Top teachers win $10,000 cash awards |

Top teachers win $10,000 cash awards

Naomi Havlen

When Michele Carnie looks into the eyes of her third-grade students at Aspen Elementary School, she tells them she can see their brains growing.”I’m always talking to them about trying to fatten up their brains with knowledge,” Carnie said. “Now they tell me to look in their eyes so I can see how fat they’re getting in the brain.”Carnie’s unique and enthusiastic teaching style has earned her one of 15 cash prizes this year from the Dick Butera Distinguished Teacher Award. Butera, a local philanthropist, pledged five years ago to award $10,000 to 10 outstanding teachers in the Aspen School District for a total of 10 years.But this year, an anonymous partner of Butera’s stepped forward to fund five additional $10,000 awards, including the first ever award given to a teacher at the Aspen Community School in Woody Creek.”This is such a wonderful opportunity to recognize excellence, and those people who make a difference for kids,” said Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko.The teachers are chosen by a committee of parents and students who represent all grade levels.Many of this year’s awards were given out at the school’s final assemblies – Carnie said she was busy cheering for other teachers who were receiving awards when suddenly her students were cheering for her.”I think it’s really special, and for Dick Butera to donate that money … he’s so generous to do that,” she said.Anne Teague, a kindergarten teacher at Aspen Community School, won the first-ever Distinguished Teacher Award at the school. She said she’s been working with the school on and off since 1971 as a teacher, parent and trustee.”I am happy and humbled, because I feel I teach with amazing teachers, and I’m honored to know that in the future, other teachers here will have the chance to win it,” she said.Teague said she loves working with young children that “are still filled with wonder,” and she said she learns as much from them as they learn from her.”This group [of award winners] is representative of the excellence we find across our system – the hardworking and dedicated teachers that characterize our school district,” Sirko said.The full list of teachers who each won $10,000 from the Dick Butera Distinguished Teacher Award is: Jean Carey, math at Aspen High School; Michele Carnie, third grade at Aspen Elementary; Matt Fields, seventh grade at Aspen Middle; Lance Finkbeiner, social studies at Aspen High; Pem Fowler, fourth grade at Aspen Elementary; Caroline Hanson, English at Aspen High; Keith Hunter, fourth grade at Aspen Elementary; Bruce Johnson, special education at Aspen High; Johana Mueller, fifth grade at Aspen Middle; Jude Prochaska, reading specialist at Aspen Middle; Barbara Smith, art teacher at Aspen High; Anne Teague, kindergarten at Aspen Community School; Jared Thompson, physical education at Aspen Elementary; Michael Wessler, eighth grade math at Aspen Middle; and Jeff White, Aspen Elementary.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is