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Education Champions Named in 2021 ACE Awards

180 district staff honored for work during extraordinary school year

4J staff members were honored for excellence in education in the 2021 ACE (A Champion in Education) Awards on June 3. A record 180 nominated staff were honored and champions were named in the virtual awards ceremony while friends, colleagues and family members watched, reacted and commented on the video livestream.

4J’s 2021 ACE Award champions are Marlee Litten, Paula Nolan and Kevin Summerfield. Brenda Brainard was honored with a special lifetime achievement award. Each will receive a $250 grant for a 4J school or program of their choosing from the Eugene Education Foundation.

Congratulations to all of our staff who were nominated and celebrated in the 2021 ACE Awards. To learn more about each nominee, please see the ACE Awards program or the Facebook posts (linked below) that include a short excerpt from their nomination.

ACE Awards Ceremony Video Recording
ACE Awards Ceremony Program
ACE Awards Nominee Facebook Posts 

 


Teachers & Licensed Specialists

CHAMPION: Marlee Litten, Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA), Student Services Department

During her 34-year career with 4J, Marlee Litten has shaped the development of a generation of educators, teachers and educational assistants who serve students with special education needs.

Marlee started her education career in 1987 as a special education teacher at Kelly Middle School. She retired last year as a teacher on special assignment helping coach, guide and mentor the next generation of special education teachers and other educators, who leaned on her incredible depth of knowledge, expertise and ways of thinking around special education, assessment and data literacy. She returned this year to continue supporting staff, students and families in this exceptionally challenging time.

As a few of her nominators put it:

• “She is the salt of the earth. Her dedication to students, families, teachers and educational assistants in 4J has impacted our system so greatly that you would be hard-pressed to find a district initiative or educator who has not been impacted by her work.”

• “She keeps the students at the center, and designs professional development that inspires teachers to serve all students.  She has a passion for equity and making sure teachers have the tools and strategies to provide for everyone in their classroom, make student learning visual, and reach out and meet each student at their level.”

• “This school district has forever been changed positively because of the lifetime of service Marlee has honored us with. 4J will forever be indebted to her and her legacy will never be forgotten.”

Marlee recognized all of the other nominees and shared that the unprecedented challenges of the year were motivation to continue her service in 4J. “Everyone this year really has brought their heart into teaching,” she said. “It’s so exciting to think about all we’ve learned this last year and where we can go. That’s why it’s hard to stay retired in this district, because there’s always something exciting around the corner.”

TEACHER & LICENSED SPECIALIST NOMINEES

Lisa Albrich, Spanish Teacher, Sheldon High School • Ashley Baker, Fourth Grade Teacher, Yujin Gakuen Japanese Immersion Elementary School • Lee Baker, Counselor, Roosevelt Middle School • Meredith Baker, Kindergarten/First Grade Teacher, Buena Vista Spanish Immersion Elementary School • Leah Barber, Language Arts Teacher, Sheldon High School • Jeff Billington, Fourth Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Kelly Bokn, Athletic Director, Churchill High School • Kelli Boom, Physical Education and Health Teacher, Monroe Middle School • Carissa Boyce, Title I Coordinator, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Brenda Brainard, Director, NATIVES Program • Paul Brisentine, Math Teacher, Roosevelt Middle School • Nikita Brougher, Kindergarten Teacher, River Road/El Camino del Río Elementary School • Lupe Callihan, Fifth Grade Teacher, Howard Elementary School • Rachel Cannon, Special Education Teacher, Monroe Middle School • Sheryl Carroll, Special Education Teacher, Edison Elementary School • Sebastian Catlin, Student Achievement Specialist, South Eugene High School • Charissa Charpie, Third Grade Teacher, Howard Elementary School • Meredith Coelho, Language Arts Teacher, Roosevelt Middle School • Linda Coombs, Speech-Language Pathologist, Edison and Charlemagne French Immersion Elementary School • Seth Cooper, Spanish Teacher, Roosevelt Middle School • Kelley Coplin, American Sign Language Teacher, North Eugene High School • Annette Corbeau, First Grade Teacher, Gilham Elementary School • Patrice Cowman, First Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Vanessa Crane, First Grade Teacher, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Kimberly Dame-Brown, First Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Judy Davies, Second Grade Teacher, McCornack Elementary School • Kim DeLeon, Special Education Teacher, McCornack Elementary School • Elena Delgado Vazquez, Spanish Teacher, Sheldon High School • Sarah Donn, Second Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Brynne Eidlin, Fourth Grade Teacher, Camas Ridge Elementary School • Anna Elias, Life Skills Teacher, Adams Elementary School • Dene Eller, Physical Education Teacher, River Road/El Camino del Río Elementary School • Christie Enders, Counselor, Sheldon High School • Jason Erickson, AVID & Social Studies Teacher, Madison Middle School • Iris Essman, Learning Specialist, ECCO • Erin Fuller, Kindergarten Teacher, Adams Elementary School • Kristen Gianforti, Counselor, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Kendra Groves, Second Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Nicholas Hadley, Spanish Teacher, Monroe Middle School • Joshua Hamill, Social Studies Teacher, Eugene International High School at Sheldon • Katie Hansen, Transition Education Network Special Education Teacher, Sheldon High School • Aimee Harrington, Language Arts Teacher, Arts & Technology Academy • Jacob Havner, Fourth Grade Teacher, Adams Elementary School • Carisa Henniger, Second Grade Teacher, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Ann Hettick, Health Teacher, Sheldon High School • Mark Hewitt, Math Teacher, Eugene Online Academy • Theresa Hilkey, Math Teacher, ECCO • Darla Humbert, Counselor, Holt Elementary School • Sandi Jacobson, Second Grade Teacher, Gilham Elementary School • Tory Jenkins, Kindergarten Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Chris Johnson, Science Teacher, Monroe Middle School • Stephen Johnson, Music Teacher, Buena Vista Spanish Immersion Elementary School • Sara Justice, First Grade Teacher, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Tessa Karbum, Science Teacher, Kelly Middle School • Jenny Kneale, Fifth Grade Teacher, Willigillespie Elementary School • Allison Kreider, Third Grade Teacher, Howard Elementary School • Mary Kuhl, Fourth Grade Teacher, McCornack Elementary School • Kori Kunz, Media Specialist, Sheldon High School • Yvette Landrum, Special Education Teacher, Eugene Online Academy • Michael Leahy, Counselor, South Eugene High School • Rebecca Leduc, Kindergarten Teacher, Edgewood Elementary School • Julie Lehl, Health Teacher, South Eugene High School • Debbie Levy, Media Specialist, Churchill High School • Marlee Litten, Teacher on Special Assignment, Student Services Department • Mariko Maddock, Fifth Grade Teacher, Yujin Gakuen Japanese Immersion Elementary School • Karen Marashi, Math Teacher, Roosevelt Middle School • Paula McCown, Special Education Teacher, Charlemagne French Immersion Elementary School • Kelly McGhehey, Counselor, ECCO • Chris Michael, Science Teacher, Arts & Technology Academy • Jennifer Mora, Language Arts Teacher, Kelly Middle School • Cindy Munyon, Speech Specialist, Student Services Department • Polly Nelson, Special Education Teacher, South Eugene High School • Jamie Nicholsen-Tait, Fifth Grade Teacher, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Jackie Owens, Ninth Grade Transition Coordinator, Sheldon High School • Clara Palacios, Kindergarten Teacher, Buena Vista Spanish Immersion Elementary School • Amy Petty, Third Grade Teacher, McCornack Elementary School • Laura Points, Second Grade Teacher, Gilham Elementary School • Sofie Prideaux, Kindergarten Teacher, Edgewood Elementary School • Sarah Quinn, Special Education Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Mary Recker, First Grade Teacher, Gilham Elementary School • Venus Reeve, Special Education Teacher, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Ashley Reich, Fourth Grade Teacher, Holt Elementary School • Rebecca Robinson, Fifth Grade Teacher, Charlemagne French Immersion Elementary School • Suzy Rock, Fifth Grade Teacher, Howard Elementary School • Beth Saxon, Second Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Julie Schneider, Kindergarten Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Yoshiko Shioya, Japanese Teacher, Sheldon High School • Ashley Shofner, Second/Third Grade Teacher, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Barbara Siemens, Language Arts Teacher, Arts & Technology Academy • Erin Skoubo, Kindergarten Teacher, River Road/El Camino del Río Elementary School • Levi Smucker, Math Teacher, Spencer Butte Middle School • Antje Snawder, Kindergarten Teacher, Adams Elementary School • Chris Stewart, Language Arts Teacher, Churchill High School • Katie Stiles, Teacher on Special Assignment, Instruction Department • Kristin Stone, Math Teacher, Eugene Education Options • Kelly Stroh, Fifth Grade Teacher, Yujin Gakuen Japanese Immersion Elementary School • Kim Sullivan, Special Education Teacher, Howard Elementary School • Suzi Swinehart, First Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Desiree Talley, Third Grade Teacher, Holt Elementary School • Kathleen Taylor, Science Teacher, Arts & Technology Academy • Carrie Tilson, Counselor, Monroe Middle School • Matthew Trent, Math Teacher, Monroe Middle School • Nancy Unruh, Kindergarten Teacher, Edison Elementary School • Julie Vignoul, Media Specialist, South Eugene High School • Ken Walker, Language Arts Teacher, Madison Middle School • Stephanie Waples, Fourth Grade Teacher, Willagillespie Elementary School • Alice Williamson, Title I Coordinator, Chávez Elementary School • Dave Wines, Fourth/Fifth Grade Teacher, Edgewood Elementary School • Brandy Wormdahl, Physical Education Teacher/Girls Soccer Coach, North Eugene High School • Janine Zimmer-Berg, Third Grade Teacher, Edison Elementary School • Lisa Zluticky, First Grade Teacher, Holt Elementary School


Classified Staff

CHAMPION: Kevin Summerfield, Educational Assistant, Churchill High School

Kevin Summerfield is a high-energy, positive, supportive presence at Churchill High School. His nominators describe him as a force in the community, “the soul behind the spirit of Churchill,” and a bridge builder who works tirelessly to provide welcoming, inclusive experiences for all, and bridge the gaps of need and opportunity for our most marginalized families.

Kevin is Churchill students’ biggest cheerleader and the embodiment of Lancer PRIDE. He tirelessly strives to support families and connect isolated students with positive social groups. He works to foster an antiracist culture throughout the school. He’s also a big presence, a source of joy and love, whose resonant voice and laugh reverberate through Churchill’s hallways and whose high-fives and kind words are a small sign of his tremendous ability to connect and form meaningful and lasting relationships with students.

To share just a few mentions from those who nominated Kevin for this year’s ACE Awards:

• “He is so fully present, and his presence really makes all the difference.”

• “Whether he is facilitating a racial and social justice workshop, introducing himself to a parent who needs support for their kiddo, or giving a high five to a student who passed a challenging assessment, Kevin is a hero to many.”

• “I am positive there are students in their 30s now with children of their own asking themselves, ‘How would Kevin handle this situation?’ The answer would be with kindness, inclusion and love.”

After he was named an ACE Champion, Kevin said all the nominees were champions in his eyes. “I think everyone that was nominated deserved this too,” he said. “There’s just not one person in our category who wins. We all win. 4J wins when we have people in our organization who are truly transparent and here for kids. We went through a pandemic and now we’re on the other side of it. I can’t wait to see what next year’s going to look like. We are going to be successful because it takes a village and it takes all of us to do this.”

CLASSIFIED STAFF NOMINEES

Heather Acharya, Records and Scheduling Assistant, Spencer Butte Middle School • Melissa Andrews, Department Secretary, Eugene Online Academy • Kelly Ayres, Records and Scheduling Assistant, Roosevelt Middle School • Kim Blaser, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Arts & Technology Academy • Randal Bonney, Custodial Maintenance Coordinator I, Adams Elementary School • Joe Brainard, Student & School Coordinator, NATIVES Program • Phylicia Bullis, Attendance Clerk, Sheldon High School • Katie Burns, Department Secretary, Student Services Department • Linda Castle, Administrative Assistant, Transportation Department • Doris Chastain, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Adams Elementary School • Bernadette Conover, School Secretary, Charlemagne French Immersion Elementary School • Patricia Donohue, Educational Assistant, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Sarah Dreyer, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Willagillespie Elementary School • Debra Eichner, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Adams Elementary School • Kelly Fenley, Bilingual Educational Assistant, Buena Vista Spanish Immersion Elementary School • Laurie Fierling, School Secretary, North Eugene High School • Elora Franklin, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Charlemagne French Immersion Elementary School • Theresa Garnsey, Educational Assistant, Holt Elementary School • S.K. Gaskell, Lead Grounds Specialist & Integrated Pest Manager (IPM), Custodial/Grounds • Angie Gee, Human Services Coordinator, Chávez Elementary School • Patricia Gehlhaar, School Secretary, Gilham Elementary School • Lynne Given, Department Secretary, Eugene International High School at Churchill • Kelly Greatwood, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Spring Creek Elementary School • Arthur Hart, Classified Benefits Coordinator, Human Resources • Deanne Herman, Educational Assistant, Twin Oaks Elementary School • Julie Hopkins, Library/IMC Assistant, Howard Elementary School • Shiloh Jackson, Post-Graduate Planning Specialist, Sheldon High School • Suzie Johnson, Title I Educational Assistant, Spring Creek Elementary School • Karen Kingzett, School Secretary, Roosevelt Middle School • Debora Kovensky, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Roosevelt Middle School • Jake Lemasson, Educational Assistant, Arts & Technology Academy • Kara Mayer, Food Service Coordinator, Spencer Butte Middle School • Melanie Namkoong, Department Secretary, Eugene International High School at South Eugene • Debbie Parlette, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Arts & Technology Academy • Stephanie Perez, School Secretary, Monroe Middle School • Michelle Phillipo, User Services Specialist, Technology Department • Jake Reents, Technology Support Specialist, Churchill High School • Buffy Ritchie, School Secretary, Monroe Middle School • Bernadette Ross, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Life Skills Network • Jackie Sanderson, Educational Assistant, Holt Elementary School • Patti Schmidt, Educational Assistant, Willagillespie Elementary School • Beth Smith, Behavior Support Assistant, Chávez Elementary School • Jackie Solares, Bilingual Educational Assistant, Buena Vista Spanish Immersion Elementary School • Kevin Summerfield, Educational Assistant, Churchill High School • Paige Toro, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Howard Elementary School • Campbell Trangmar, Custodian, South Eugene High School • Hayes Vertulfo, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Monroe Middle School • Tina Williams, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Howard Elementary SchoolAudrey Wiltz, Educational Assistant, Madison Middle SchoolRose Winand, Technology Support Specialist, South Eugene High School • Cindy Winkle, Special Ed Educational Assistant, Howard Elementary School • Vickie Woolman, School Secretary, Twin Oaks Elementary School • Pilar Zentz, Bilingual Educational Assistant, River Road/El Camino del Río Elementary School


Administrators & Supervisors

CHAMPION: Paula Nolan, Alternative Education Administrator, Eugene Education Options

She has only been with Eugene School District 4J for two years, but Paula Nolan’s impact on 4J students and staff already has been exceptional. She oversees the ECCO alternative high school program and other Eugene Education Options programs, such as GED and credit recovery. In just her first year on the job, 4J’s alternative high school programs saw a graduation rate increase of 21%.

This year, Paula also administered the Eugene Online Academy as it expanded to a K–12 program and rapidly grew from about 100 to more than 600 students. She handled this incredibly challenging year and her added responsibilities with impressive grace, dedication, hard work, compassion and skill.

Paula’s many nominators praise her steady leadership and communication style, but also her keen ability to mentor, educate, understand and support students and staff to be their best selves. A few examples:

“Paula is an excellent principal to our students. She is both firm and loving. She works hard to provide equitable access to education and resources for all of our students. She shows dedication and care, while still holding students accountable and maintaining high expectations.”

• “She helps everyone want to be their best self. By showing staff that she has faith in them and coupling it with an incredible work ethic, she helps to create a wonderful climate for the staff that they then percolate out to our students and their families.”

• “Paula shines. She is excited about what the future holds and where ECCO can go. Paula is ECCO’s Superwoman!”

Paula said her award reflected the work of the teams she supports each day. “Each day I love coming to work because I get to see the amazing things that all of our staff does—our classified staff, our certified staff, everyone,” she said. “They’re in it for the kids, and it makes it a lot of fun. Even in the times where it’s difficult, this team comes together and shows up for kids and are there for each other. I’m so thankful to them and to the school district for all of your support. It’s just such a wonderful place to be, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.”

ADMINISTRATOR/SUPERVISOR NOMINEES

Chris Benz, Assistant Principal, Kennedy Middle School • Jill Cuadros, Regional Manager, Nutrition Services • Andy Dey, Director of High Schools, Instruction Department • Erin Gaston, Principal, Howard Elementary School • Melissa Ibarra, Principal, Buena Vista Spanish Immersion Elementary School • Mike Ingman, Principal, Sheldon High School • Joel Lavin, Assistant Principal, South Eugene High School • Garry McCready, Information Systems Manager, Technology Department • Paula Nolan, Alternative Education Administrator, ECCO, Eugene Education Options & Eugene Online Academy • Lavinia Page, Principal, Gilham Elementary School • Mike Riplinger, Principal, Awbrey Park Elementary School • Sun Saeteurn, Principal, Monroe Middle School • Trevor White, Custodial Supervisor, Custodial/Grounds • Larry Williams, Principal, Arts & Technology Academy • Mike Yocum, Assistant Principal, Roosevelt Middle School


Lifetime Achievement

Brenda Brainard, 4J NATIVES Program Director

Brenda Brainard has dedicated her nearly 30-year education career to expanding and strengthening opportunities for Native American youth and educating all students about Native American history and customs. She has had a lasting impact on countless students, families and educators in our community.

Over the past three decades Brenda has built 4J’s NATIVES Program, one of the most robust programs in the state, to meet the needs of the district’s Native American students, parents, staff and community. She has worked to provide all students with access to information about Oregon’s tribal history and support her teaching colleagues to deliver an inclusive educational experience for students. She gives and facilitates countless classroom presentations across 4J each year, including native presenters and authors, native art, food, dance, drumming and stories.

She also has been the driving force behind the creation and placement of six authentic hand-carved totem poles designed by students and families, and in some cases carved by them. Some of our Native students have shared that seeing the poles each day at school gives them a sense of belonging they otherwise wouldn’t have. The totem poles serve as reminders in the larger Eugene community of our area’s rich Native history and the important contributions Native American people continue to make today.

Much like the totem poles, Brenda Brainard has been a towering, unbending figure championing Native American culture and history. She has worked tirelessly for decades to ensure our Native students can stand tall in their lives with a quality education, tribal knowledge, and proud identity. Lifetime achievement indeed!

Brenda was honored to accept the award and acknowledged the support and collaboration of her spouse and colleague in the NATIVES Program, Joe Brainard, saying, “I could not have done the things I have done without his support. This program truly was something that we both have had the joy of working on and building together.”

Brenda shared, “It has been my absolute joy to have done this job… I always tell kids, ‘if you love what you do, you never go to work,’ and I appreciate the opportunity to come here and ‘not go to work,’ every day,” she said. “This job I took for two years, has lasted 30 years and one year past retirement… I hope the things I’ve worked on will last beyond my lifetime, [including] the children that we send into a future we won’t see. They will all be lifetime achievements for all of the teachers and staff that have been nominated tonight and those that weren’t nominated.”

 


Thank You!

Thank you to all those who took time to nominate a deserving 4J staff member to celebrate excellence in education.

Thanks to Eugene Education Foundation for supporting our public schools and outstanding educators.

Last, but certainly not least, thank you to all of our 4J staff who work to make a difference in the lives of children every day at a time they need you and your support the most.

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