.

“I can attest that Mrs. Cotner is indeed a rare find. She knows what it means to be a part of a team and a leader personally, professionally and instructionally in a building. … Educators with her skill and compassion for education are few and far between; that is why she is an excellent candidate for the L.S. Wood Teacher of the year,“ wrote Senor.

“Diane has helped get our two girls off to great starts in their education,” added Troy and Erin Phillips, whose daughters McKinley and Delaney were taught by Cotner. “She has inspired them to work hard and do their best. The way she challenged and motivated them has given them a foundation for their future successes in their schooling.”

Cotner said the award is a nice way to be recognized for being a teacher but that she gets joy from educating.

“It will help me keep doing my best every day,” said Cotner of the award, with a smile on her face, “but even if you don’t get an award, the ‘thank-yous’ and the hugs from the kids make it all worth it.”

The L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year award is in its 29th year and provides a $4,000 grant for one teacher from Garfield Re-2. The instructor receives $2,000, and another $2,000 goes to that teacher’s department, team or grade level for purchases designated by the teacher with principal approval.

Selections rotate each year from elementary to middle to high school teachers. This year’s award is designated for elementary school teachers. Last year’s recipient was Laura Alfini from Rifle High School. Next year’s winner will be a middle school teacher. Tammy Williams from Rifle Middle School is the previous middle school winner.

In addition, all nominated teachers receive $500. The 2014 Garfield Re-2 L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year nominees are:

Highland Elementary – Shannon McKee

On Sept. 11, 2001, Shannon McKee was sitting at her desk at her travel agency when tragedy struck our nation.

“After 15 years in the travel industry, I knew my career would never be the same,” wrote McKee in her L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year nomination letter.

The events of Sept. 11, coupled with a conversation just weeks before with her grandmother, sent McKee on a journey into the world of education.

“Few people get to do what they love, and I love teaching,” added the fifth-year teacher.

Her students felt her impact in the classroom every day.

“She encouraged us and motivated us to achieve our goals as good scholars,” wrote Tegan Kyler Costanzo. “She cared not only on an educational level, but on a personal level as well. When I had to leave Highland Elementary School, I had a tough time because she was the best teacher I ever had.”

Graham Mesa Elementary – Eunnyung Davis

Growing up in Seoul Korea provided Eunnyung Davis a unique educational experience. Education was a top priority for her family, and at fifth-grade, her family moved so that Eunnyung could attend a high-performing school. It was her fifth-grade teacher that inspired her to become a teacher.

“She opened many doors for me,” wrote Davis in her L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year biography.

“Pushing kids to be the best they can be to meet and go above and beyond the grade level expectations were the foundation of my driving force,” she wrote as part of her nomination letter. “My focus is not only building a strong relationship between the students and myself but also helping to build a strong cooperative community of learners in my classroom so there is no way for any student to feel any kind of failure.”

Rifle Middle School student Iris Santana had Davis when she was at Graham Mesa.

“Mrs. Davis was my best teacher because she made learning fun,” wrote Santana. “She made going to middle school easy. I will try my hardest every single day for her.”

Cactus Valley Elementary – Margaret Becker-Simms

Colorado native, wife, mother, preschool teacher and 23-year Garfield Re-2 teacher Margaret Becker-Simms loves to teach.

“From teaching one of my younger siblings how to tie his shoes, to teaching an art class after my coursework in college was done for the day, to teaching my children how to build an igloo out of cereal boxes, I love teaching my students every curriculum area with creativity and imagination,” wrote Becker-Simms.

Cactus Valley Elementary principal Lisa Whitmore added that the positive, safe learning environment and leadership at CVE made Becker-Simms an excellent L.S. Wood Teacher of the Year candidate.

“She gives every child in her classroom the feeling that she loves them more than anything. She calls her students ‘Baby Doll,’ ‘Amazing Raisins,’ or ‘Simms’ Smarties.’ How could a child in her classroom not believe that they could do anything they wanted? … She is a constant learner and shows it every day as she asks questions and tries to improve her instructional skills in the classroom to support her students even more.”

Elk Creek Elementary – Jennifer Enewold

For Jennifer Enewold, the nomination for the L. S. Wood Teacher of the Year brings her educational career full-circle. Twenty-two years ago, after an 18-year career in cosmetology, a marriage and two children, Enewold was the beneficiary of an L.S. Wood scholarship that helped her go back to school to become a teacher.

“It is not uncommon for former students and parents to keep in touch with Mrs. Enewold. She is a teacher that her students never forget,” wrote Elk Creek Elementary Principal Kenny Newby in his nomination letter. “She looks at each student as an individual and has the ability to make each one feel special and successful and never gives up on them.”

“I can honestly say my life is richer for having Jennifer in it,” added Ros Hatch, a parent whose daughter had Enewold in third grade. “I can truly say Jennifer is a blessing to our schools, community and the people she comes in contact with.”

Kathryn Senor Elementary – Emily Kielmeyer

Emily is the epitome of home-grown talent. Born and raised in the Roaring Fork Valley, Kielmeyer attended school in Basalt, completed her student teaching at Kathryn Senor Elementary in 2005 and stayed on to teach at KSE. “I knew immediately this was the career for me because each morning I was eager to get to school and excited for my students to arrive. This love of teaching and learning has only continued as I have gained more experience,” wrote Kielmeyer in her nomination biography.

Former kindergarten student, now third-grader Gwynn Apostolik wrote, “Mrs. Keilmeyer was the most incredible kindergarten teacher ever!”

Former kindergarten student parent Brooke Ditlow wrote, “Emily Kielmeyer’s classroom is incredibly kid friendly. She works hard to create an environment that intertwines educational materials and aids with warmth and comfort.”


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The Post Independent Updated May 18, 2014 11:16PM Published May 18, 2014 11:16PM Copyright 2014 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.