Education Foundation for the St. Vrain Vally Logo

St. Vrain Valley Schools Teacher of the Year Recipients

  • 2024 – Acadia Gurney, Mathematics, Sunset Middle

    The principal at Sunset Middle School shared with the Education Foundation that Acadia Gurney is an exceptional teacher. She epitomizes professionalism and consistently goes above and beyond to excel in her profession. Her dedication to continuous improvement as an educator is evident in her proactive approach towards professional development opportunities.

    Acadia’s commitment to her students’ success is unwavering, and her genuine investment in their growth and achievements fosters a culture of hard work and dedication among her students. It is clear that every student who interacts with her feels valued and supported in their educational journey.

    Acadia Gurney was nominated by five of her students.

    Here is what her students shared about her:

    • As her student, I can tell how much she knows about math. Her passion is reflected in her teaching. She always goes into detail with each subject, and can answer any question you might have. She will even teach the lesson in a variety of ways so that everyone can understand and find the method that works best for them. This helps every student at every level learn.
    • In her class, she makes sure that we genuinely understand why we are learning each topic and how it will help us in life. She gives great examples of how we will use them in the future and how she uses it on a daily basis. This makes lessons worthwhile and relevant for all of us.
    • Ms. Gurney is one of the best teachers I have ever had. We are always excited to go to class and learn whatever she has to teach us that day. She has a positive attitude which she spreads throughout the school.
    • In student government, we did a survey on favorite teachers. Almost 80 of the kids said that Ms. Gurney was their favorite teacher. She loves to do her job and shows up to school every morning with a smile on her face, even though it’s 7:30 AM.
    • I love to ask questions because sometimes it is hard for me, and other students to understand the math, but Ms. Gurney has never failed to answer anyone’s questions no matter how difficult they are to answer.
    • Ms. Gurney always tries to make the math that she is teaching relevant to real life situations. She loves to answer questions about why and when we would use this kind of math in real life situations, when other teachers would shy away from that.
    • I’m nominating Ms. Gurney because she is a great innovator, goal-setter, motivator, subject matter expert and life connector. She’s also kind and loyal. But she’s also even more because she’s such an amazing teacher. Ms. Gurney shows all of these traits on a daily basis and much more. She is an amazing teacher and an amazing role model to all.

    St. Vrain Valley Schools Education Foundation Congratulates Acadia Gurney, the 2024 St. Vrain Valley Teacher of the Year!

  • 2023 – Lori Lopez, 1st Grade, Alpine Elementary

    A coworker wrote, “If you look for the word “teacher” in the dictionary, you will probably find a picture of Lori Lopez. Lori has wanted to be a first-grade teacher since she was a first grader! It has truly become her life’s work to do what she does day in and day out. She is always prepared, often many weeks in advance, for each content area. She is able to deliver instruction seamlessly in her classroom due to her extensive knowledge and preparation.”

    A parent wrote about Mrs. Lopez, “Wow, what can I say about a teacher who does everything without needing credit or accolades? She is so attuned to what her students need day in and day out and does her job with a smile and energy that is deserving of the teacher of the year. What I want people to know about Lori is that she gives 100% of herself to the job and always for her students and families. She has all the tools to get the job done. She can be firm yet accommodating. She can organize with the best but can adapt when needed. She is a great communicator to both parents and students. Alpine and St. Vrain Valley Schools are lucky to have a teacher of Lori’s talent!

    Lori’s Principal Amber Marsolek shared about Lori, “Lori has an innate gift with children. She can sense what each child in her classroom needs and she gives it to them. A perfect example is Lori’s special connection with a girl in her class last year. Often, this little girl would come to school looking disheveled in a shabby princess dress or stained pajamas, her hair pointing askew.  This little girl would often not have had a full night’s sleep because of the chaos in her little world, nor would she have had any food to start her day off right. This little girl lived in chaos and unpredictability, and she often brought that chaos and unpredictability with her into the classroom. Every day, Lori would greet this girl with a smile. She would make her feel like the princess she was. She would give her food and a break space, and invite her to join the class when she was ready. This little girl was tentative at first, unsure if she should trust Lori, but before long the little girl started participating in class, learning, and interacting with peers. This little girl knew without a doubt her teacher cared for her. She knew that she was safe in Lori’s class, and she knew that she would be taken care of.”

    Lori has been teaching for 17 years.  Most of her career has been teaching 1st and 3rd grade, mostly at Alpine Elementary. Lori holds an undergraduate teaching degree and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, both from the University of Colorado Boulder.

    In her spare time, Lori likes to scrapbook, snowboard, play the piano, run and do triathlons, and watch movies. She can be found reading and watching football and basketball. However, her favorite thing to do is spend time with her husband and three kids.

    St. Vrain Valley Schools Education Foundation Congratulates Lori Lopez, the 2023 St. Vrain Valley Teacher of the Year!

  • 2022 – Danny Hernandez, Technology & STEM, Westview Middle

    In one of the nominations received a parent wrote, “I have known Mr. Danny Hernandez since my son joined the competitive Vex robotics team at Westview Middle School in 2018. My son is now on the Longmont High School Robotics team that Mr. Hernandez coaches. I truly believe that Mr. Hernandez, through teaching robotics and tech classes, is changing the lives of many kids in SVVSD.  The majority of what Mr. Hernandez teaches in his tech/robotics classes is based on most recent, state‐of‐the art technologies and software that are used in the real world, and is very relevant in the world outside of the classroom, such as python coding, computer aided design (CAD) and 3D printing.  Mr. Hernandez lets the student explore and implement those technologies with his guidance and support, and comes up with challenges and projects on which the students work on that are at their individual level.”  A student wrote, “He definitely sets the bars high for all levels of students. Either if it was your first year in robotics or your 5th year, you still have those high standards. Those high standards led to countless generations of successful teams from Westview. Westview has been seen as one of the best robotics teams in the district. Currently, we have teams that came from Westview middle school that are now in high school continuing that legacy of success. Now, he’s definitely a motivator due to his support for the teams during the competitions. I appreciate all the time, effort, and care he has put into his students for the past years!”  Danny Hernandez holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a graduate degree in Sports Management, both from Baylor University.  Danny has been at Westview for 9 years and leads the Technology and STEM curriculum at the school. He loves technology both in and out of the classroom and is the head coach of robotics at Westview Middle School, Central Elementary School, and Longmont High School. Danny previously helped support the creation of new robotics teams at Hygiene Elementary and Longmont Estates. For 2022, Danny and his students led both Longmont High School and Westview Middle School Robotics teams to the state championships! On May 5, 2022, Danny and Westview Robotics are bringing 4 teams to the Worlds in Dallas, Texas. No small feat!
    Danny is married and has 3 children who attend school in St. Vrain Valley.

    St. Vrain Valley Schools Education Foundation Congratulates Danny Hernandez, the 2022 St. Vrain Valley Teacher of the Year!

  • 2021 – Neil Shupe, Advanced Manufacturing, Career Development Center

    A parent who nominated Mr. Shupe shares that he opened a world of opportunity and passion for their 2 sons.  He keeps students eager to come back to class and learn hands on, one on one or in a group, which is necessary for their future success.  He motivates his students, helps them set realistic goals, and shows them what the expectations are for the future.





  • 2020 – Janette Rivera Gonzalez, 1st Grade Teacher, Northridge Elementary


    Janette Rivera Gonzalez, 1st Grade Teacher, Northridge Elementary


  • 2019 – Christopher Barnes, Social Studies Teacher at Longmont High School

    Chris is a graduate of the University of Colorado with a BA in History and Education along with a Masters Degree in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity. Chris has spent the past 10 years at Longmont High School and has taught a variety of classes including Honors U.S. Government, Advanced Placement European History, Personal Finance, Student Council, and Arriba Club. He is married to Malerie.

    Chris was nominated by several people, including a fellow teacher who wrote, “Chris spent two years developing the new high school personal financial literacy curriculum and student handbook. He is committed to his trade. He goes above and beyond when working with his colleagues as well as in the classroom. He is a passionate teacher who loves his subject but also enjoys helping students learn the skills they need to be successful in life.” A previous student said, “I graduated in 2016 and I can say Chris single-handedly made my experience in school a positive one. He was the one who encouraged me to go to college out of state and realize my potential. More than anything, he genuinely cares about each of his students which is a rare trait. He puts his heart and soul into teaching and building relationships. He has led the Student Council, which I was president of my senior year. He made school enjoyable and a safe place for all students. I could write pages about how much he has impacted me, but most importantly, he made me feel important and capable.”

  • 2018 – Mike Newell, PE Teacher at Longmont Estates Elementary School

    Yale King, Mike Newell, Dr. Don Haddad

    The 2018 St. Vrain Valley School District Educator of the year was nominated by several people, including a parent who wrote, “Some P.E. teachers can make their classroom about sports or running laps…however, this teacher brings humor, patience, and consistency to his classroom. He has an innovative approach about health and exercise. When learning about the heart, students walk into the gym to find Heart City, a room set-up with mats, stations, and heart rate monitors. Students become cells and travel through arteries and veins! He makes learning FUN! He is the type of teacher my children will ALWAYS remember when they look back at their elementary years, and, perhaps, as adults enjoy exercise! A colleague wrote, “This teacher is the heart of Longmont Estates! Every Tuesday and Thursday, for about an hour before schools starts, you can find this teacher with his 100 mile club with over 30% of our schools students participating. He works to integrate a variety of subjects in his work including using scanning technology with his 100 mile club, to mark how many laps/miles each student completes. For Pi Day, he had students enter the gym and run/walk for 3.14 minutes, and then explain the significance of that number. He finds ways to keep kids engaged and learning, no matter what the topic.” Mike’s principal wrote, “He took on a new challenge of teaching adaptive PE to students in our autism center school programs. I love observing him teaching our students with autism. It is MAGICAL. He is so kind to the students and what he has been able to get them to do is remarkable. He has done a great job of adapting activities for these students. He cannot hide the fact that he loves these kids. The classroom is filled with smiles, but the biggest smile is Mike’s!” For the last 14 years, Teacher Mike Newell has brought energy and enthusiasm to St. Vrain Valley Schools including Mead Middle School, where he taught 6th, 7th, and 8th graders; and for the past 7 years, Mike has taught at Longmont Estates Elementary. Mike is a proud graduate of Colorado State University where he played for the RAMS football team, and then continued his football career playing professionally for 5 years with the Green Bay Packers, Saint Louis Rams and Houston Texans. Mike credits his grandmother, who was a teacher in Rock River, Wyoming and Cherry Creek High School, as his inspiration to become a teacher and states, “What I like most about teaching is the ability to have an impact on children. Not only teaching them physical education skills but life skills and character building as well. Everyday has its twists and turns with no two alike, it keeps my brain healthy and active!” Mike’s Principal, Traci Haley, states, “It is hard to put into words the impact Mike makes. I have been in education for 20 years…, been in hundreds of classrooms and I can confidently say that Mr. Newell represents the best of St. Vrain Valley Schools. He makes a difference in the lives of children and on the adults that get the honor of working with him.

  • 2017 – Charlie Garcia, 4th Grade Teacher at Erie Elementary School

    The 2017 St. Vrain Valley School District Teacher of the year was nominated by several parents of students and former students, a colleague and a principal. This is what they had to say: “This teacher is a one in a million teacher. My son will forever benefit from having him as his teacher. My son learned and was encouraged to think critically about literature, how to write creative stories, how to dissect materials and really analyze them and become a deeper thinker. He relates stories to me weekly about history, language arts and science facts he learned from Mr. Garcia, last year! My son had visual convergence issues and this teacher challenged him and us to raise the bar of expectations. This teacher knew our son could perform and learn at a very high level and then enabled our son to so achieve. He nurtures every child, invests himself in each student and tries his best to ensure that each one gets what he or she needs to grow as an individual into a positive and wonderful citizen.” Another parent writes, “I am a parent who enjoys seeing our daughter turn from a good reader who we had to entice to read to one who is a voracious reader because of the fire lit by this teacher.” She adds, “Our daughter has always been an artistic child, now she is a prolific writer of poetry, stories, and journaling and blogging because she has been exposed to this teacher’s teaching style, passion for his work and love for his students. He is constantly encouraging and challenging his students to be the best students they each can be, the best Coloradoans and the best partners in learning as they collaborate on lessons such as ramp and bridge projects to incorporate engineering and technology in his teaching. He updates us weekly by e-mail and on the class website about spelling, math and writing requirements and assignments. His excitement for learning is contagious and embraced by his students. He is kind, generous, humble and full of grace.” His colleague writes “this teacher exemplifies professionalism and passion for teaching every hour of every day. I have worked with him for twelve years and he inspires me to be a better teacher. Sharing ideas, working through challenges, mentoring teachers new and experienced, this teacher maintains a wonderful sense of humor. His passion for writing is shared by every student to have passed through his classes.” His principal tells of an individual who is repeatedly referred to by those in the community as “the best teacher I’ve ever had.” He is honored and revered by all in his community for he loves teaching his students. In an age of communicating in 140 characters or less, this teacher loves writing and helping his students share his love for writing. A published author, he seeks feedback from his students and learns from them! This teacher has been teaching children for decades. Already well accomplished, he could rest on his laurels, depend on ideas and strategies from his wealth of experience. Not this teacher! Whether it is use of technology or his many Schoology seminars for staff members, this teacher is at the top of his game — his craft and his calling. The principal states, “Recently I toured a mother and father through the classrooms, showing them all the wonderful things we have to offer. As we entered this teacher’s classroom the mother was brought to tears at the sight of this teacher. As he wrapped her in a huge hug, the principal could hear the mother tell this teacher what an impact he had on her life, when the mother was his student. For over forty years this teacher has worked in the same school and for forty years, according to our superintendent, he has always asked of himself, “What more can I do to help this student, to reach this child, to support this family?” An example for all who teach and educate children, our St. Vrain Valley School District 2017 Teacher of the year is Erie Elementary 4th grade teacher Mr. Charlie Garcia, known far and wide as Gar.

  • 2016 – Ashley McIntyre, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher at Timberline PK-8

    Ashley McIntyre, 8th Grade Language Arts Teacher at Timberline PK-8

    Ashley McIntyre shares her essay, “Why I Teach” with the Education Foundation for the St. Vrain Valley: “I am a teacher. As I write these four words, my entire body feels the weight of what that means. My heart is filled with an unbearable light and love for what I do. The role of the teacher, the place that she serves in the lives of young people, is one that I hold with sacredness. The teacher is so much more than just a position, so much more than just a job. As a young girl, teachers were my role models, my protectors, my encouragers. I formed tight bonds with my teachers and have not forgotten what they contributed to who I have become as a teacher, or a person, for that matter. Growing up in a home where everything was always uncertain—would the electricity be cut again, would dad leave again, etc.—school provided a place of much needed stability. For however unstable home was, I knew what I could expect when I got to school. In my classroom, I was free to be a scientist, a novelist, a mathematician. Whatever it was, I could do so because my teacher created a safe environment to explore limitless possibilities. In my teen years when I was in foster care, a time when nothing else in my life was sure—my teachers were a constant and that gave me a sense of belonging. Each one has left a lasting impression that I carry with gratitude. But there was one teacher in particular who I will always remember with gratitude and profound love–Mrs. Plitt. She was the one who showed me what it meant to not just teach, but to embody the principles of being a teacher. After all these years, there is not one day that goes by while I am in the classroom that I am not reminded of the awareness, compassion, and encouragement for each student that I felt from her. It is because of the profound impact that she had on me that I became a teacher myself. I have always said that if I could touch the life of just one of my students, as Mrs. Plitt had mine, then I had succeeded. For me, being a teacher goes beyond subject matter, assignments and grades. Being a teacher is being an authentic presence in the classroom. Being a teacher is being an example of what it means to be compassionate, honest, and devoted to those with whom we come in contact. Being a teacher is being aware of our roles and the powerful influence we have on our students, and being aware of how we choose to direct that influence. Being a teacher is about being authentic and modeling integrity so our students have a solid reference as they work through finding their authentic selves. I am currently in my tenth year of teaching and I can honestly say there have been many disheartening moments in my career. During my first year, I found myself disillusioned. I was shocked at the focus on testing and the explicit instructional time dedicated to testing strategies rather than the focus on real, authentic learning. Meeting after meeting, I found myself shaking my head in confusion and frustration at the approach we were taking with our children. In spite of my desire to leave the profession early on, I knew this was where I belonged. My heart could not abandon these students that I knew I could reach despite the restrictive manner in which we, as educators, were being asked to teach. For me, the silver lining behind all of the stress and conflict I felt was my ability to continue to meet each child everyday and know that my relationship with them was much more profound than any standardized test could show. Inherently, I knew the importance of building relationships and community with students. I also knew that in order to create these relationships, I must establish a strong community rich in compassion, openness and trust. To do this takes time and a conscious effort on my part to relate to each child on a human level; but this has always been the first area of focus for me. I know my place is in the classroom, with the students who continue to give me courage to continue teaching. My goal is to encourage critical thinking in the form of questioning, of really considering one’s opinions and the origin of their beliefs. It is my goal to support each student exactly where they are and invite them to examine issues present in the world, and how these issues impact them. I seek to unlock their desire to use their voices in the classroom and beyond, to have the courage to speak their mind articulately, intelligently and compassionately. The potential I see in them every day keeps me committed to my own development as a more authentic and compassionate human being, and it is through my example that I can guide them on their own paths. This is why I teach.”

    The 2016 St. Vrain Valley School District Teacher of the year was nominated by 5 of her students and one of her colleagues. This is what they had to say: “The bell rings and the clamor of hundreds of middle school students fill the hallway, lockers are opening and closing as students rush to their next class. But somehow this classroom is like no other. It feels like students enter another planet, a better planet. It’s calm and tranquil in this classroom. It feels cozy and welcoming. Yet most of all, it feels safe to be in this room. There is a slight hum of mellow music softly playing in the background. The lights are low and a kind-hearted, gentle teacher awaits her students with a warm smile. To say this teacher is an excellent educator is an understatement; this person is a change agent. Under this teacher’s guidance students are transformed from apathetic, under-achieving students to eager, self-motivated genuine learners. This person intrinsically builds the most necessary ingredient for students to learn: trust. She creates such a bond with her students that they do not even realize how hard they are working as they are hungry to learn more and write more under her instruction. She is a master of her subject matter as she introduces great writers of the past and present to her students. She helps students in their self-discovery of everything from current, heated political topics to major catastrophes of the past through writing, summarizing and discussing emotional topics. Through these endeavors, her students make tough, real world personal decisions and take stands on what they believe in or reject. She plots out her year with the goal of having her students self-reflect and plan for their futures. She is not only a leader in our school in implementing Individual Career and Academic Planning into her weekly lesson plans, she is also an ICAP pioneer for the district and the state. She is a Race to the Top Relationship with Educators Accelerate Learning Mentor Program (REAL), a REAL mentor to 10 students. Many of her students’ parents and guardians work late shifts and she also makes herself available to them late at night and on weekends. Her students each speak to the calm, peaceful, trust-filled atmosphere of her classroom. They speak to her passion for teaching, the care and respect she gives to every student, the work she does on their behalf well beyond the end of the school day. She makes sure no one gets lost. She helps students overcome barriers and obstacles in their lives where no one else has been able to make a difference. When asked about this teacher, one supervisor said simply, “She changes lives!” One student speaks to this teacher’s ability to bring a lot of different kids together in a calm, safe environment. Depressed students, students with issues at home and school, “bad boys,” “goodie two shoes,” they all get together and work in peace and laugh together, almost like family. Another writes, I exuded the definition of outcast. I wandered the halls of my middle school as a living stereotype of my weirdness. Previous events in my life had left me broken and closed up, vulnerable and defensive. I was ready to live in the shadows, I was ready to slip by life without observing the oddities and the wonder of it all. The first day I stepped into her classroom I was taken aback. Her classroom was filled with calm energy. My broken heart and confused emotions ceased to exist when I met this teacher. She radiated wisdom, her eyes were old and knowing. And this teacher didn’t just care about me. She cared about everyone, with her entire heart and soul. She instilled in me a fire that I thought was blown out forever. She has worked so hard and has done so much for her students. She deserves the Encore Award because she doesn’t expect it. She deserves to be recognized because she has recognized the potential in every student who has passed through her class.”