Big bonus for teachers |

Big bonus for teachers

Janet Urquhart

Teaching may be its own reward, but Aspen’s best teachers will be getting something extra.

Longtime local businessman Dick Butera has established the Distinguished Teacher Award program, which will give $10,000 to 10 Aspen School District teachers for each of the next 10 years.

Butera and district Superintendent Tom Farrell announced the award program Thursday and surprised two Aspen Middle School teachers with the news that they had been chosen as the first two recipients.

Teachers Peter Westcott and Kellie Schenck were pleasantly surprised to learn of their $10,000 bonuses. For the next decade, 10 teachers selected by a committee of students, parents, staffers and others will be honored with the award at the close of each academic year.

The award, said Butera, will recognize teachers who “go the extra mile” – whose dedication and passion for teaching inspires their students and their peers.

He was inspired to underwrite the program, he said, after watching the awarding of $230,000 in scholarships to Aspen High School’s graduating class in June. With 90 graduates, the school probably has the most generous per-student scholarship fund in the country, Butera said.

“The unsung heroes are the teachers left behind, who can’t afford to live here and don’t really get any community recognition,” he said.

Butera’s initial plan – sort of a scholarship for teachers – evolved into a monetary grant that recipients may spend any way they choose.

Butera said he hopes to establish an endowment to keep the program going in perpetuity.

“I plan to go out in the community, particularly to people who gave $230,000 in scholarships to students. There’s no reason we have to stop at 10 [years] and $10,000. We’re going to push people pretty hard.”

The “limousine liberals” who say they support education will have a chance to write a check, Butera said.

The award program, predicted Farrell, will help the district attract and keep the best teachers.

“It is, from my point of view, the most exciting day for teachers in the Aspen School District,” he said. “This commitment by Dick is unmatched in education in America.”

Teachers will not be eligible for the award in consecutive years, but can receive it multiple times if they are selected.

With parents, students, teachers, former award recipients and the community involved in the selection process, Butera said politics will play no role in the choosing of each year’s recipients.

Nor, said Farrell, will it become a popularity contest among teachers.

“Contrary to popular opinion, the students know who the good teachers are,” he said.

Butera, former owner of The Aspen Club, has long been a valued supporter of the school district, Farrell added. Butera and Farrell initiated Aspen High’s drug-free graduation night party at The Aspen Club 12 years ago. Butera has also provided scholarship money for AHS graduates and was the keynote speaker at a commencement ceremony several years ago.

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