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We are pleased to announce this yearís recipients of the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award. Please join us in congratulating these truly remarkable educators. To find out more about this yearís winners, please scroll down to read each teacherís biography and comments from those who nominated each teacher.

 

Michelle Avilla

Michelle Avilla
Kellom Elementary
Pre-kindergarten
Michelle Avilla has been with OPS for 18 years,
16 at Kellom. She has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. A parent wrote: "She treated parents as partners, guiding us to help our child meet her firm, reasonable expectations, and listening to every question and anecdote we offered, however long her day had already been. We could not have asked for a better teacher to start our child's educational life." A colleague said: "Michelle is an outstanding teacher who puts her kids first. She has created an incredible climate in her classroom that showcases learning like no other. Her kids consistently succeed at levels that are above and beyond, and they are prepared for kindergarten." Ms. Avilla is from Omaha, Neb.

Jamie Brown

Jamie Brown
Washington Elementary
Special Education
Jamie Brown has been with OPS for four years, all of them at Washington. She has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska, Kearney and an M.E. from Concordia University. A colleague said: "Jamie is one of those teachers that everyone is drawn to. She is knowledgeable, caring, and gives one hundred percent to her students each and every day. She is one of those teachers that gives each student the exact individual instruction that they need, regardless of their ability levels." A parent wrote: "Jamie Brown is an amazing teacher. She is the most energetic and positive teacher I have ever had the opportunity to meet. She works in a very difficult classroom with children who have special needs and yet she always has a smile on her face. My son loves her and looks forward to seeing Mrs. Brown at school every day." Ms. Brown is a native of Alliance, Neb.

Judy Brown

Judy Brown
Oak Valley Elementary
English as a Second Language
Judy Brown has been with OPS for six years, all of them at Oak Valley. She has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha and an M.E. from Concordia University. A former student wrote: "She taught me how to speak, read, write and, most importantly, to understand and to think. I can probably say that in four or five months I could have a conversation with someone. Mrs. Brown is an outstanding ESL teacher. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be where I am now. She guided me every step of the way, making me a better student and a better person." A colleague said: "I have seen Judy's compassion firsthand. She does many extra things for her students and gives them many additional opportunities. Judy takes time in and out of the classroom to help her students. There are many students that Judy has become like a second mom to." Ms. Brown is from Hinsdale, Ill.

Emily Dolphens

Emily Dolphens
Dundee Elementary
2nd Grade
A native of Ralston, Neb., Emily Dolphens has been with OPS for eight years, all of them at Dundee. She has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and an M.E. from Doane College. A parent said: "She instilled the love of reading, writing, spelling and math in both of our children through her energetic way of teaching. She always encouraged growth and sees beauty in all children." A colleague wrote: "Emily is an extremely warm, caring person and these qualities shine through as she works with students, parents and staff. She has a quick sense of humor and a ready laugh; her students adore her and her fun approach to teaching them. She is sincere and truly cares about her students, so she is willing to broach difficult topics with parents and does this in a sensitive manner. They respect her and listen to her concerns because they know she has their children's best interests at heart."

Cindy Farrell

Cindy Farrell
Liberty Elementary
6th Grade
Cindy Farrell has been at Liberty for 10 of her 22-year career with OPS. She has a B.S. and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. A colleague wrote: "Cindy has students who perform below grade level in most academic areas, students who have challenging behaviors and students who have no English-speaking skills. When Cindy is working with these students, she does whatever it takes to meet their needs. I have seen her come to school before the sun is up and stay long after the sun has gone down. She works tirelessly to perform all the endless duties teachers have to perform on a daily basis." Another colleague wrote: "She has relationships with each of her students and knows them beyond just academics. She teaches to a child's strengths, knows what makes them tick, does what's right for kids and is constantly challenging their thinking. I have seen her take 6th-grade students who hate to read, and lack the motivation to do it, leave her class loving to read." Ms. Farrell is from Omaha, Neb.

Joe Gregory

Joe Gregory
Travel
Art
Joe Gregory has been with OPS for 25 years. He has a B.A. from Creighton University and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. A colleague said: "His devotion to students with special needs is unparalleled. Joe's patience and kindness has touched many lives. He spends many hours working on lessons and creating tools and tricks that would work for his students." Another wrote: "I am nominating Joe because he is what all teachers should strive to be. He thinks about the kids first and enhances their world. Art is one of the best ways to teach our students. They are working on their attending skills, their fine motor skills, their ability to follow directions, identifying skills and their artist skills." Mr. Gregory is from Melrose, Mass.

Laurie Janecek

Laurie Janecek
Ashland Park-Robbins Elementary
Special Education
Laurie Janecek has been with OPS for 30 years, 18 at Ashland Park-Robbins. She has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and an M.E. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. An admirer wrote: "Working with young children that have special needs is physically and emotionally demanding. However, Laurie continues to devote her time, attention and life to these children. I believe Laurie is a wonderful example of a devoted, loving and passionate teacher with her student's best interest at heart." A colleague said: "She is the most wonderful teacher I have had the pleasure of working with. She works tirelessly with children ages 3-5 of all types of disabilities and abilities. She is able to bring structure, excitement, social skills, play skills, language, motor skills and just plain fun to any kid that comes her way. She has a way of working with these children so that they feel special and love to come to school every day." Ms. Janecek is from Millard, Neb.

Lee Kallstrom

Lee Kallstrom
North High School
Industrial Technology
Lee Kallstrom has been with OPS for 23 years, all of them at North High. He has a B.A. and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. A colleague wrote: "Dr. Lee Kallstrom has been integral to the success of Omaha North High School throughout the last two decades. His pursuit of innovation, his insistence on excellence, and his passion for his subject matter and students speak to his abilities as an educator." A parent said: "Doc is a supportive, engaging and inspiring teacher who treats all students fairly and with respect. In the classroom, he always goes the extra mile to make sure students are involved, placing a high value on individual contributions and creativity. His leadership and teaching has had a positive and lasting impact on my children." Dr. Kallstrom is from Omaha, Neb.

Connie Kellen

Connie Kellen
Central High School
Special Education
Connie Kellen has been with OPS for 26 years, the last five at Central High School. She has a B.A. from the University of Northern Iowa. A colleague said: "Mrs. Kellen is truly a master teacher who works with Central's special needs students. She is an expert at taking care of the academic, social and physical needs of students. She is a tireless worker who always puts the needs of her student first. She believes in her students, which helps them believe in themselves." Another wrote: "She cares for vulnerable children who require not only tremendous time and patience to master the activities of daily living, but also have complex social and health problems. This complexity requires a multidisciplinary team approach that Mrs. Kellen coordinates. She consistently models positive behavior for these special children, helping each of them to maximize their potential." Ms. Kellen is from Ramson, Iowa.

Kerri Kratina

Kerri Kratina
Saddlebrook Elementary
Kindergarten
Kerri Kratina has been with OPS for 15 years, three of them at Saddlebrook. She has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. A parent said: "It is very obvious she is more that 'just a teacher.' She has found a way to make a very small classroom a fertile environment for stimulating her students. She has children working both independently and together in small groups so that each can learn at their own pace without feeling pressure, intimidation or boredom. Considering that she has students that could read before starting school, as well as those learning English as a second language, this is no small task!" Another said: "I think Mrs. Kratina is the most outstanding teacher my children have ever had. She has an amazing ability to instill structure and high expectations in the classroom, while at the same time forging individual, caring relationships with each of her students. She completely exceeded my expectations, and I know she has done the same for many other families." Ms. Kratina is from Ralston, Neb.

Eric Lundberg

Eric Lundberg
Sunny Slope Elementary
6th Grade
Eric Lundberg has been with OPS for 17 years, all of them at Sunny Slope. He has a B.A. from Wayne State College and an M.S. from Peru State College. An admirer wrote: "He goes out of his way to build a relationship with each and every student. Eric has a massive amount of patience. He is a teacher, but also a father figure to those who are lost without a male influence in their life. Eric takes the time to have one- on-one conversations with his students in order to reach them and to 'get' them. He teaches his students lifelong lessons that they will need in order to be equipped for the real world." A colleague said: "Most of his plan time is taken up with helping students or teachers. He never complains, but will always help. He tutors math before and after school to students that are struggling. He takes at-risk students along with his sons and sends them to summer camp with his church. He always puts others before his own needs or wants." Mr. Lundberg is from Onawa, Iowa.

Abbey McNair

Abbey McNair
Burke High School
Social Studies
Abbey McNair has been with OPS for seven years, all of them at Burke. She has a B.S. from Chadron State College and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. A colleague wrote: "Ms. McNair strives to have her students achieve at the highest levels. I am convinced that each and every student that exits her class at the end of the day comes away with a better knowledge of the world. Her door has been, and always will be, open to the students. They revere Ms. McNair as an open, warm-hearted, trustworthy adult whom they feel they can go to in times of crisis and get fair, confidential advice on personal and educational matters." A student said: "She is extraordinarily innovative and student-oriented. Not a dull day goes by when you're sitting in Ms. McNair's class; your pencil has to be moving 1,000 miles a minute in order to keep up. Ms. McNair has a great attitude and is willing to stay HOURS after school to help students with anything they may need. She works hard and expects the best out of us and refuses to accept anything else." Ms. McNair is from Bridgeport, Neb.

Ruth Powell

Ruth Powell
Standing Bear Elementary
1st Grade
Ruth Powell has been with OPS for 42 years, the last seven at Standing Bear. She has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. A parent said: "Ms. Powell is absolutely remarkable. She has a way with children like no other. She wants the children to learn and prosper and takes each student's needs very seriously. She is always thinking of resources, new learning tools, books, games – whatever it takes for children to gain the knowledge they need. I feel that Ruth Ann Powell goes above and beyond the expectations that are required of an educator." A former student wrote: "As a junior in high school, to this day, I still appreciate everything Mrs. Powell did for me to get me where I am now. Even though first grade was the first step in elementary, it was the best step for me because of how wonderful a teacher she was and still is to this day. Mrs. Powell is a person I can always lean on or go to when I need help with something." Ms. Powell is from Decatur, Neb.

Anthony Schik

Anthony Schik
Beveridge Middle School
Language Arts
Anthony Schik has been with OPS for 11 years, 10 of them at Beveridge. A native of Hastings, Neb., he has a B.A. from Hastings College. A parent said: "With all the emphasis on standardized test scores, it is refreshing to know a teacher who celebrates and nurtures creativity. As an educator and parent, I have the highest respect for Tony Schik. My son and many other students consider Mr. Schik a hero. In today's world, positive heroes for teenage boys are pretty hard to come by." A colleague wrote: "Tony has done a really great job of turning our students on to drama. Even when students enter Beveridge with no interest in being on stage, he creates an environment where kids watch and say 'I want to be part of that next time!' It amazes me to witness the long-term effect that Mr. Schik has on his students and the loyalty they show him throughout their years beyond Beveridge."

Mark Seaberg

Mark Seaberg
Northwest High School
English
Mark Seaberg has been with OPS for 16 years, all of them at Northwest. He has a B.S. from Winona State University. A student wrote: "Mr. Seaberg is absolutely amazing. He's one of those teachers that doesn't just look like they know what they're doing; he actually knows what he's doing. He wants to make us a better generation, enlighten us about success in life and help us help our future generations. He is just generally one of the absolute best teachers I have ever had." Another said: "The way he teaches is wonderful because he makes us think for ourselves. He not only teaches great literature but he connects it to our lives. I have learned so much about myself in his class. He also taught us a lot about being ready for college, which is nice as a senior still intimidated by my graduation." Mr. Seaberg is from Chicago, Ill.