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Educators honored at CCSF Gala and Educator of the Year event

CCSDThe Cherry Creek Schools community came together March 30 to honor some of the best and brightest educators in the district, while also supporting and honoring the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, which helps make their innovative work possible.

The Cherry Creek Schools Foundation Elevate Gala and Educator of the Year event was Thursday at the Denver Broncos UCHealth Training Complex. It was a paired celebration, one that supported the Core Values of the Cherry Creek School District and honored specific educators who make a daily difference for students. 

Polton Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Mary Derbish received the top honor as CCSD Educator of the Year. The other six finalists were: Kevin Willis-Keely from Cherokee Trail High School, Angie Richardson-McConnell from Dakota Valley Elementary, Beth Orme from Endeavor Academy, Michelle Koechley from High Plains Elementary School, Jennifer Eason from Laredo Middle School, and Renee Baptiste from Red Hawk Ridge Elementary. The finalists were selected from the group of 65 exceptional educators, one from every school in the district. (See the complete list of honorees below.) 

CCSDIn her nomination form, Derbish shared, “I am humbled and inspired by my students. I try to put systems in place that give kids the opportunity to find their passions and purpose. I aim to show respect for my students by always telling them the ‘why’ behind what we are doing. If I can’t persuade students that it’s important, we shouldn’t be doing it. I know it’s cheesy, but learning is hard and requires taking risks. I owe it to my kids to make sure they feel loved and safe. Thankfully, it’s easy to love on my awesome students.”

Superintendent Christopher Smith congratulated Derbish and all of the honorees. 

“We are grateful for all of our CCSD educators who have dedicated their lives to service and making a difference in our community,” Smith said. “As we look around the room tonight, we see the generational impact that teachers can have. The lasting impact of the relationships teachers build with their students is incredible and is felt all across this community. Tonight is an opportunity to continue this critical work and expand the impact of teachers for even more generations to come. When we  support this standard of excellence, it elevates our students, our educators and our community.”

CCSD galaThe Elevate Gala was also an opportunity for district supporters from across CCSD’s 108 square miles to show their support for Cherry Creek Schools. Thanks to corporate sponsors, community supporters and private donors, the Foundation raised a total of $424,000 to support innovation, equity, and teachers across CCSD. The event, emceed by Debbie Scheer, was also supported by corporate sponsors JHL Constructors, United Healthcare and dozens of other local partners, who helped make the event an inspiring success.

“We are so grateful for our teachers, staff and community supporters as we continue to support students,” said CCSF Executive Director Jill Henden. “The overwhelming generosity seen tonight makes it clear that education is absolutely a priority for this community. Thanks to them, we can ensure our students have access to resources that will help them thrive on their educational journey.”

The Elevate Gala and Educator of the Year Event served as a show of support for the mission of Cherry Creek Schools, and for the Core Values that define its pursuit of excellence. Students had an active role in honoring the 65 Educator of the Year honorees: Each winner received a plaque that had been designed and built by students at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus (CCIC); students in the CCIC Hospitality Pathway helped prepare the meal alongside the staff from Footer’s Catering; and program included student performances by Lizzeth Moreno from Smoky Hill High School, William McDavid from Cherry Creek High School, and Alyssa Brewer from Grandview High School. All of the components of the celebration highlighted the Core Values and priorities of a district that’s been dedicated to excellence for decades.


Congratulations to all of our Educators of the Year!

Susan Engel, Adaptive Programs; Melissa McBride, Altitude Elementary; Kendra Penchoff, Antelope Ridge Elementary; Denise Barry, Arrowhead Elementary; Erin Crawford, Aspen Crossing Elementary; Jennifer Gorjidooz, Belleview Elementary; Erica Knowlton, Black Forest Hills Elementary; Nicole Robbins, Buffalo Trail Elementary; John Kempsell, Campus Middle School; Judith Clayton, Canyon Creek Elementary; Tracy Voreis, Challenge School; Kevin Wills-Keely, Cherokee Trail High School; Josh Polly, Cherry Creek Elevation; Johanna Lewis, Cherry Creek High School; Dave Williamson, Cherry Creek Innovation Campus; Leslie Blauman, Cherry Hills Village Elementary; Amy Prutch, Cimarron Elementary; Erin Wehrle, Cottonwood Creek Elementary; Melissa McClurkin, Coyote Hills Elementary; Kelsey Ross, Creekside Elementary; Angie McConnell, Dakota Valley Elementary; Annie Karr, Dry Creek Elementary; Kathryn Wells, Eaglecrest High School; Kendra Hinds, Eastridge Community Elementary; Elizabeth Orme, Endeavor Academy; Rachel Oline, Falcon Creek Middle School; Megan Lambert, Fox Hollow Elementary; Shannon Schell, Fox Ridge Middle School; Ann Richards, Grandview High School; Katie Mclelland, Greenwood Elementary; Jane Hutchinson, Heritage Elementary; Michelle Koechley, High Plains Elementary; Sarah Weyls, Highline Community Elementary; Michael Medina, Holly Hills Elementary; Kameron Yarian, Homestead Elementary; Erica Killham, Horizon Community Middle School; Jen Crawford, Independence Elementary; Taylor Whitley, Indian Ridge Elementary; Taylor Powell, Infinity Middle School; Jennifer Eason, Laredo Middle School; Rachael Roberson, Liberty Middle School; Kristin Tretten, Meadow Point Elementary; Alex Hull, Mission Viejo Elementary; Chris Palumbo, Mountain Vista Elementary; Jessica Palko, Overland High School; Keslie Steiner, Peakview Elementary; Jeff Nelson, Pine Ridge Elementary; Mary Derbish, Polton Elementary; Lorrie Yoshinaga, Ponderosa Elementary; J.K. Palmer, Prairie Middle School; Renee Baptiste, Red Hawk Ridge Elementary; Karen Arrowsmith, Rolling Hills Elementary; April Biemiller, Sagebrush Elementary; Aimee Kroeschen, Sky Vista Middle School; Zak Ruffert, Smoky Hill High School; Mary Hood, Summit Elementary; Jodi Gast, Sunrise Elementary; Colleen Holtman, Thunder Ridge Middle School; Michelle Austin, Timberline Elementary; Elaine Ryan, Trails West Elementary; Katherine Hoisington, Village East Elementary; Erin Meyer, Walnut Hills Elementary; Sarah Mong, West Middle School; Marcy Ackermann, Willow Creek Elementary; and Summer Snyder, Woodland Elementary.

Posted 3/31/23.