The following employees were selected for the February 2020 Excellence Award recognition. They were honored at the Feb. 11 school board meeting. Pictured from left:

  • Tai Bainter, teacher, Anderson Elementary
  • Todd Horenstein, assistant superintendent for facility support services, planning and facilities department
  • Michelle Steele, secretary, Gaiser Middle School
  • Katie Ronning, associate principal, Discovery Middle School
  • Diane Petersen, paraeducator, Fruit Valley Community Learning Center

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

With the nickname Mary Poppins, Tai is “practically perfect in every way!” Like her namesake, Tai has a talent for helping children practice being responsible. She also unites her team members and supports each one. When one of her colleagues went on leave earlier than planned, Tai stepped in to prepare sub plans and ease the transition period for students. Unlike Mary though, Tai is often described in a very modern way. Her co-workers say that she is #teachergoals.

Over three-and-a-half decades, Todd has overseen more than $800 million dollars’ worth of facility improvements. His prudent approach upholds the responsibility of managing taxpayer money. Keeping complex construction projects on time and on budget is no easy task, but Todd approaches the challenge with wisdom, optimism and respect for the people involved. He is patient and a strong listener. As a result of Todd’s work, the district’s schools are a point of pride for students, families, staff members and the community.

On a daily basis Diane is peppered with hugs and high-fives from the many students with whom she’s connected. She has tremendous compassion and love for all children and finds creative ways to express it. Last year, she and a colleague created an elaborate winter wonderland setting for the reading of the Polar Express. Each class was in awe while listening to the story and sipping hot chocolate. A new school tradition was born. Several students commented that it was one of the best experiences of their lives.
In a short amount of time, Katie has established herself as a vital part of the Discovery team. Her colleagues say she works hard to involve all students, staff members and parents in the school’s culture. Katie speaks up for others, initiates smart changes and finds creative ways to support the staff. She often visits classrooms and has proven to be a keen evaluator from whom educators can learn. They note that she is effective, reliable and courageous.
If you want to observe good customer service and graceful professionalism at work, just watch Michelle for a day. School offices are very busy environments, but Michelle juggles multiple responsibilities and requests with an unflappable, positive attitude that allows her to diffuse difficult situations and leave all parties happy with the outcome. Her quick thinking, strong problem-solving skills and talent for communication help the school’s operations run smoothly. Her colleagues say that she’s one in a million!

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