The North Central Educational Service District (NCESD) has selected the recipients of the 2024 Regional Teacher of the Year and 2023 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year for the North Central Washington region: Sarah Burnell (Eastmont School District) and Christopher Rosales (Wenatchee School District), respectively.
Both Burnell and Rosales are now eligible for state honors through the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. State winners will be announced in September.
2024 Regional Teacher of the Year – Sarah Burnell
Sarah Burnell was selected by the regional selection committee as the 2024 Regional Teacher of the Year. Burnell is a 4th grade teacher at Clovis Point Elementary School in the Eastmont School District.
Burnell prioritizes creating a classroom environment that amplifies learning experiences that are engaging and provide opportunity for student choice. She brings fun, choice, and motion into the classroom as essential strategies to help students of all backgrounds and abilities, Burnell explained.
“Real learning happens when kids buy in and take ownership of their education,” she added
To create this environment, Burnell helps students connect with their school, families, and the greater community, consistently encouraging them to make connections between their lives and the curriculum. This has contributed to her students’ success, she said.
“My students are willing to take chances when they feel safe, included, cared for, and respected,” she added. “They are eager to try new things and make crucial mistakes when learning new skills.”
Burnell’s nominator, a parent of one of her students, described her teaching as “one of a kind” and said she leads her students with patience, compassion, and professionalism.
“Mrs. Burnell has been a key person in my foster daughter’s education and academic progress,” said the parent. “My daughter feels safe at school, and she feels that she belongs in her classroom. Mrs. Burnell has helped my daughter reach her academic achievements and increase her self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.”
When you walk into Burnell’s classroom, you’ll often find students using conversation, manipulatives, and song and dance in order to learn, said Amy Dorey, Principal at Clovis Point Elementary School.
“She is a master at sparking students’ enthusiasm for learning,” Dorey said, “She uses many strategies to engage her students and multiple forms of assessment to make sure that each child gets the tailored instruction they need.”
Burnell continues her own learning as well to discover new ways to engage her students. After attending a training session from Dr. Marcia Tate, best-selling author of “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites: 20 Instructional Strategies to Engage the Brain”, Burnell was inspired to develop a plan to implement as many research-based engagement strategies as possible.
“It was a pivotal point in my career that validated my belief that learning can be fun and practical at the same time,” Burnell said. “I learned strategies that help students develop more brain connections which helps them remember the content.”
Learning is a journey for both students and teachers, Burnell added. She encourages other educators to have fun in their classrooms.
“Sing the songs, show them the visuals, let them learn through games, lead the discussions,” she said. “Have fun with it. They really are learning!”
2023 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year – Christopher Rosales
Christopher Rosales was selected by the regional selection committee as the 2023 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year. Rosales is a Paraeducator for the Alternative Learning Experience program at Westside High School in the Wenatchee School District. Rosales also serves as a Family Advocate and Graduation Specialist.
In his role, Rosales has become a vital connection to the Spanish-speaking families at Westside High School, explained one of Rosales’ nominators, Andrea Danahey-Feil, the Westside Night School Humanities/CTE Teacher.
“He has become a master of the FAFSA and WAFSA,” she added.
FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and provides financial aid from the federal government to help pay for college. WASFA is the Washington Application for State Financial Aid and is for students in Washington State who are undocumented or do not qualify for federal financial aid because of their immigration status.
Recently, Rosales and his coworker, Jonathan Godina, hosted a FAFSA/WAFSA Night for Westside High School migrant and bilingual students and families to learn about the opportunities available to assist with the costs of continued education after high school.
The event brought outside organizations into Westside High School to connect directly with students and their families. While this level of support is available at Wenatchee High School, it had not been available at Westside High School due to the size of the school, Rosales explained.
“Many of our migrant students had to attend Wenatchee High School in order to get all the information, but we decided that we could bring that here too,” Rosales said. “After the initial talks with our resources, it was like a wildfire. We had different organizations reaching out to us to help in whatever way they could.”
By the end of the event, all of the participants had either started or completed their FAFSA/WAFSA application, in addition to receiving information on where they could get additional financial assistance for college or trade school.
This is just one of the many examples in Rosales’ nomination of how he goes above and beyond for students and staff at Westside High School. He takes pride in making sure that students know they are valued, Rosales said.
“I want them to know that they can be the next President, or the next surgeon, or the next whatever they want to be, as long as they put in the effort,” he added. “It is important to me that they know that all the staff at Westside High School are here to help them, both academically and mentally.”
About OSPI Teacher of the Year and Classified School Employee of the Year Program
Since 1963, the Washington State Teacher of the Year program has selected one outstanding educator annually to serve as the Washington State Teacher of the Year. The Teacher of the Year is selected from a slate of up to nine regional candidates representing Washington’s nine Educational Service Districts and including Tribal Schools. Washington began naming Classified School Employees of the Year in 2010 and follows the same process.
Anyone can nominate someone for Teacher or Classified School Employee of the Year. Nominees complete a written application and enter the regional selection process. Each region recommends a regional finalist to the state program. The State Teacher and Classified School Employee of the Year are selected from among these regional finalists by a committee made up of diverse educators, families, students and education stakeholders. Learn more at the OSPI website: https://www.k12.wa.us/educator-support/awards-recognition/educator-awards