Steamboat Springs After nearly 30 years in education, Celia Dunham still learns something new each day.
That alone may be the reason why the Strawberry Park Elementary School teacher is still so passionate about her job.
"Every day is different," Dunham said. "I think there are a lot of jobs where you know what to expect. I never know. Each day is different and each kid is different."
On Monday Dunham became a little different, too. She is the first Steamboat Springs School District instructor to be named Teacher of the Year for a second time.
The School Board chose Dunham, the 1996 Teacher of the Year, after a brief interview with the nominees from each district school. Other finalists for the award were Soda Creek Elementary School teacher Katy Harris, Steamboat Springs Middle School teacher Wendy Hall and Steamboat Springs High School choir teacher Susie Ritter.
School Board President Paula Stephenson called Monday's vote for the top teacher the toughest she's had to make in her years on the board.
"We got to talk to four outstanding candidates tonight," Stephenson said.
But in the end, there could be only one Teacher of the Year. And for the second time, it was Dunham.
Dunham's career with the district began in 1977 as a substitute teacher. She was hired full-time at Soda Creek Elementary School the next year. She transferred to Strawberry Park about 12 years ago.
Dunham has taught several grades, but always at the primary level. She said she loves the passion young children have for learning.
"There's just nothing like looking into a 6-year-old's face who has just learned something," Dunham said. "They just light up. They want to learn everything and you just can't stop that."
Her work for the district has extended well beyond the classroom. If there's been a school or district committee, Dunham's probably been on it, Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis said.
"I think people see her as a very level, very objective person," DeVincentis said. "She's somebody who people look up to."
Dunham has spent the past three years working on a Knowledge and Skills-Based Pay system for district teachers, and she also has been a member or now sits on a variety of district- and building-level committees, including the Montessori steering committee, technology committee, budget committee, high ability committee, school of excellence committee, ethics committee, collaborative bargaining team, Steamboat Springs Education Association and the social studies curriculum council, DeVincentis said.
"I think it's in my blood," Dunham said of her commitment to the district and Steamboat community. "I think a lot of it has to do with that sense of you need to be involved in the community you're in. I also find that by being involved I learn all the time."
Plus, she said, "Somebody's got to do it."
Dunham and the three other finalists will each receive a $1,000 scholarship from the Lazof Family Foundation to continue their educations. Ron and Chenza Lazof are part-time Steamboat residents who annually reward each school's Teacher of the Year.
n Middle school and high school choir teacher Susie Ritter has been with the district since 1996. Ritter said she's known since her freshman year of high school that she wanted to teach music and coach volleyball.
"There was nothing else I wanted to do," Ritter said.
The Aurora native is working on her master's degree in theater education at New York University during summers.
"There's no one that gets more out of their kids," high school Principal Dave Schmid said. "Probably the most impressive thing about Susie is all the different kinds of students she gets involved in the choir. She just has such a great effect on those kids. The all feel welcome and they all feel they can be successful."
n Middle school physical education teacher and athletic director Wendy Hall is a Steamboat Springs High School graduate who was a standout athlete. She figured out shortly after graduation that she wanted to pass on her knowledge to others.
"When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to teach and coach," Hall said.
The 12-year middle school teacher said she loves working with children and loves seeing children who might not succeed in the classroom succeed in physical education.
Middle school Principal Tim Bishop said Hall is an extremely valuable staff member who helped develop the school's flexible schedule and can be depended on for thoughtful, objective input.
"She is an overwhelming staff favorite," Bishop said. "She works well with other teachers and she's a tremendous advocate for kids."
n Soda Creek Elementary School first-grade teacher Katy Harris started preparing for her career at the tender age of 6.
"I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in first grade," Harris said. She even started her own "school" in her room and invited her sister's friends over as "students."
"It sort of runs in the family," Harris said. Her mom was a longtime kindergarten teacher and her dad taught at the college level.
Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris called Harris a "low key" teacher who is tremendously effective in the classroom.
"She's innovative in her classroom, meets the needs of all her students, teams well with parents and other staff members and researches and implements new ideas," Judy Harris said. "She's such an excellent all-around teacher."
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