Meet our HEROES
Heroism can come in all forms and can positively affect a community in myriad ways.
Marisela Ramirez, a family liaison at Sagebrush Elementary School, has found a broad range of ways to prove her heroism and her value to the entire community. She works tirelessly to connect with all of Sagebrush’s students, parents and family in order to ensure that every student has proper access to excellence. She has organized toy drives for students, collected supplies and essential materials for families and offered her colleagues an unending supply of generosity and kindness.
All of this would be enough to have secured Ramirez the status of Cherry Creek Hero, an honor that celebrates those in the district who commit extraordinary actions on behalf of the entire community.
But in addition to Ramirez’s consistent work as an educator, counselor and liaison for the students, parents and staff of Sagebrush, she’s also served as a literal lifesaver for one member of the school’s community.
According to Ramirez’s Cherry Creek Heroes nomination form, her knowledge of CPR was the difference between life and death for a visitor facing a medical emergency.
“Marisela saved a man's life because of her CPR certification. She sprang into action, completed chest compressions, and got the Aurora Police Department,” her colleague wrote. “The man is lucky to be alive today because our hero was there.”
Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried paid tribute to all of these feats of heroism during a virtual awards ceremony held earlier this month. Ramirez’s colleagues joined her online as Siegfried sang her praises and detailed exactly why her attitude and actions qualify her as a Cherry Creek Hero.
“You have shown that you’re more than willing and able to work hard on behalf of our students, their families and our entire community,” Siegfried said. “Not only have you made a measurably important and positive difference in the everyday life of our school, but your expertise has literally saved a man’s life. You are a hero in every sense of the word.”
According to those who work with her at Sagebrush, a simple but unfailing spirit of generosity is behind all of Ramirez’s work for the community.
“Marisela is the kind of person you hope you are lucky enough to have working with you. She works hard to connect with our families and gather resources that will support each of them,” a colleague wrote. “She is generous and kind to everyone she works with and goes the extra mile to help whenever and however she can. She has a heart of gold and a listening ear. The Sagebrush community is beyond blessed to have Marisela on our team.”
Michelle Mallin’s commitment and dedication has helped countless students in the Cherry Creek School District fully comprehend the meaning of service and sacrifice.
Mallin, who retired as the executive director of the Honor Bell Foundation in December, has played a key role in the district’s ongoing effort to recognize and celebrate veterans and active-duty military members in the local community. In her role with the Honor Bell organization, Mallin has helped ensure that the foundation’s namesake – a 1,000-pound bronze bell cast out of the personal artifacts of 12 fallen Colorado service members – serves as teaching tool for CCSD students, as well as a tribute to those who offered the ultimate sacrifice across the span of modern U.S. history.
“Michelle Mallin is a hero to the CCSD community because she has modeled to our students the meaning of service. She has inspired our kids; she’s shown us how our heroes have served others and served their country,” said Dr. Nickie Bell, CCSD’s Executive Director of Elementary Education. Along with Chief of Staff Chris Smith and Athletics and Activities Director Larry Bull, Bell has worked closely with Mallin to involve the Honor Bell Foundation with CCSD’s annual, districtwide Veterans Day celebration. “She has been committed to providing curriculum and learning for students that’s aligned with state standards, and that truly conveys information about the hearts and spirits of our American heroes.”
These efforts recently earned Mallin the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, an honor to designed to celebrate those who have committed an extraordinary action on behalf of the CCSD community. By working closely with teachers, administrators and students to give the district’s Veterans Day celebrations a sense of depth, meaning and importance, Mallin has helped build a tribute that has become a model for other districts across the state.
Those efforts align with Mallin’s broader dedication to the cause of veterans across Colorado and beyond. A founding member of the Honor Bell Foundation, Mallin has spent the past years meeting with countless veterans and their families. She was a driving force behind the creation of the Honor Bell monument itself, a stirring tribute to Colorado service members rendered of medals, awards and other artifacts of fallen heroes. In 2016, Mallin accompanied the newly cast Honor Bell as it toured the state, and she’s been an integral part of its journey since then.
According to veteran John Vargas, Mallin is a “patriot, a mother, a volunteer and innovator who pursues living with a ‘never, never quit’ attitude.” Her devotion persists, despite recent health concerns and her recent retirement from the foundation she helped create.
As a leader in the local veterans community, and now as a Cherry Creek Hero award recipient, Mallin continues to pave the way for students, teachers, administrators and civic leaders alike to discover the meaning of service, sacrifice and patriotism.
April Biemiller is well aware of the critical role that communication plays in meaningful and impactful learning.
Biemiller is an ELA teacher at Sagebrush Elementary, where she works tirelessly in her official capacity to ensure that every student receives all the resources they need to thrive, regardless of the language they speak. This important work starts in the classroom, but Biemiller’s dedication to her students goes far beyond the boundaries of the typical school day.
Biemiller has organized yearly pantry programs and food drives at the school to support families and connect students with proper nutrition. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Biemiller organized a Family Literacy program, engaging families to become more proficient in English and play a more direct role in students’ achievement. She’s spent untold hours working directly with school interpreters to provide all the context and information possible during parent-teacher conferences. She’s acted as a direct liaison between the school and families, working to create individualized approaches so that every student can achieve excellence in and out of the classroom.
This firsthand engagement and personal investment recently earned Biemiller the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, an honor designed to recognize those members of the CCSD community who commit extraordinary actions on behalf of the entire district.
During an online recognition ceremony held on March 1, CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried pointed to Biemiller’s consistent engagement on behalf of students and families, even as the basic model of learning transformed with the arrival of a global pandemic.
“April has helped to provide an important safety net for many of Sagebrush’s ELA families, who would otherwise struggle with food insecurity,” Siegfried said, reading from Biemiller’s nomination form. “She has been a tireless advocate around equity for our students and our families … She’s a voice for those who may not always have a seat at the table or a voice in the process.
“Your commitment to all of the students at Sagebrush is clear; you are a true Cherry Creek Hero,” he added.
Biemiller has found new ways to pursue excellence for her students, even amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her work for all members of the Sagebrush community exemplifies the Cherry Creek School District’s core values both inside and outside of classroom. That across-the-board approach has served as a model for other teachers and staff at Sagebrush, as Biemiller’s nomination makes clear.
“As a highly effective teacher in her practice, she helps other teachers differentiate and implement practices that are more equitable for our ELA students,” a colleague wrote of Biemiller. “April Biemiller is deeply committed to our ELA families and her actions as part of our staff help us all do a better job to support them.”
Melissa Pearlman adjusts to the unique needs of every one of her students.
Pearlman, a teacher at High Plains Elementary, doesn’t expect her students to conform to any single academic mold or expectation. Instead, she adjusts her instruction to meet the passions, the strengths and the individual learning styles of everyone who enters her classroom.
In other words, Pearlman’s classroom is a place where innovation finds plenty of space to grow.
“She teaches both from the head and the heart, and makes sure each child is protected and safe, both emotionally and physically, throughout the day. She makes sure no child has to learn while hungry,” a High Plains parent recently wrote of Pearlman. “And she tends not only to academic needs, but also looks out for the emotional and mental health of her students.”
Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried recited this tribute to Pearlman during a surprise online ceremony earlier this week, when Pearlman was formally recognized as a Cherry Creek Hero. This award honors those across CCSD who commit extraordinary actions on behalf of the community.
In this case, the honor recognizes Pearlman’s longtime commitment to excellence, learning and the success of all of her students. It’s a commitment that’s persisted during Pearlman’s many years in the district, and one that’s weathered the storms of a year full of challenges.
As the High Plains staff worked to meet the demands of switching between Remote and In-Person learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pearlman helped ensure that the transitions took place effectively and smoothly.
Pearlman’s nomination letter illustrated her key role in ensuring the school’s success over the past year: “I believe the students’ trust in her, which she had cultivated through the first eight weeks of In-Person learning, made this transition possible. During this time of crisis, I am grateful I had the opportunity to listen to bits and pieces of her online classroom … Mrs. Pearlman is an outstanding academic teacher. But she is so much more than that. I hope her hard work, love of teaching, ability to motivate and inspire and her big heart are recognized, as she is a true Cherry Creek Hero.”
Siegfried and High Plains Principal Unique Cooper both praised Pearlman’s commitment, and both noted how big of a difference she’s made for the entire community.
“What you do matters,” Siegfried said. “We all appreciate what you bring to High Plains and our entire district.”
For her part, Pearlman was sure to offer credit to the her peers at High Plains. Excellence doesn’t thrive in a vacuum, she said, and Pearlman spoke to her colleagues’ hard work in making success possible.
“I’ve been in Cherry Creek Schools a long time, and I can tell you that teaching has always been a collaborative effort,” she said. “I believe in what we’re doing, and this recognition means a lot.”
CCSD Cultural Liaisons
They’re the critical link between the Cherry Creek School District and its diverse community,
CCSD’s dedicated group of cultural liaisons are professionals who ensure that critical messages regarding the safety, health and learning of more than 55,000 students reach parents and families in a timely manner, no matter the language. In the past year in particular, this group has been a key bridge to families as the district, the state and the globe have faced unprecedented challenges from a worldwide pandemic. They’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that messages ranging from school bus notifications to important updates from CCSD’s superintendent are accurately translated into an array of languages accurately and rapidly.
These liaisons who work out of the district’s Office of Interpretation and Translation Services received formal credit for their important work during an online ceremony last month, when CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried formally recognized the group as Cherry Creek Heroes, an honor that celebrates those in the community who make extraordinary efforts on behalf of the entire community.
The group of honorees consisted of Amharic Cultural Liaison Telile Hirpa; Arabic Cultural Liaisons Jawdeh Dajani Alami and Jemaa Sebbahi; Chinese Cultural Liaison Andrea Han; Korean Cultural Liaison Leah Lee; Russian Cultural Liaison Larisa Baca; Somali Cultural Liaison Omar Nur; Spanish Cultural Liaisons Ilse Chavez Maldonado, Helena Gognat, Rosa Han and Miracle Nuanes; and Vietnamese Cultural Liaison Leslie Chung. Not only do these liaisons ensure that the district complies with federal and state laws when it comes to timely and accurate communication with families, but they also provide a critical sense of community and serve as a bridge for non-English speakers.
“Your ability to work with our parents is so critical to our district and everything it stands for,” Siegfried told the liaisons during the online awards presentation in December. “Creating those links with students and families isn’t just your job; it’s who you are, in your heart and in your soul. Thank you for being such an important part of what we do for all students.”
The work of the liaisons has been all the more critical in a stretch of months that’s seen an unprecedented amount of changes in the daily routine of Cherry Creek Schools. As the district has worked to comply with the latest safety measures tied to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the group has been integral in translating important messages regarding schedules, contact tracing and other subjects.
“We’ve successfully met the challenges of the past year thanks in large part to your work,” Siegfried noted. “You have kept our entire community informed and safe. Your dedication is valued now more than ever.”
Taking care of a community during a crisis requires an across-the-board approach.
As Director of Funded Projects and Title 1 Operations for the Cherry Creek School District, Brien Hodges works at the macro level, working with state and federal entities to secure important grants, funds and resources for families across CCSD’s 108 square miles. But as a leader and as a district representative fully engaged in the community, Hodges knows that work of helping families in Cherry Creek Schools goes beyond administration and office work. It means interacting directly with individuals, and it means making meaningful, real-world connections with students, parents and colleagues alike.
“Brien Hodges truly cares about the people he works with and for. He wants the best for everyone, and he brings out the positives in those around him,” said CCSD Grant Coordinator Teresa Cummins. “He helps them in using their strengths to make the work we do in CCSD meaningful, impactful and thoughtful.”
For Hodges, that approach has meant volunteering at the Aurora Mobile Food Pantry, being a member of the district’s Employee Recognition Committee and working one-on-one with countless families who’ve come up against hard times. This work has been especially crucial over the past eight months, as the global COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyday life for thousands in the CCSD community.
Hodge’s consistent commitment to working firsthand with families and inspiring his colleagues recently earned him the Cherry Creek Heroes award, an honor designed to celebrate those in the Cherry Creek Schools community who commit extraordinary actions on behalf of all.
“Brien is a CCSD Hero because he's always looking after his team, and he makes sure he's available whenever there’s a question or something comes up,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried during a virtual awards presentation earlier this week. During the online meeting, Siegfried read testimonials from Hodges’ peers and colleagues, and noted that his unfailing positivity has directly impact thousands in the district. “Brien, your ability to remain positive and hopeful in challenging times has made a real difference. We appreciate your commitment to students, parents and families; we appreciate the fact that you are constantly able to inspire us all to do better.”
Leslie Navarro-Walker, the Cherry Creek School District’s Homeless, Title I and Community Engagement Liaison received the Cherry Creek Heroes Award earlier this year. She noted that her own extraordinary work on behalf of the district’s most vulnerable individuals was possible in part thanks to Hodges’ constant support.
“Brien has also been so giving of his time volunteering for the Aurora Mobile Food Pantry, picking up and delivering food to various schools, being on the Employee Recognition Committee, and offering to help out a family when they need him the most” Navarro-Walker wrote. “He has been there for me personally as well, always making sure both myself and my girls are doing OK.
“He is definitely a Cherry Creek Hero!” she added.
Seanin Rosario’s efforts to keep the entire Cherry Creek School District safe have hardly been simple.
Rosario is the Director of Financial Planning and Analysis and of Supply Chain Management for CCSD, and she’s been on the front lines of the efforts to keep district schools and facilities safe since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year. That task has involved a whole host of duties, including sourcing, procuring, warehousing and distributing all of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Cherry Creek Schools.
From cleaners to wipes to plexi-glass shields and face masks, Rosario has played a key role in connecting students, teachers, staff and administrators alike with crucial safety resources during an unprecedented global pandemic.
“The logistical challenge of procuring all of the PPE in a timely manner, distributing it to schools and having a plan to replenish our supplies over the school year is immense,” said Scott Smith, the district’s Chief Financial and Operating Officer. “Seanin has set the entire district up for success this year.”
Indeed, the effective distribution of PPE across the district’s 108 square miles played a crucial role in the resumption of In Person learning for the 2020-21 school year. Along with physical distancing measures, carefully controlled cohorts and other measures, this equipment has allowed students and teachers from all levels to return to the classroom in a safe way.
For her role in making that transition possible, Rosario recently received the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, an honor designed to recognize those members of the CCSD who commit extraordinary actions on behalf of the entire district. Rosario joins other award recipients who have shown a special commitment to CCSD and positively impacted the entire community.
“You are truly a hero of keeping people safe across Cherry Creek Schools,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried during a virtual awards ceremony held on Oct. 5. Joined online by her colleagues, Rosario received praise from Siegfried for her unfailing commitment to securing every single piece of PPE necessary to make the 2020-21 school year a success. “The task that was put upon you was considerable. You’re keeping our entire district safe, and many in CCSD don’t even know you exist,” Siegfried pointed out.
Be that as it may, Rosario’s consummate commitment to her work benefitted a district of more than 55,000 students, even if her efforts went under the radar.
“You were given a difficult task, one that had a direct impact on all of us,” Siegfried said. “We set the bar high. You more than met our expectations; you’ve helped keep us safe. Thank you.”
Empathy, kindness and strength can stem from tragic circumstances.
Adrienne Webb, the Cherry Creek School District’s only Before and After Care Director Sub, has experienced intense loss over the past months. Webb, who fills in at programs across the district’s 108 square miles, lost her husband in February. A year that’s been challenging for everyone has been especially trying for Webb.
That hasn’t stopped her from investing herself fully in her work. According to Webb’s colleagues, friends and mentors, she’s met the demands of 2020 with an inspiring amount of heart, warmth and dedication. Her dedication to her work has positively impacted students, teachers and directors alike.
“In her role as district Director Sub, Adrienne is asked to go to many schools and help out where needed. She helps new directors come in and get acquainted with the role at any given school,” said Gillian Rush, Before and After Care Director at Timberline Elementary. “She has a huge heart … She still loves working with all the kids and staff, and I have never seen her without a smile or complaint. She is amazing.”
Webb’s positive attitude and unfailing heart recently earned her the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition designed to honor those in the district who show extraordinary actions on behalf of their community. According to all of those who nominated Webb for the award, a year packed with loss, grief and tragedy hasn’t swayed her from her basic mission.
“Adrienne has faced challenges and traumas in her personal life that I couldn't even imagine how to overcome, but every day, there she is, giving 100 percent of herself to her position. Her strength and commitment to making each day productive and successful is truly remarkable,” said Nicole Lloyd-Sullivan, ECS Licensing Specialist. “Adrienne is a perfect candidate for a CCSD Hero Award, due to her being the true definition of someone who is committed to excellence.”
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried was on hand to virtually offer the award to Webb during an online meeting held on Sept. 16. Siegfried noted how teachers, directors and staff from across the district offered nominations for Webb, citing her extraordinary commitment to students no matter the circumstances.
“Your colleagues have noted how good you are at quickly learning a new environment, and making connections with staff. Staff trust you, admire you and love your commitment to them,” Siegfried said. “That kind of commitment to your community, no matter the circumstances, is the true definition of excellence. We’re lucky to have you in the Cherry Creek School District.”
Olivia Causer was one of the many CCSD employees who found direction, strength and inspiration in Webb’s example. In nominating Webb for the award, Causer spoke about the difference she made for a new director still learning the ropes of the system.
“In my first few weeks of being a director, there was nobody that gave me more confidence than Adrienne,” Causer wrote. “I was very nervous but Adrienne is one of those special people … she has the ability to make you believe in yourself. She has been through so much and, in all honesty, she is the most resilient person I know.”
Tari Wood’s commitment to her students, her school and her community cannot be swayed by a global pandemic.
Wood has long been an icon at Grandview High School, where she teaches science and coaches the school’s girls’ soccer team. Wood has shown dedication, perseverance and a commitment to excellence in both of these roles, having earned a reputation as a top-notch educator and as a coach who has inspired players to greatness. The proof of the latter is in the Grandview Wolves’ recent record – the varsity girls’ soccer team has won the state championship four of the past five seasons.
Wood’s investment in her school and her students didn’t come to an end when the COVID-19 global pandemic upended academics, activities and athletics for Grandview, the Cherry Creek School District and the rest of the world. She found new ways to inspire, and she worked tirelessly to ensure that her students were still successful.
Case in point: Wood and her family helped make 650 masks emblazoned with the Grandview mascot for the school’s belated graduation ceremony this summer. The students who had to wait months to properly celebrate one of the most important rites of passage of their lives were able to do so with a one-of-a-kind memento, one that celebrated their school’s spirit and their own strengths in navigating an unprecedented challenge. What’s more, Wood and her family also made masks for the varsity soccer players, and hand-delivered them to their homes.
Wood’s consistent dedication to Grandview has inspired countless students, staff and CCSD community members. Most recently, it’s earned her the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, an honor designed to celebrate those in the Cherry Creek School District who commit extraordinary actions on behalf of the larger community.
“She has taught her players to stay humble and to remember that past success does not guarantee future success. She always reminds them that it takes a lot of hard work and team work,” CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried noted during Wood’s online Heroes award ceremony on Sept. 15. Siegfried offered tributes drawn from the input of Wood’s colleagues and from Grandview’s principal Dr. Lisa Roberts during the online recognition, and he noted that Wood’s approach in the classroom and on the field reflects broader values that have always been at the core of CCSD. “She holds students and players accountable and in return she earns much respect. She works endlessly to be the best she can be.
“That makes her the true definition of a Cherry Creek Hero,” he added.
Siegfried spoke to Wood and other faculty members from the Grandview Science Department during the remote meeting. He acknowledged that the 2020-21 school year has already posed challenges to students and teachers alike, and he noted the hard work of every teacher in the department.
“Thank you to everyone on the call. You’re all working hard to give our kids the best experiences they can have while they’re in school, and you’re helping to keep them and those around them as safe as possible,” Siegfried said. “Teri, thank you for being an example of that dedication for everybody.”
For Wood and countless student athletes, the challenges of the current moment have meant a momentary pause in familiar and treasured sports, activities and athletics. Siegfried expressed confidence that the games would continue eventually, and when it was safe to do so, Wood would help lead the Wolves to another important victory.
“Let’s get that number five championship. We’re going to keep working at it,” Siegfried said.
Larry Bull has always been committed to learning.
Bull has long been an educator and mentor – he started in the Cherry Creek School District more than 30 years ago as a Special Education teacher at Eaglecrest High School before moving to posts as a school dean, athletic director and assistant principal. Bull, who's served as the Cherry Creek School District's Director of Athletics and Activities for more than a decade, is just as committed to his own role as a lifelong learner as he is to the education of students. He has consistently worked hard to keep up with the latest trends in his field – last year, for example, he earned the title of Certified Athletic Director from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association last year.
But Bull’s commitment to educating the CCSD the community and himself goes beyond the classroom and beyond his role as Athletics and Activities Director. As one of the organizing forces behind the district’s annual Veterans and Active Military Appreciation Game, Bull has worked hard to make sure that every student, teacher, staff member and administrator in Cherry Creek Schools knows the importance of service and sacrifice. That annual effort has most recently earned Bull the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition designed to celebrate those who display an extraordinary commitment to the CCSD community.
“We appreciate what you’ve done for this community over all of the years you’ve been here,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried during an awards presentation ceremony on Sept. 1. “Between your commitment to our students, our staff and those across our district who’ve sacrificed everything, you’ve shown how invested you are in every facet of Cherry Creek Schools. You exemplify what it means to be a Cherry Creek Hero.”
For six years in a row, the Veterans and Active Military Appreciation Game has been a vehicle for honoring the service of veterans and active military members alike. Every year, the entire CCSD community turns out to welcome its heroes; service members from every generation have reported to Cherokee Trail High School and Legacy Stadium to receive recognition and enjoy some football.
Bull has been an organizing force behind this annual event, and the current challenges posed by the global COVID pandemic haven’t stopped him from keeping the tradition alive. The game has been postponed until February, but Bull and the other organizers of the event have worked hard to make sure the 2020-21 school year still features the important tribute.
They worked so hard to keep the yearly event going because of its importance to all attendees. John Vargas, a Vietnam veteran who participated in the event held in September, 2018, said the yearly contest offers honorees a crucial reminder that they’re loved, honored and appreciated.
“It's a wonderful thing,” Vargas said. “It means that we're honoring the soldiers present today, and we're honoring those heroes who did not return.”
For Bull, the yearly event is a vital way to keep the CCSD community properly focused on its values of excellence, innovation and respect. The game is a chance to keep students and staff alike educated about the story of the broader community; it’s an opportunity to make sure that everyone across the district’s 108 square miles remembers its history as they support their student athletes.
Education, after all, is what Bull has always been all about. 0“When you're in education, it's always valuable to keep picking up new skills," Bull said last year. “It's great to keep learning.”
In good years and bad, budget planners in the Cherry Creek School District have been able to count on some constants over the past decades.
No matter the state of the local or national economy, those planning the fiscal future of the district had enough solid data by the spring to accurately plan for the coming school year. For decades, this dependable calendar gave those running a school district that spans more than 100 square miles enough time solidify their approach for the coming months and communicate that vision to the Board of Education and the entire CCSD community.
2020 was different.
“We usually know what our revenue is in March or April; we usually have plenty of time to brief the community, the board and have solid plans,” said Scott Smith, CCSD’s Chief Financial and Operating Officer. “This year, the revenue picture didn’t get finalized until the beginning of June. Up to that point, there were massive swings in the estimates.”
In the wake of a global pandemic that’s completely upended the state’s funding for Cherry Creek Schools, the district’s budget team had to come up with a plan on extremely short notice. What’s more, that plan had to address staggering revenue shortfalls –the state is looking to cut $3.4 billion from its budget, which will result in unprecedented cuts to K-12 education. The Cherry Creek School District is facing a $60 million budget deficit, largely due to cuts in state funding.
Budget Manager Marilyn Coming helped lead the district’s budget team through those historic challenges, assembling a fiscal plan for the 2020-21 year in a matter of weeks. Coming’s quick work helped CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried and the Board of Education to transparently communicate the situation to the Cherry Creek Schools community and begin looking for solutions. Her commitment also earned her recognition as a Cherry Creek Hero, an honor that recognizes those in the community who commit extraordinary actions for the district.
“Marilyn’s ability to lead her team and lead the budget process without knowing all the details when we usually know them was extraordinary,” Smith said. “The sudden drop in revenue at all levels more mirrored the Great Depression 100 years ago than the recession in 2008. It was something that hasn’t been seen in generations … Despite these challenges, Marilyn and the team were able to show the timeline in a way that was clear, concise and transparent.”
As leaders across the district kick off a school year in unprecedented circumstances and look to an important bond and budget election in the fall, that quick work has been critical in helping the district assemble a solid plan for the coming months.
“Marilyn and the entire budget team have been consistent and dependable in inconsistent and chaotic times,” Siegfried said during a remote Cherry Creek Hero Award ceremony held earlier in the summer. “We are all working to make it through difficult times, and their work has been critical for our entire community.”
Indeed, while Coming’s name is on the award, Smith said that equal credit goes to the entire budget team, a group of dedicated professionals who were able to remain focused in the face of historic shortfalls.
“If I could’ve, I would have nominated the entire team. There’s a ton of great work that comes out of this department. It’s really a team effort that makes that happen,” Smith said. “While Marilyn is the one we recognized, I shared that the award is meant to recognize all of them.”
In the midst of a global pandemic, Sarah Conley has found inspiration in the example of Cherry Creek School District students.
Conley, the district’s Director of Extended Child Services, has been integral in organizing and updating the department’s summer camp program to meet the needs of the moment. With the safety, security and health of students in mind, Conley and her department have helped organize summer activities and learning sessions that have kept students from kindergarten to fifth grade engaged when school is out of session.
The result has been impactful not only for the students involved, but for Conley and her staff as well.
“Students have no experience living through a pandemic; none of us do. To see them learning how to do it and remaining positive and engaged has been really powerful,” Conley said. “All of the kids are wearing their masks and staying six feet apart as they’re learning and interacting with their peers.”
The students’ engagement has come thanks in no small part to Conley’s consistent hard work. As ECS director, Conley has been a tireless advocate, working nonstop to make sure that students have options to safely learn, grow and thrive, even in the face of health restrictions and physical distancing guidelines.
Conley’s hand-on approach in the face of recent challenges is nothing new. Since starting as ECS director six years ago, Conley has served as an example for students and staff alike, working constantly to make sure the department meets its commitment to excellence. Recently, Conley received recognition as the latest recipient of the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, an honor that celebrates those in the district who show an investment in the community through extraordinary actions.
Those who nominated Conley for the award cited the endless support, kindness and empathy she shows for coworkers and students alike.
“She will drop everything she is doing to support us and our staff. She’s done it multiple times for me personally, and I know multiple directors can say the same thing,” wrote ECS employee Baylie Mueller. “With the current pandemic, we’re going through an especially hard time right now, and Sarah and the ECS team are doing an amazing job keeping us connected, comfortable and loving our jobs … I’m not the only one who believes that Sarah is definitely a hero to us directors in ECS.”
During the remote Cherry Creek Heroes Award presentation ceremony held last month, CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried offered a similar note of support, citing Conley’s unerring leadership and crisis during the most daunting challenges of the current moment.
“I appreciate everything you’ve done for our students, our staff and our community,” Siegfried said. “Your commitment to our district is clear, and your leadership is an example for all of us.”
The mission of the Cherry Creek School District’s Food and Nutrition Services Department is straightforward.
No matter the circumstances, no matter the conditions, the department ensures that every student across CCSD’s 108 square miles is fed. Connecting kids with healthy, nutritious food is what the department does, even amid summer breaks, adverse weather and global pandemic.
As director of the district’s Food and Nutrition Services Department, Kim Kilgore plays a critical role in seeing that mission fulfilled, and her job has been far from straightforward over the recent months. As the entire district suddenly shifted to remote learning and operating from home, Kilgore helped make sure that CCSD students maintained access to food. Thanks to regular districtwide distribution events, kids across the K-12 spectrum could count on receiving meals.
Kilgore was instrumental in making sure that operation ran smoothly, an effort that’s only one part of her everyday work to feed a district of more than 55,000 students. Kilgore’s unwavering commitment to feeding every student in the district recently earned her the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition designed to celebrate members of the CCSD community who show extraordinary commitment to making the district a better place.
Though Kilgore is more apt to shift the focus to the dedicated employees across the Food and Nutrition Services Department rather than accept any credit herself, her work hasn’t gone unnoticed. Nominations from her colleagues and from district supervisors noted her extraordinary investment in her work and her tireless efforts, even in the most difficult circumstances.
“Making sure every student has the nutrition they need to learn is difficult even under the best circumstances, but recent months have offered extraordinary challenges,” said CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried during Kilgore’s remote award presentation. “You’ve worked hard to make sure that all of our kids have the resources they need to be successful, even in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis. That’s the very definition of excellence.”
That commitment predates the current crisis. Under Kilgore’s leadership, the district’s food operations have received top ratings from state inspectors. In December, the CCSD Food and Nutrition Department underwent an administrative review by CDE’s Office of School Nutrition and received commendations regarding everything from menu design to food procurement.
“This kind of quality didn’t just happen over the past two months, as we were preparing for the review. These are measures we take every day at every school across the district,” Kilgore said. “This is our job. All of us work to instill the importance of making a difference every single day. It’s the culmination of always keeping the student in mind.”
Stephen Zhang knows that some of the most valuable learning happens outside the classroom.
Zhang, who’ll kick off his junior year at Cherry Creek High School in the fall, is a diligent student, and he’s committed to making the most of every academic opportunity available at the school. From enrolling in AP classes to participating in multiple clubs, Zhang has made scholarship a priority during his two years at CCHS.
But Zhang has also committed himself to another kind of education, one that’s rooted in his broader community. Most recently, Zhang was at the forefront of a student effort to make a positive difference during the current COVID crisis. Zhang helped coordinate efforts to secure thousands of protective masks and other pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) for local health care workers and CCHS community members. Working with fellow students from Youth Creates, a company dedicated to community activism, Zhang has made a measurable and critical impact during an unprecedented crisis.
“We got overwhelming support from our local communities and people whom we never met,” Zhang said, pointing to the steady response that’s continued since the drive began in March. “Many children donated their personal savings to the cause. It is a very heart-warming collaborative work.”
Zhang wasn’t the only one affected by the outpouring of support. Leaders from Cherry Creek High School and the Cherry Creek School District found inspiration in Zhang’s initiative and compassion, and they wanted to make sure he received proper credit. Zhang is the latest recipient of the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition designed to celebrate extraordinary actions by members of the CCSD community.
Zhang formally received his award on May 21 during an online meeting that included CCHS Principal Ryan Silva, CCSD Health Services Director Michelle Weinraub and CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried.
“We are so proud of your initiative, your kindness and your commitment to our community,” Siegfried said. “You’ve shown a commitment to excellence in the classroom, but you’ve also shown a dedication to positively impacting your world beyond the CCHS campus. Your work is a perfect example of what excellence means in the district.”
Weinraub echoed the praise, pointing out that Zhang’s work had an inspirational ripple effect across the district. From CCSD’s 80 nurses and 50 health technicians to the warehouse workers who worked firsthand with Zhang to see thousands of masks and PPE pieces distributed effectively, this high school student has had an impact far beyond his campus.
“You’ve made such an impression on us all. I can’t tell you how many times warehouse employees have talked about your work; they have asked me multiple times, ‘Have you met Stephen?’” Weinraub said. “I’m so proud to know you; your work means so much.”
Zhang accepted the praise with humility, and he made sure the other members of his team received their due credit. It was only thanks to teamwork and collaboration that the drive raised more than $44,000, he said. He gave credit to his fellow students, to the broader Chinese community in the Denver metro area – he made sure to mention that his mother was also involved in the drive.
“It wasn’t just me,” Zhang said. “This is such an honor, and it was truly a collective effort.”
Nevertheless, Zhang’s individual determination helped make that collective generosity possible. The drive was organized through Youth Creates, a company that Zhang helped create – he currently serves as its CEO and Web Support technician. The company’s official mission – to “take the initiative to lead youth to create values for the greater society” – helped ignite the effort to connect thousands with sorely needed PPE resources.
According to Silva, that kind of initiative and creativity is typical of Zhang’s approach to his work as a student and a responsible community member.
“Stephen is a well-rounded and complete student,” Silva said. “He does well in the classroom; he challenges himself there, but he also sees the value of being involved in leadership opportunities that can impact that community.
“He embodies the spirit of the school and the district,” Silva added.
Reggie Polk has always made his presence felt at Eastridge Elementary School.
Before the quarantine shifted learning from Eastridge’s physical classrooms to remote spaces, Polk played a key role in making students, teachers and staff alike feel comfortable and confident in the building every day. It’s a role that goes beyond Polk’s official title as Eastridge’s building engineer. In addition to his work handling the daily demands of keeping Eastridge in top functioning order, he brings a deeper, human dedication to the entire Eastridge community.
Indeed, taking care of the physical building is only part of Polk’s approach to his job. He puts just as much care and attention into making the entire Eastridge population feel safe, happy and ready to work and learn.
“Reggie is the sunshine in the day at Eastridge. He is always there with a smile and a willingness to help that would melt even the hardest of hearts,” said Eastridge Principal Amy Cribbs. “Reggie finds a way to make others feel better about asking for his help with anything.”
That investment in the people of Eastridge epitomizes the Cherry Creek School District’s broader commitment to excellence, and it recently earned Polk the Cherry Creek Heroes Award. The honor seeks to recognize those in the CCSD community who go above and beyond through extraordinary actions. According to Cribbs, Polk commits those kinds of actions on a daily basis when school is in session.
“Anyone who doubts that one individual can make a difference hasn’t met Reggie. He is truly a gift beyond words and he is loved, respected and admired by students, staff and families,” Cribbs said. “He rarely takes a day off, but when he does, I don’t have to announce it. Everyone feels his absence so keenly, because Reggie is a true professional and does his job 100 percent every single day.”
Of course, the current circumstances kept Polk from receiving the award in person. During a recent online meeting of Eastridge staff, CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried made a surprise, remote appearance to pay tribute to Reggie and his work for the Eastridge community.
“You are truly a Cherry Creek Hero, Reggie – your work inspires everyone you meet to think, to learn, to achieve, to care. We are so appreciative that you share your gifts with Eastridge and with the Cherry Creek Schools community,” Siegfried said. “We have to be apart because of the current circumstances, but your warmth continues to help the community feel less isolated and more united.”
For his part, Polk gave credit to the broader school community, pointing out that excellence isn’t the result of any one person’s efforts.
“I love being part of the CCSD family,” Polk said.
Linda Doniger knows the importance of making sure that learning is accessible to all students.
As the health tech at Campus Middle School, Doniger is on the front lines of keeping kids healthy and ready to learn. Her commitment to the quality of education at Campus comes from personal experience; a mother of two graduates of the Cherry Creek School District, Doniger counts herself as a dedicated member of the community. Her own ties to the school and the district have helped strengthen her commitment to every student’s health and learning.
This extraordinary dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed by her peers. Earlier this month, Doniger received the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition designed to celebrate those in the CCSD community who show extraordinary actions on behalf of the entire district.
Due to the constraints of the current moment, Doniger’s award ceremony was virtual. CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried popped up unexpectedly during an online meeting with staff from the district’s Health Department, and he shared tributes from Doniger’s coworkers and fellow Campus Middle School community members.
“Linda is a parent of three Cherry Creek Schools graduates; she came to her work by way of family experience and she shows a real passion to make sure all students can access their education, even if they have chronic health conditions,” Siegfried explained. “She understands the middle schooler and their development so well, and she is an amazing partner working in tandem with her registered nurse partner at one of our incredibly busy middle school clinics.”
Siegfried stressed that Doniger consistently shows a commitment to students of all backgrounds, interests and abilities, an investment that makes the school and the district a better place.
“She performs many delegated tasks and supports the important work with special education students,” Siegfried said. “Linda is always optimistic and tends to find the best in everyone. She models this behavior for her students, staff and families – and for all of us.”
Siegfried used the impromptu award ceremony to offer a similar tribute to the entire Health Services Department.
“You are all my heroes,” Siegfried said. “I want to thank everybody on this call. You make a daily difference for our entire community, and your work during the current crisis has been invaluable.”
For her part, Doniger accepted the praise with silent appreciation. When asked for her response to the award and the communal outpouring of affection, she offered simply, “My eyes are misty.”
Nick Stevens and Huy Tran
The current COVID crisis has posed unique challenges for the Cherry Creek School District’s Information and Technology Department.
As students, teachers and administrators have shifted their everyday work to their homes, CCSD’s IT team has worked tirelessly to find innovative ways to coordinate the effort. In addition to maintaining the district’s vast online networks and resources, the department has collectively helped plan, clean, inventory, prepare and distribute more than 6,400 devices to students and families across the district’s 108 square miles.
Nick Stevens, the district’s manager of IT Service Delivery and Huy Tran, CCSD’s Director of Technology Services, have been at the forefront of that effort, and their contributions were recognized during a ceremony designed to fit the demands of the times. When the district’s IT department logged on to Teams for their weekly meeting on May 1, Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried logged on to formally present Stevens and Tran with the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition designed to celebrate extraordinary actions by CCSD community members.
Both Stevens and Tran have been integral in helping a district of more than 55,000 students connect with learning, technology and innovation during a pandemic. From first-graders making crucially important educational foundations to high school seniors preparing the final academic work of their K-12 careers, all students have benefitted from the commitment, ingenuity and coordination of Stevens and Tran.
“You are truly Cherry Creek Heroes. This is an unprecedented time for our district, our state, our world, and you’ve been a key part in helping us meet the demands of the moment,” Siegfried said during the online meeting. “You have been an essential part of our continued excellence during these challenging times.”
Though the awards featured Stevens and Tran’s names, Siegfried was careful to point out that their extraordinary efforts were part of a larger effort by the entire IT team.
“Our entire IT staff could qualify as Cherry Creek Heroes over the last five weeks, as we’ve been forced to move rapidly to remote learning. Our entire district has been impacted in numerous ways, and you all have played a key part in helping us persevere,” Siegfried said. “Thanks to all of you for being heroes among heroes.”
The current crisis hasn’t dimmed the light of the heroes in the Cherry Creek School District.
Nicole Mar is one of the most recent recipients of the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition that celebrates those members of our community who demonstrate extraordinary actions on behalf of the district. Mar is one of four Resource Nurse Coordinators in the district, and her commitment to keeping students safe, healthy and ready to learn started long before the COVID crisis hit.
Mar has just kicked off her fifth year on CCSD’s Health Services Team, and her dedication to excellence has been a constant throughout her tenure with the district. According to CCSD Health Services Director Michelle Weinraub, “Her collaborative efforts between Health Services and Early Childhood Education have been critical to districtwide success with this community, and she was an important leader in developing the now annual ‘Preschool-Palooza,’ which has become a huge success in preparing our youngest families and students for their first Cherry Creek Schools experience.”
Mar supports the nurses and health techs in the Cherokee Trail High School feeder area, as well as all CCSD early childhood nurses. It’s a considerable task for any healthcare professional, but Mar’s expertise, investment and huge heart shine through in every aspect of her daily work in the district. Mar’s brand of medical professionalism and boundless empathy is critical at all times, and especially valuable in our current circumstances.
Although the CCSD community is currently confined to their homes, Mar’s supporters still found a way to celebrate her recognition and her achievements. During an online Health Services meeting held on Friday, April 24, CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried made an appearance to share the good news with Mar and her colleagues. CCSD Heroes ceremonies usually feature a physical awards ceremony, complete with a plaque, balloons and other marks of celebration, but Mar’s recognition took place entirely online.
That didn’t dim the importance of the moment, and it didn’t take away from the genuine gratitude of Mar’s teammates and colleagues.
“You are dedicated to excellence in all that you do,” Siegfried said during the online meeting. “The Cherry Creek Heroes Award recognizes those who go above and beyond in their daily work, and you meet those standards perfectly,” he added, pointing to the fact that Mar is equally at ease fielding a tough phone call from a parent or getting down on her hands and knees to interact with CCSD’s tiniest students.
Mar, who’s a proud resident of the Cherry Creek School District, keeps the health and happiness of all students as a top priority. Her focus, investment and heart have made a concrete difference for the entire community over the past five years, and it’s bound to keep making Cherry Creek Schools a better place in the future.
“Nicole is quietly confident, and she is one of the most empathetic nurses we have,” Weinraub said. “She can help coordinate complex projects assigned to her, while always keeping the student and their well-being at the front of everything she does.”
The past two months have offered a startling sense of perspective for Leslie Navarro-Walker, the Cherry Creek School District’s Homeless, Title I and Community Engagement Liaison.
Like the rest of the CCSD community, Navarro-Walker has seen profound changes to her own daily routine as a result of the restrictions and quarantines stemming from the COVID crisis. But her own personal experience has come along with in-depth, daily views of those in the district who have been impacted in profound and dramatic ways. Navarro-Walker has been on the front lines of the crisis in CCSD, working with students, parents and families as they face trials ranging from food insecurity to domestic violence to homelessness.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Navarro-Walker was en route to buying food for a family facing hard times – the mother was pregnant, and she felt uncomfortable leaving the shelter of her home to buy essentials. Before heading out to secure food for the family, Navarro-Walker insisted that her work in recent weeks has made her see the Cherry Creek School District in an entirely new light.
“This whole experience has opened our eyes to what our families’ needs are,” Navarro-Walker said. “In CCSD, there’s a huge population that’s all over the board socio-economically speaking. It makes me love the district even more; I’ve been able to work with all of these wonderful people of all these backgrounds, cultures and economic situations. It truly takes a village, especially right now, and it’s important that our community’s eyes are open to all of these needs.”
Navarro-Walker isn’t wont to take credit for her recent work in the community – she points instead to the larger, varied district team that includes Assistant Superintendent for Performance Improvement Michael Giles, Director of Food Nutrition Services Kim Kilgore, Chief of Staff Chris Smith, Counseling Coordinator Joi Green, Cherry Creek Schools Foundation Executive Director Jill Henden and countless others who’ve worked hard to ensure that those hit hardest by the crisis have the resources they need to persevere.
Navarro-Walker’s humility aside, her hard work, personal investment and extraordinary kindness haven’t gone unnoticed by her peers. Last week, Navarro-Walker received the Cherry Creek Heroes award, a recognition designed to celebrate those who perform extraordinary actions on behalf of the entire community.
During a virtual meeting with her team members, CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried dropped in to read excerpts from Navarro-Walker’s nomination forms and offer a firsthand note of gratitude for her commitment to the community.
“Leslie has filled countless grocery carts, only to turn around and deliver the food to families who have lost jobs or who do not have the means to go shopping. She has taken trip after trip to homes, hotels, motels and shelters to deliver food, computers and clothes,” Siegfried noted. “She has worked weekends to secure funding to move families, and to ensure that some families did not have to move.”
Navarro-Walker isn’t focused on her own plaudits when she talks about her work. She mentions all the individuals she’s met in the past weeks – the mother and twin boys who had to leave their home due to domestic violence, the family who was living out of their car, the parents and kids who needed assistance to keep their shelter in a hotel room and find food.
“There was a district employee who donated $300 of their stimulus money. With $100 of it, I paid a family’s storage bill,” Navarro-Walker said. “If they lost their storage, that was everything. I made it current so they could start anew.”
As the fallout of the COVID crisis continues, so do these families’ struggles, and Navarro-Walker isn’t interested in taking breaks. She’s been a tireless, mobile presence across the district, working with individuals and families to secure resources from whatever source, whether it be donations from the Cherry Creek Foundation’s Emergency Fund or assistance from the state.
For her, it’s what any good neighbor should do. The Cherry Creek School District community is vast and varied, and Navarro-Walker said she’s inspired by the sense of solidarity that’s emerged from all corners over the past several months. Her recent Cherry Creek Heroes recognition is an afterthought; the community is the priority.
“I want to make sure our families know they can identify their issues with us in a dignified, caring way. These are hard conversations. We are here to help. This is not fun or easy to talk about. I make sure they know they can call or text; whatever is most comfortable,” Navarro-Walker said. “I have a really hard time accepting recognition. There are so many other people who have helped. It’s not just me; it’s a collaborative effort.”
Even so, Leslie Navarro-Walker’s commitment has inspired many to be a part of that collaboration on behalf of the entire Cherry Creek Schools community.
PJ Robinson just knew that he wanted to give back.
Robinson, now a sophomore at Cherry Creek High School, had come to the school from Prairie Middle School. Though he arrived from a different feeder area, Robinson quickly set about making CCHS his home. He made that effort in the standard ways – excelling in athletics, paying close attention to his schoolwork and making new friends. But Robinson also made a place for himself through selflessness and generosity.
Robinson, an accomplished track athlete in his own right, traveled to neighboring Campus Middle School after his own classes ended to work with the school’s budding track athletes. Robinson gave his own time on a regular basis to work directly with CMS students as they worked to hone their skills as athletes. Robinson easily took on the roles of coach, mentor and role model, working with the middle schoolers to improve their times on the track and to help foster a positive attitude about working hard.
Robinson’s impact on the students was immediate and profound. They were among the many supporters who nominated Robinson for the Cherry Creek Heroes award, and they pointed to the positive effect his presence had on their approach to their sport: “He really helped me with my starts. He taught me so much this year,” wrote one student. Another noted that “it was awesome having someone to look up to. He helped me feel more confident. I can't wait to do track at Creek next year with him as my teammate.”
A group of friends, family, teachers and administrators gathered at CMS on Nov. 5 for a surprise ceremony celebrating Robinson’s contributions. Among those who met in the library to surprise him were his mother Shauna Robinson, CMS staff and CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried, who presented Robinson with the inaugural CCSD Heroes award.
“We want to thank you for all you’ve done for CMS and for our district,” Siegfried said. “Thank you for being a hero.”
Robinson took in the praise with a broad grin. He thanked Dr. Siegfried, the CMS staff and gave his mother a huge bear hug. In the end, he said, the inspiration for his work with the CMS students came from his own experience as a middle school student, when he was fortunate enough to find older students to look up to.
“I looked up to the older kids, and their help meant a lot to me,” Robinson said. “This recognition means everything to me – I was not at all expecting it. I hope to come back next year.”
The CMS crew quickly stepped in to hint that Robinson didn’t have much choice in the matter. Teachers, staff and students all want him back to resume his role as a coach, a mentor and a CCSD Hero.
Tina Snider was amazed at how easily the 6-year-old with the bright smile and the big dimples could pull off a somewhat unorthodox hairstyle.
The particular hairdo was as minimal as one could get; indeed, Jade, a student at Village East Elementary had shaved her head completely bald. Snider, a teacher librarian at the school, knew that she’d taken the step because of alopecia, a condition that can cause baldness. Even so, Snider was struck by the student’s beauty and radiance, even after the big change.
When Snider learned that Jade’s new look had drawn some unkind responses from peers, she took it personally. Snider wanted to take action to teach the entire school lessons about alopecia specifically, as well as general lessons about the value of kindness and encouragement in everyday interactions.
“I wanted to turn it into a lesson for the entire school,” Snider said. “It was a chance to teach the kids how to be kind and how to be complimentary.”
To kick off that effort, Snider reached out directly to the young girl who’d made such an impression on her. Snider wanted to shave her own head in solidarity, and as soon as she received the green light from the student and her parents, she headed to a Great Clips close to Village East.
“Jade and her family were right there with me,” Snider said from the Village East Innovation Space. Snider’s hair was just beginning to come back. “After we were finished, Jade said, ‘You look just like me.’”
Schoolwide discussions about bullying, compliments and kindness followed, as did a special photo shoot with Jade. Snider, who’s a professional photographer when she’s not working at Village East, gave the 6-year-old the chance to show offer her infectious smile for the camera.
These efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Snider’s daughter, Dani, who works as a teacher’s assistant at the school, submitted her mother’s name for CCSD Heroes, a new district awards program that honors those in the Cherry Creek Schools community who contribute in a variety of ways. Snider was one of the first recipients of the award, and CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried dropped by the school on Nov. 13 to formally recognize her during a surprise ceremony.
“Your lessons to Village East students about the value of empathy are what this district is all about,” Siegfried said. “We thank you for your extraordinary action, and for making the school a kinder place for all students.”
A temporary fix wasn’t good enough for Ben Sadler.
The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s deputy had already spent nearly an hour in the frigid cold, using boot laces, tape, bailing wire and other improvised tools to fix the 40 American flags that had been set up outside of Grandview High School. The flags, placed on the road outside Grandview to commemorate the school’s Veterans Week celebration, had been covered, obstructed and knocked over by the significant snow and wind that had hit the night before. Sadler was finishing his night shift in the early hours of Nov. 11 when he’d heard about the tribute, and decided to fix the array before the first student showed up on a chilly Monday morning.
Using materials he found on his person, in his patrol car and on the ground, Sadler had saved the display by about 6 a.m. through sheer resourcefulness and ingenuity. By the time he wrapped up his work, however, he knew the bailing wire and boot laces wouldn’t hold for the rest of day, let alone the entire week.
That’s why he decided to come back and finish the job. Sadler formally finished his shift, picked up hardier materials and headed back to the school to make sure the flags wouldn’t fall again. He spent another 45 minutes securing his initial work with zip ties and other durable materials that would hold up.
That effort earned Sadler recognition as a Cherry Creek Hero, a new district recognition program designed to celebrate any member of the CCSD community who contributes in a wide variety of ways. CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried formally presented Sadler with the award during a ceremony at the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 9, praising the deputy’s initiative as “a perfect example of what it means to be a Cherry Creek Hero.”
Sadler accepted the award with humility, admitting that his first response to the honor was bewilderment.
“My first reaction, honestly, was that I don’t really deserve an award,” Sadler said. “To me, picking up the flags was just something that needed to be done, plain and simple. At first, I felt like I was getting an award for just doing what you’re supposed to do.”
Sadler’s sense of duty when it comes to paying proper respect to the symbols of American freedom and service have a lot to do with his own personal story. The son of a Vietnam War veteran whose life was cut short due to the aftereffects of the deadly Agent Orange chemical used on the battlefield, Sadler was raised with a sense of solemn respect and duty when it came to acknowledging the contributions of the country’s military service members.
Indeed, as Sadler was finishing up the graveyard shift in the early morning hours of Veterans Day, the import and weight of the holiday was foremost on his mind.
“My father was a Vietnam veteran, and often times, those service members did not get the appreciation they deserved during that time period,” Sadler said. “Veterans Day is a very hard day for me, because it was my father’s favorite holiday. I knew the flags were out there, because I’d seen them on my way into work.”
It was when Sadler was helping scrape the ice off the windshields of his coworkers’ cars at the Sheriff’s Department that he’d heard that the flag display had been hit hard by the weather, and he decided to take action.
“For me, it was almost a way of saying ‘Thank you’ to the school for doing something so nice for our veterans,” said Sadler, whose resume includes stints as a high school teacher. “It’s very personal to me. Seeing a school and an entire district honoring our veterans, it makes me tear up. My father never got that kind of tribute, and I know how important it is.”
As Sadler accepted the Cherry Creek Hero award and received firsthand thanks from Siegfried, Grandview Principal Lisa Roberts, CCSD Chief of Staff Chris Smith and other district officials, his thoughts were with his father. He beamed as he hefted the award and smiled broadly at the universal praise, but he still seemed to be adjusting to the honor.
“I don’t consider myself a hero,” he admitted. “My father – he was the hero.”
Frank Sargent is quick to point out that he’s the talkative type.
Luckily, he’s got plenty to talk about. In 1978, Frank and his wife Sherri Sargent were parents of Cherry Creek School District students, and they were looking for a way to stay informed about what was happening across the system. The Sargents worked to create the Parents Information Network, a group that’s flourished over its 40-plus year history.
Frank Sargent is full of stories and perspectives from those four decades spent as an active and engaged member of the Cherry Creek School District. Long after his own children graduated, Sargent remained a thoughtful, concerned and generous member of the CCSD community. Even after his wife Sherri passed away, Frank remained committed to the cause that had always been so close to her heart. He still makes a point of attending P.I.N. meetings and speaking on behalf of the district’s 55,000-plus students.
“What began as an informal gathering of a few parents has developed into an important organization for everyone in Cherry Creek Schools,” Sargent said at the opening of the P.I.N. meeting held on Jan. 14 at the Fremont Building. “Individual schools had PTOs, and they didn’t get the benefit of seeing what was going on across the district. We got buy-in from the superintendent at the time; the feedback was so good, and it just grew from there.”
Frank Sargent’s decades of engagement and selflessness have won the admiration of many around the district, including the district’s current superintendent. Indeed, Dr. Scott Siegfried was on hand at the meeting on Jan. 14 to personally thank Frank Sargent for his years of service, and to present him with the Cherry Creek Heroes Award, a recognition that celebrates those who’ve committed extraordinary actions on behalf of the community.
“Frank, you are my hero,” Siegfried said simply, as Frank Sargent’s grown children looked on. “You are a living example of what it takes to be excellent. You’re an institution in the Cherry Creek School District.”
Janice McNally, CCSD’s Wellness Coordinator, offered similar praise in Frank Sargent’s official Cherry Creek Hero nomination form.
“Frank’s kind eyes, warm smile, generous spirit and wisdom positively impact any and all who are fortunate to be in his sphere,” she wrote.
Those qualities were in full display as Sargent accepted his award with no small amount of humility and grace. He had reported to the meeting expecting only to offer insights about the history of P.I.N. and its significance for the community. Instead, past and present district parents alike were on hand to thank him for decades of service to the community.
For a rare moment, Frank Sargent was speechless.
Being an adequate runner helped Dwayne Johnson pass a critical test with a student who needed a friend.
The key was being an adequate runner, and not a superlative track star. Johnson, a security guard at the Joliet Learning Center, ran just fast enough to pursue an active and energetic student. Johnson never managed to catch him, and that was what helped earn the trust, admiration and friendship of a young man who was starting out on a new path.
The chase began when Cameron Dolan started classes at Joliet earlier in the 2019-20 school year. Dolan, 14, had just returned to the Cherry Creek School District after spending three years at an out-of-district school for students with special needs; Dolan has autism, and according to his mother, he doesn’t immediately warm up to new people.
Johnson helped overcome those boundaries with a simple game of chase. During recess, Johnson ran after Dolan, who always managed to elude him. The daily pursuit offered the 14-year-old valuable physical exercise, as well as an outlet for energy. More importantly, it built trust with an engaged adult who wanted to see Dolan succeed in a new environment.
When Dolan’s mother first heard that her son had been chased on the first day of school by a security guard, she was concerned. But as soon as she learned that the pursuit had all been in good fun, she realized how beneficial and important it had been for her son. She wanted to recognize Johnson for his extraordinary effort in making Cameron feel welcome in a new environment.
“I love that Mr. Johnson helps Cameron get the exercise he needs and helps him have fun while he does it,” she wrote on Johnson’s official nomination form for the Cherry Creek Hero Award, a new district recognition program designed to celebrate any member of the CCSD community who contributes in a wide variety of ways.
Johnson officially received that award during a surprise ceremony held at Joliet on Jan. 28. Cameron Dolan and his mother were in attendance, as were dozens of students who’d also been impacted by Johnson’s kindness and investment. CCSD Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried was also on hand to celebrate Johnson’s extraordinary action.
“Dwayne, your kindness and your ability to reach students on a personal level proves that our work doesn’t end in the classroom,” Siegfried said. “You are making a real difference for our students’ learning, health and happiness every day, and that makes you a Cherry Creek Hero.”
Cameron has since moved on to the ILC program at Smoky Hill High School, and his friendship with Johnson has helped him come out of his shell and make new connections.
“He chased me a lot,” Cameron told the crowd assembled at Joliet, before Johnson replied, “I almost caught you several times.”
For Johnson, who also runs outside programs designed to reach at-risk kids, the recognition from the Dolans was high point.
“It just means so much to me,” Johnson said, as students clamored to get a high-five from their favorite security guard. “You never know what kind of impact a simple gesture can make.”