Employees of the Year Profiles 2019-20

Updated on Wed, 11/04/2020 - 4:24pm

Employees were nominated by colleagues and each employee group had a separate committee made up of various roles to decide on the finalists and winners. 

2019-20 Classified Employee of the Year - Casey Sauer

Casey Sauer

Watch the video of her surprise video chat to announce her award! 

Casey Sauer is the Registration Specialist at Century Middle School. Casey goes above-and-beyond to help families, students, teachers and staff members succeed.

During this COVID-19 break, Casey has been working every day to get the school schedule completed for next year, setting elective teachers schedules, and personally reaching out to more than 100 families to help students choose their elective classes. She thinks it is important for students to get to choose their electives and does not want to settle for just placing them, even during a pandemic. She works tirelessly with the counseling team to perfect the schedule for kids and families to help them make clear and informed choices on elective classes.  The staff had a good laugh as Casey presented the tenth revision of the schedule – trying her best to make the schedule work for all. 

At the start of this school year, Casey revamped the counseling check-in process so the staff could track and serve students in a more streamlined way. No one asked her to do this; she saw a need and stepped up to fix it. She collaborated with the district Information Technology (IT) partners and the new system helps students, staff and teachers track and understand the needs of our students at each grade level in a more robust and meaningful way.  Teachers go to Casey for help when it comes to grading and working in Infinite Campus. Casey never makes them feel like they are a burden and works hand-in-hand to help with proactive instructions and guides. Staff rely on her and know they can go to her to get help or get the job done.

This above-and-beyond work ethic is why Casey is such an outstanding example of a Five Star employee. She is not expected to do these things, but she puts the expectations on herself for the benefit of the school, staff and colleagues.

Beyond work ethic, staff describe her as generous and compassionate, a teammate and friend. She is thoughtful and willing to stop what she is doing to help others. She greets every person who comes into the counseling office with a smile and a genuine "how can I help you today". Casey is often the first person in the counseling office and the last one to leave. She continually strives to engage with kids and families to know each by name, strength and need by helping staff and kids be their best and more importantly feel their best. Casey is often found having in-depth conversations with families to help them get the most out of their Five Star education. Casey is an unbelievable person and a one-of-a-kind employee and Century Middle School and the district are fortunate to have her as a registrar and employee.

We are all #FiveStarProud of Casey!                     

ELEVATE Strengths: Casey exemplifies Care, Collaboration, Engage, and Focus on Students.

2019-20 Certified Employee of the Year 

Teresa Biller

Watch the video of her surprise video chat to announce her award! 

Teresa Biller is the 8th grade counselor at Northglenn Middle School. Teresa exemplifies our ELEVATE strengths of Care, Empower and Focus on Students. Our middle school students face a variety of challenges at school, beyond rigorous academic courses. They struggle with friends and positive relationships, advocating for themselves, maintaining motivation and positive behaviors and taking care of their own mental health. It is essential that students have a trusting adult to help them navigate their world – a role in which Teresa excels. Teresa does an excellent job providing care and support for our students through one-on-one and small group sessions.  Even more importantly, she empowers students to begin taking on responsibility for themselves. She does this by encouraging self-reflection, empathy and always having students focus on the future. Teresa prepares students to talk to teachers and peers, advocate for themselves and, if need be, repair a relationship.  She is always cheering-on students and teachers toward healthy and positive relationships. 

As the counselor for 8th grade, Teresa is in constant communication with teachers about students and their successes and the needs they face.  As soon as our meetings end, Teresa is already working to meet with students, connect them to appropriate outside resources, partner with parents or connect them to other adults in the building who can support students’ specific academic or emotional needs. 

At the beginning of the school year, a new student had not attended school for several years due to an unstable family situation. From academics to social interactions, it was clear that this student would need extra support to be successful in school. Many of us even questioned if we could give this student what she needed – but not Teresa. Teresa was a tireless advocate for this student during this time, caring for the student by constantly checking in, saying hi in the hallway, sitting with her at lunch and most importantly, connecting the student with other peers to start building positive relationships.  Embodying our strength of Focus on Students, Teresa helped the student's teachers to focus on more than her deficiencies by reminding us of our role in educating the whole child and building up her social skills, emotional strength and maturity.  Today, the student is thriving academically, socially and emotionally. Without Teresa's advocacy, Northglenn Middle would not have had the success with this student, and so many others, that they have. Teresa is an essential member of the Northglenn Middle team and a great representative of all educators in the Five Star District.

We are all #FiveStarProud of Teresa!

ELEVATE Strengths: Teresa exemplifies Care, Empower and Focus on Students.

2019-20 Administrative Employee of the Year 

Lisa Salazar-Hart

Watch the video of her surprise video chat to announce her award! 

Lisa Salazar-Hart is the Resource Manager for Nutrition Services and Before, After, School Enrichment (BASE).

Lisa always put students and staff first in the way she leads her team and work.  She takes pride in her community, her job position, and the district.  She leads by example and moves staff in a positive direction at all times by keeping us informed, respecting all staff in all positions, keeping calm in emergencies, and doing what it takes to get the job done.  She ensures the focus is always on students and doing what is right for them and their families.  

She has pride for the work that she does and that really shows in the way she treats her staff. When she shows up somewhere she always makes the environment more fun, but you always know she is going to work right next to you, and that you as team will get work done efficiently while still enjoying what you're doing. Lisa has a great ability direct, communicate and problem solve by understanding the needs of the staff, intentionally knowing them by name, strength and need.

When the COVID-19 virus first became a conversation, both our Director and Manager of Operations were away at a conference.  Three days after their return, they both felt they may be at risk and left the office in the early afternoon. The moment the district called for a two-week extended spring break closure and determined that Nutrition Services would serve meals to the community, Lisa went into action.  Lisa led the Nutrition and BASE team in coordinating meal service to students, securing staff to work at the locations, assigning job duties and hours to staff, community promotion of the meals, ordering of food and supplies, planning the necessary trainings for staff, and working with the warehouse on delivery of food from other schools.  Most action items she did herself during long hours, if she was not appropriately delegating to others. She remained positive and kept us laughing, all the while doing an effective and efficient job.  Because of her hard work, thousands of students and families were served meals.  Lisa is a gem in the district and an incredible leader that deserves recognition.

We are all #FiveStarProud of Lisa.

ELEVATE Strengths: Lisa exemplifies Care, Collaboration, Empower and Focus on Students.

Guest Teacher/Substitute of Year: Nathanial Lygrisse, Thornton High School


Nathanial is a mainstay at Thornton High and the staff is grateful for him every day. Once this year, Nathanial was subbing for a social studies class or a few days in a row. He had access to the lesson plans ahead of time and proceeded to spend an evening teaching himself everything about that time period. He did this so students would not miss a day of quality learning by not having an expert in the room. This exemplifies what Nathanial brings to his job every day - a commitment to the students of Thornton High and an unwillingness to let them get away with "an easy sub day."  As a classroom teacher, the staff is always happy when Nathanial picks up their jobs because they know class will be taught, and students elevated, even when staff is out. 

Nathanial is not just a substitute.  He is someone who shows up so regularly and builds such supportive and caring relationships with students. We have a process whereby senior students can be "adopted" by staff members in order to have and maintain strong relationships with adults who can help them and advocate for them through the year. One of the Thornton High students chose Nathanial as one of his "parents." Nathanial regularly reaches out to his senior adoptee and they catch up, discuss post-secondary options, and have lunch.  This is just one story to exemplify his caring and supportive attitude.

Volunteer of the Year - Ana Karina Guzmán Reyes

Ana Karina

En español

Ana is mom to two students who attend STEM Launch where she is the PTO President. She is also a member of the Hispanic Advisory Council and alumna of the Five Star Leadership Academy.

As PTO President, Ana has brought the STEM Launch community together and championed efforts to include families who primarily speak Spanish to feel welcome and volunteer. She can be found at STEM Launch doing whatever it takes to support students, community, families and staff - organizing events for students, raising money or supporting staff for parent teacher conferences. Thanks to her role as a leader in our school community, Ana has helped create an audience for many parent workshops facilitated by Diana Figueroa, the Family Outreach Liaison.

Ana has helped bridge the digital divide for others as she volunteers in the Family MakerSpace. She is one of the main reasons the school has grown their mission to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for families to explore engineering and technology to transform our community through innovation. She and another mother are currently learning how to make a website for the PTO.

Diversity and Equity Champion - Susana Cabrera


Susana is a fifth grade teacher at McElwain Elementary where 85 percent of students are Hispanic. In a school where the majority of teachers do not represent students' backgrounds, Susana is a strong representative and advocate for Hispanic students and colleagues. Through her strength and example, she has encouraged her colleagues to become teachers who include more of their students’ backgrounds and cultures into their teaching. She also encourages and inspires educators to attend and participate in the Hispanic Advisory Council to advocate for their students.

At McElwain, Susana has helped pioneer the Parent Teacher Leadership Team and leads the Spanish club, which engages students of all backgrounds in the Spanish language. She has successfully worked with MoonShot edVentures to create her own bilingual school called Mi Vida Academy. To quote her bio: "Susana is a tenacious and passionate educator that works tirelessly for marginalized and underserved communities who deserve to flourish and succeed in Colorado."

Strengths in Action Award

The “Strengths in Action” award recognizes a Five Star employee, family or community member who exemplifies one of our ELEVATE strengths in an extraordinary way: care, collaboration, empower, engage or focus on students.



  • CARE: Julia Franklin, McElwain English Language Development Teacher. "Julia Franklin is the best example of advocating for and listening to students to identify their needs, and for this reason I am nominating her for the ELEVATE strengths of care and focus on students. I can only begin to explain the ways in which she teaches and leads from her heart. When she noticed that some students were not eating lunch, she asked them questions and worked directly with nutrition services to label meals and make lunch accessible. She goes above and beyond her role as a part-time English Language Development Teacher: she brings clothing to school and gives it directly to kids who she knows that need it, including for school spirit days like Pajama Day. She conducts home visits weekly, and hand delivers school schedules and makes connections because she genuinely wants to reach out and support our community of learners with diverse needs. She found a interpreter for Farsi and Pashto, and trains teachers to use the interpretation system so they can have open lines of communication with all families. You can also see her running around the school, rehearsing with and encouraging students to participate in the annual talent show that she started single-handedly. This event is a celebration of students' strengths and cultures. Julia is a friend to all students and staff!" -Staff member
  • COLLABORATION: Shannon Oliver, Energy & Sustainability Manager. "Shannon has been critical in planning our Problem-Based Learning at Northglenn High School for the last two years. He always helps us out with equipment, coming to our school and talking to kids about what he does and why kids should be involved with environmental causes. Shannon engages students in important conversations about the district's vision to be more sustainable. He is an important resource for teachers as we plan our daily lessons. Whenever we have questions and email him, he answers within an hour.  Shannon has facilitated a collaboration between our science department and CSU's Institute for the Built Environment project where our students collected data inside our building regarding our air quality.  Because of Shannon's role in that, we were able to give that data to CSU easily. as well as involving students in environmental issues within our building. We know it would be easy for Shannon to work in his office all day, but he makes the extra effort to come to the school and engage with teachers and students." -Staff member
  • EMPOWER: Cathy Zensen, Stellar 3rd Grade Teacher. "Cathy Zensen went to great lengths to show how much she cared about a student of hers who she discovered was color blind. Cathy contacted friends to see if she could get a donation and help with a pair of color blind/vision glasses for her student. She worked with 20/20 Eye Venue and together they created a pair of glasses for her student. Cathy called it "Rainbow Day" and the entire class, along with the student's parents, and 20/20 Eye Venue presented this student with his glasses to see colors for the first time. It was an experience no one there will ever forget. Kudos to Cathy for caring so much to get these glasses donated and more importantly on the face of this child. This was the greatest holiday gift of all! We are proud she is an educator, part of Adams 12, and a member of our staff." -Staff member
  • ENGAGE: Darren Oliver, Silver Creek Principal. "I can't say enough great things about Darren Oliver. I have had two children go through Silver Creek and his commitment to the students is amazing. My now 7th grade son had a tough transition to from Mountain View to Silver Creek. When my son had reached his breaking point, Mr. Oliver took the time to meet with our family, put supports in place for positive reinforcements, and checked on him frequently. When it was time to transition to middle school, he reached out to a teacher he knew to take our son under his wing as a mentor. He has continued to ask about him, has sent him words of encouragement and even makes time to attend his football games. Recently, our 5th grade son had some health problems and Mr. Oliver has gone out of his way to make him feel "normal" while still being restricted to inside recess. As a parent, knowing that there is someone at school that makes our children feel as cared for as they do at home is such a relieve. Thank you, Mr. Oliver, for caring about our children." -Parent in the District
  • FOCUS ON STUDENTS: Ian Simpson, Mountain Range English Teacher. "During the shut-down of districts across the state, Mr. Simpson has shown an unbelievable dedication to ensuring that Mountain Range students, families and community feel connected. He has gone out of his way as both the Student Government sponsor and social media guru to ensure that the activities normally associated with 4th quarter and spring semester, including prom, spirit week, Mr. Mustang competition, senior awards, Mustang (teacher) of the year, and numerous other activities and recognitions have still taken place, albeit in a slightly different fashion than everybody is used to. Not only did he go out of his way to ensure our Prom court was officially awarded and recognized by dressing up and presenting the awards outside student homes and filming and photographing the process to post on social media, but he solicited photos and stories from our seniors in a time when they are feeling unbelievably unrecognized, in order to provide recognition for those seniors via social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Mr. Simpson organized an online "Mr. Mustang" competition (a parody-pageant) for junior and senior boys to compete in and for students to vote. He facilitated an online skit similar to what might have taken place at our Spring Assembly using Zoom. He is working tirelessly to produce senior awards and Mustang Teacher of the Year and make sure those activities and recognitions go off without a hitch. Mr. Simpson's focus on students is unparalleled, keeping students connected to their school and community, and just feeling a little more like maybe this whole senior year thing is still a big deal." -Staff member


See all of the nominees for the 2019-20 Five Star Awards.

Read more about the ELEVATE strengths of the district.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019 - 9:00am

Plan to elevate student success for years to come.

We asked staff members how they will ELEVATE student success this year. Watch below to hear what they said!

How will you ELEVATE student success?

Video of How will you ELEVATE student success?

View the video with Spanish subtitles .

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