Jeffco teachers honored for heroic efforts

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10th annual My Teacher My Hero program recognizes instructors for outstanding work, dedication

By Vicky Gits

The Jefferson Foundation recognized the exceptional work of four outstanding teachers in Jeffco Public Schools on Saturday in a ceremony at Southwest Plaza Mall.

About 50 people turned out for the 10th annual My Teacher My Hero awards presentation, which was conceived as a way to recognize public school teachers as everyday heroes. Honorees are selected from nominations submitted by their principals and represent high school, middle school and elementary school teachers.

In her opening remarks, Superintendent Cindy Stevenson reminded the audience that the honorees were symbolic of more than 4,000 other dedicated professionals who also teach in Jeffco schools.

“Teachers are people who teach other people they are better than they think they are,” Stevenson said. “I am so grateful for what they do.”

Members of the Wheat Ridge High School Jazz Ensemble entertained before the awards ceremony, and Chick-Fil-A provided box lunches. The event was sponsored by the Jefferson Foundation, the Columbine Courier, FirstBank, Elite Sound and Southwest Plaza.

Each teacher received a Southwest Plaza gift card, a portrait from Jacqueline’s Photography and a $200 classroom grant from the Jefferson Foundation.

The honorees were:

• Jennine Tarpley, a fifth-grade teacher at Westgate Elementary in Lakewood.

• Larry Niemiec, a science teacher in sixth, seventh and eighth grades at Lincoln Academy Charter School in Arvada.

• Lonnie Newton, who teaches biology, marine biology and oceanography at Arvada West High School.

• Travis Macy, a Virtual Academy teacher who was teaching English and technology at Evergreen High School when nominated.

Before presenting each teacher with the award, school principals made remarks about their selections:


Jennine Tarpley

“Every day she comes to school with a smile on her face,” said Westgate principal Susan Hakanson. “She is a data master. … She constantly asks what can she do better, and after working 70 hours a week, she is still asking what else she can do. …

“I asked the kids, and they said:

‘She tries to make things easier if we don’t understand.’

‘She never gives up on us, even with the bad kids.’

‘You always get a second chance. She’ll re-teach a whole lesson if we don’t understand it.’

‘She knows when we are frustrated, even if we didn’t tell her.’


Larry Niemiec

“He made electives relevant and enriching,” said Doreen Jennings, assistant principal at Lincoln Academy Charter School. “He taught marine biology and took his students to a marine biology camp in Florida, which they could afford only after a year of fund-raising. His goal is to allow students to achieve learning first-hand. … Students know and understand that he cares.

“If you ask students, they say he’s changed how they feel about science and themselves. He encourages them to have confidence in their abilities and reach for the stars.”


Travis Macy

Macy was a student at Evergreen High School and was the valedictorian for the class of 2001. Currently he teaches at Jeffco Virtual Academy. He is an ultra-adventure race leader who has competed all over the world.

“The best teacher I’ve ever worked with,” said Evergreen High principal Matt Walsh. “There was no doubt in my mind I had to nominate him. … An example of his drive to increase effectiveness, engagement and challenge is he created a ‘flipped, flat’ mastery-based classroom. Students are given flipped assignments, which involve accessing direct instruction through video podcasts. … The flat portion of his classroom refers to the flat world created by using technological communication tools.”


Lonnie Newton

Lonnie Newton was honored not only for his teaching, fund-raising and volleyball coaching, but also for his courageous fight against advanced esophageal cancer, which he battled into remission over the 2011-12 school year.

Newton underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, and after missing half a semester was able to return on the first day of the second semester and complete the school year.

“The experience that Lonnie shared pulled the community together and turned an impossible situation into a positive opportunity for the whole school,” said Robert Bishop, principal at Arvada West High.

The feeling was mutual.

“Lying there in the hospital, all I thought about was getting back to my kids. I knew they would be good therapy for me, and it was … and those people are my heroes,” Newton said.

For more information and the complete text of the nomination statements, visit www.jeffersonfoundation.org.