Rachel Cason, Tom DeBuse, Michelle Stoller, Ashley Shanteau, Heidi Gardner, Cris Holm

The following employees were selected for the January 2018 Excellence Award recognition. They were honored at the Jan. 23 school board meeting. Pictured from left to right are:

  • Rachel Cason, student success coordinator, student welfare and attendance department
  • Tom DeBuse, teacher, Truman Elementary
  • Michelle Stoller, teacher, Chinook Elementary
  • Ashley Shanteau and Heidi Gardner, teachers, Harney Elementary
  • Cris Holm, paraeducator, Fir Grove/Vista

The Excellence Award is given to five employees and/or small teams from October to May each school year. Nominations are open to staff, students, parents and community members. Nominees are selected for recognition by a committee of their peers.

When a student drops out of school or stops attending, do they still have a shot at an education? Rachel believes the answer is a resounding yes. The path might include re-enrolling in a comprehensive school or pursuing alternative education options. Figuratively and literally, Rachel meets students wherever they are: expulsion hearings, at home or even in juvenile detention. You’ll never hear Rachel ask for recognition, but her track record of helping students make it to graduation—that speaks volumes.

Tom is the kind of teacher students remember long after they leave his class. His ability to create enthusiasm for learning and teach lessons that resonate beyond the classroom make a strong impression. Said one former student, “Mr. DeBuse was my third-grade highly capable teacher. Through the year he filled us with joy. He is a great artist and is amazing at making us laugh.”

This dynamic duo makes education a priority for every single student, even the former ones. Over the Thanksgiving break, Ashley and Heidi invited their classes from the previous school year to attend a showing of the movie Wonder, based on a novel that their students had read, and offered to pay for anyone who needed assistance. More than 20 students participated. Said their nominator, “They are truly the kinds of teachers every student should be fortunate enough to have!”

At Fir Grove, Cris is the resident director. She produces two to three plays per year, putting in long hours on rehearsals, set designs and costumes in order to give her students opportunities to experience the arts. The result is an empowering, confidence-boosting experience for everyone who participates. In the classroom, she helps students develop emotional regulation skills and learn appropriate coping strategies. Cris has been called an unsung hero. Now it’s time to shout her praises!

From baking pies to study fractions to bell-ringing at the Salvation Army with students during the holidays, learning from Michelle always is an innovative experience—and that’s what makes her such an engaging teacher. She strives to ensure that every child has a voice in her class and teaches her students to respect one another’s differences. As a result, their confidence grows and they become more engaged learners. Every student feels special in Michelle’s classroom.

Congratulations to these staff members! They join the many VPS employees who have received Excellence Awards since 2007.