Outstanding Salem-Keizer educators honored with 2017 Crystal Apple Awards


With bright lights, cheering crowds and just a touch of glitter, local educators were honored Thursday night at the 21st annual Crystal Apple Awards.

Known as the Oscars of education, the Crystal Apple Awards brings the community together to show their gratitude for educators who go beyond their regular duties, demonstrating best practices, filling students with confidence and helping them overcome obstacles.

Of the 5,000 employees in the district, 46 were nominated and 12 received awards.

Teachers, administrators and school staff, dressed to the nines, walked the red carpet as they entered the Elsinore Theatre in downtown Salem.

The event, organized by the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, also honors a business for its positive influence in the district. Mt. West Investment Corporation was honored Thursday for its work on the Career Technical Education Center in Salem.

Tom Hewitt, a retired Judson Middle School drama teacher, local actor and comedian, emceed the event as he has in years past.

He spoke to the audience of close to 1,000 people, saying, “We’re here tonight to honor the best of the best — those who, day after day, give their all.

“Tonight is your night.”

Meet this year’s honorees:

Sara Casebeer, Wright Elementary School, principal

Casebeer is never afraid of rolling up her sleeves and getting dirty to make sure students get the best education possible.

That’s one of the things Josephine Riggle, a former employee of Casebeer’s, said in her Crystal Apple nomination form. Casebeer has been the principal of Wright Elementary School in Salem for three years.

“Every teacher we know gives hours beyond their contract time, but as an administrator, Sara exceeds anything that is expected,” Riggle wrote. “Whether it be working from her hospital bed or answering those midnight calls with, ‘What can I help you with?’ she is a constant support for students and teachers.”

Riggle described numerous times Casebeer dropped what she was doing to cover a class, drive a student home and spend her own time and money to make sure her staff has what they need.

“Sara has a knack for making each person she meets feel like they are the most important person in the world,” Riggle wrote. “She truly makes the world a better place.”

Patrick Doody, Hoover Elementary School, teacher

A fifth-grade student at Hoover said Patrick Doody “isn’t the greatest teacher — he is the best.

“I know that I am different but he treats me and my friends the same,” the student wrote in his nomination of the teacher. “Mr. Doody thinks that I am smart and he tells me that all the time. He tells me that I can be whatever I want to be when I grow up.

While Doody has only been teaching in Salem-Keizer for four years, his co-workers said he already has touched the lives of students, parents and other school community members “in a way that only a person (who) is passionate about life-long learning can.”

The student wrote, “I do not tell him this, but I believe him and I will grow up one day to make him proud of me.”

Sean Farmer, Early College High School-Teen Parent, special programs instructional assistant

Earlier this year, a student made a comment near Farmer, saying, “If the Early College can’t do it, Teen Parents can’t do it.”

The student wrote about the interaction that followed in her nomination form.

“Mr. Farmer did not let that negative comment go unanswered,” she wrote. “Politely, he pulled me aside and told me … ‘That comment you made isn’t true and it makes me feel upset that you thought of yourself that way. I don’t think of you that way. You are one of the most capable (people) in this class.”

While Farmer may not have a room or office of his own, those who nominated him recognized the work he does anywhere he can to help students. His response motivated the student to do better and think of herself in a new way.

“It has really made me want to realize that I can do what everyone else can,” she wrote.

Sarah Ferguson-Mañon, Waldo Middle School, teacher

Ferguson-Mañon cultivates a positive, inclusive learning environment before students even arrive in her classroom.

Marielanne Daniels, a co-worker at Waldo Middle School in Salem, said Ferguson-Mañon goes the extra mile to understand diverse experiences of students and provide culturally relevant material.

“One time, a family came in and told Sarah that the father had been deported,” Daniels wrote in her nomination form. “Knowing that the mother was not employed, Sarah immediately connected them to resources such as the food bank, housing and immigration law.

“Sarah truly provides a feeling of home for families new to the United States.”

JoyAnna Forsythe, South Salem High School, teacher

For one student, Forsythe’s efforts to recognize and connect with the student was all they needed to thrive.

“I owe you the … utmost respect because you have never shown me less,” the student wrote. “However, more importantly, I owe my sense of self-worth to you.”

The student shared stories of Forsythe getting them involved in the freshman-orientation program called LINK at South Salem. When Forsythe presented a letter encouraging the student to apply to be a leader, “that’s all it took.”

“You were the first teacher to notice me and give me a chance,” the student wrote.

“Thank you for being more than a teacher,” they wrote. “Thank you for coming early and staying late. Thank you for always telling me I am worth it. You are part of my story now.”

Tana Garcia, McKay High School, teacher

Lisa Shreeve, a co-worker at McKay High School in Salem, said Garcia teaches in a magical way.

“Students love Tana’s class even if they don’t think they love reading and writing,” Shreeve wrote in her nomination. “That is definitely the art of Tana’s teaching … let her care about you and have high expectations for you, and before you know it, you’ve borrowed a book from her classroom to read over the weekend.”

Shreeve, who also serves as the school’s activities director, has witnessed Garcia, known as Mama G, successfully lead students in programs like the Islander Club.

“Without a doubt, our students are at the heart of these programs,” Shreeve wrote, “but often they cannot realize their capacity for involvement in our school and in our community until a caring adult believes in them and tells them it’s possible.

“They believe in her, they believe in each other, but most importantly, they believe in themselves and they know that they belong here.”

Sheila Morales, Claggett Creek Middle School, library media assistant

Over the last 14 years, Morales has gone above and beyond as an instructional assistant in classrooms to being the Claggett Creek Middle School librarian.

From coordinating after-school programs for students and parents to bringing high-profile authors to the school in Keizer, her co-workers notice the extra effort Morales dedicates to the school.

“A part of the reason she is so great at her job is because she has a big heart,” said Rosio Contreras, a co-worker at Claggett Creek. “If a student needs shoes and she knows they can’t afford them, she finds a way to get them shoes. If a student needs a haircut, Sheila is right there to make sure these kids have what they need.

“Students love her, look up to her and confide in her.”

Stacey Morgan, Eagle Charter School, teacher

Stacey Morgan, a teacher at Eagle Charter School in Salem, was described by the school’s principal, John Trotta, as “one of the top five teachers” with whom he has worked with during his 55-year career.

Trotta wrote in his nomination that Morgan has mastered the ability to nurture her students while keeping them socially, academically and behaviorally accountable.

“Her love of children and of teaching is evident whether one is simply walking by her classroom, going to her classroom to deliver a message or during a formal evaluation,” he wrote. “Her dedication to children is genuine and consistent throughout the day.

A parent who also nominated Morgan said she asked several times if her daughter was really ready for second grade.

“I secretly hope she will say ‘no’ so that we can repeat this amazing year,” the parent, Stephanie Foreman, wrote. “I have never seen kids learn so much, have such love for their teacher and respect each other more than in this classroom.”

Allison Silbernagel, Hallman Elementary School, counselor

Even as Jessica Brenden, principal of Hallman Elementary School in Salem, was writing her nomination for Silbernagel, she could hear her hard at work.

“Right now, at 5:30 on a Friday, I can hear her next door talking to a parent about additional support we have for students here and how the child might benefit from those supports (GO HOME ALLISON!),” Brenden wrote.

But the counselor’s work doesn’t stop there. Whether it is sitting on committees, partnering with local organizations or helping students prepare for programs like AVID, she never quits. She never gives up.

“Here’s the kicker — she does all of this work behind the scenes,” Brenden wrote. “Allison Silbernagel changes, and often saves, lives with very little recognition or kudos.

“She does this because she knows it makes a difference, and that is all she needs to keep attacking her work, every day, with strength and persistence and joy.”

Louis Tiller, McNary High School, teacher

It’s difficult to make calculus joyful, exciting and accessible. But that’s how Tiller’s students and coworkers describe his classes.

In fact, one nominee said his classes are packed — 40 to 50 students — in part because Tiller has a reputation for finding ways to help even the most “math-challenged” students.

“Walking into his classes, one feels a combination of acceptance, positive energy and grit,” wrote Dan Borresen, a colleague of Tiller’s at McNary High School in Keizer. “Students in Louis’ classes believe in him, but more importantly learn to believe in themselves.

“He inspires them to work through their difficulties and never use ‘I can’t’ when it comes to math or life.”

Sally TsukamakiAuburn Elementary School, teacher 

When her son was going into third grade, Katie Ruhr didn’t need to get any recommendations from other parents or staff.

“I knew I wanted him to be in Sally Tsukamaki’s class,” Ruhr wrote in her nomination for the Auburn Elementary School teacher.

Through her volunteer work with the Salem school, Ruhr grew to know Tsukamaki as a kind and patient teacher. She saw Tsukamaki spending extra hours on lesson plans for students of different levels, helping the parent club and put in extra work to get students reading and working on grade level.

“As a parent, it’s such a relief to not have any anxiety over your child’s teacher when they start a school year,” Ruhr wrote. “She is a bright beacon of a teacher (who) can change lives. She uses limited resources and she works miracles.”

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist.

Read more:

South Salem student a semi-finalist in international science, math competition

Salem-Keizer staff told to report student sexual activity, including own kids

Report: Oregon schools fall short for children of color, immigrant children

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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