Counselor is teacher of year

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— When Margi Briggs-Casson, a counselor at Steamboat Springs Middle School, was chosen as the school's teacher of the year, she was surprised. She didn't even know that a counselor could receive the honor.

"When my colleagues told me, I was flattered, flabbergasted and just deeply honored," Briggs-Casson said.

Being chosen the Steamboat Springs School District Teacher of the Year would be "icing on the cake" after being honored by her colleagues at the middle school, she said.

That's exactly what Briggs-Casson received when the Steamboat Springs School Board voted her the district's teacher of the year at their Monday meeting.

The School Board chose Briggs-Casson, who has been the middle school's counselor for the past 10 years, after brief interviews with nominees from each district school. The other finalists were Steamboat Springs High School math teacher Bob Hiester, Strawberry Park Elementary art teacher Jude Black and Soda Creek Elementary fourth-grade teacher Dierdre Mewborn.

School Board Vice President Tami Havener said the decision, as usual, was extremely difficult.

Given several tragic events of the 2004 to 2005 school year at the middle school, which included the deaths of two seventh graders, Briggs-Casson had an especially crucial role, according to the nomination letter from Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop.

"As the school counselor, not only students but also staff and parents looked at Margi for support, guidance and comfort," Bishop's letter said. "Her calming presence gave everyone a roadmap for 'moving on.'"

Bishop said Briggs-Casson never complains about having too much work or too much responsibility, and is the sort of optimistic, energetic and capable staff member the school always hopes to find. She also takes on tasks that can go unacknowledged, such as helping to organize school talent shows, dances, peer helpers and transition programs for students, he said.

School Board member Pat Gleason said he felt it noteworthy that a counselor was chosen as teacher of the year, which he said speaks well to the entire culture of education in the district.

Briggs-Casson started her career in education as a Head Start preschool teacher in the South Bronx of New York. She taught kindergarten and first grade in Aurora, and then was a kindergarten teacher at Soda Creek Elementary School.

She worked as a school social worker in Craig for seven years before taking her position as counselor at the Steamboat Springs Middle School.

She explained her job as counselor as simply helping students solve problems. By helping support students, they are better able to learn in the classroom.

"I love the challenge of working with parents, teachers and kids to make education a success for each child," Briggs-Casson said. "Every day is a new day."

The finalists:

Steamboat Springs High School math teacher Bob Hiester teaches the full range of math classes, from freshman math to senior calculus. He has been a teacher for 37 years, four of which he has spent at Steamboat Springs High School. The rest were divided among three schools in the Cherry Creek School District.

"I enjoy teaching," he said. "I enjoy seeing, in math, the light go on inside a kid's head."

Hiester has started lacrosse programs at three schools during his teaching career, including at Steamboat Springs High School, where he is the head lacrosse coach.

In a letter of nomination, Steamboat Springs High School Principal Dave Schmid said Hiester has made a "tremendous impact on our students and staff." Hiester has mentored less experienced math teachers and has a gift of teaching math to a wide spectrum of learners, Schmid's letter said.

Strawberry Park Elementary art teacher Jude Black is always impressed by the caliber of art her students produce.

"They do some artwork that's just incredible," she said.

Seeing students take on an art project and do it really well is rewarding, especially when the students have a new sense of accomplishment, she said.

She has worked as a teacher for 20 years, spending the past six years as the art teacher for first- through fifth-grades at Strawberry Park Elementary.

"She teaches the basics of her discipline while encouraging) and nurturing the seeds of creativity," Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis' nomination letter said. "Jude shows us all that creativity can spark student interest and creativity."

Deirdre Mewborn, a fourth-grade teacher at Soda Creek Elementary, has been teaching at the school for the past six years. She spent three years teaching in Hayden before that.

She said she couldn't imagine doing anything besides teaching and loves working every day with her children and their parents.

One of her favorite parts is "watching (students) make leaps and bounds in their life."

Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris' letter of nomination said Mewborn's colleagues described how Mewborn genuinely cares about each child, is skilled at determining each child's needs and learning styles and is a good team player.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail scunningham@steamboatpilot.com

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