We are pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award. Please join us in congratulating these truly remarkable educators. To find out more about this year’s winners, please scroll down to read each teacher’s biography and comments from those who nominated each teacher.
King Science & Technology Magnet Center
Rachael Baxa has been with OPS for 27 years, all of them at King Science. She has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A colleague said: “Mrs. Baxa is the kind of teacher you wish your children had the opportunity to experience. She truly connects with kids and helps them believe that they can become better readers, better students, and better people. Her classroom is filled with genuine love and compassion.” A parent wrote: “Rachael Baxa has inspired two of my children to become avid readers. She is not only a great teacher, she is a superb human being; kind, caring, positive and always seeking to bring out the unique best in each student.” Mrs. Baxa is an Omaha native.
Burke High School
Barbara Boltinghouse has been with OPS for nine years, all of them at Burke. A native of Beatrice, she has a B.A. from Dana College. A colleague said: “Classes with Mrs. Boltinghouse are a blur of activity. Mrs. Boltinghouse is an impeccable facilitator of learnings, knowing when to step back and let students take the reins. She also offers several electives that students would not usually have the opportunity to take.” A student wrote: “Mrs. Boltinghouse is the most engaging teacher I have ever had. She is excited and interested in what she’s teaching. She gives interactive lessons that the whole class loves and she genuinely cares about each student.”
Wilson Focus School
Thomas Gamble has been with OPS for 20 years, the past five at Wilson. He has a B.S. and an M.S. from University of Nebraska Omaha. A parent wrote: “He challenges the kids academically, making sure they are not remaining stagnant in their learning.
He pushes my son out of his comfort zone to reach the full potential he recognizes in him. He demands much of his students while demanding even more of himself.” A colleague said: “He gives both staff and students one hundred percent of his time and energy. Mr. Gamble sets high expectations for himself and his students. He encourages them so they can walk away with the best possible education. Tom has an excellent rapport with his students.” Mr. Gamble is from Mission Viejo, CA.
North High School
Amanda Gutierrez has been with OPS for seven years, two of them at North. A native of Omaha, she has a B.S. and an M.A. from University of Nebraska Omaha. A colleague said: “She has the ability to reach students from so many different backgrounds. Working in an urban school with a high ESL population was not a challenge for Amanda. Teaching students is second nature to her. She is the type of teacher many teachers want to be like and many students want to have.” An admirer wrote: “Her students know that she cares. She is an advocate for all things that will benefit students. The students know that they will learn from her, but they also know she wants them to be successful and empowers them to believe not only in themselves but in their future as well.”
McMillan Magnet Center
John Huber has been with OPS for eight years, all of them at McMillan. He has a B.S. and an M.S. from University of Nebraska Omaha and is a native of Omaha. A colleague wrote: “All parents want their child to have a teacher who is going to stretch their thinking, challenge them to be involved in something, and believe in them. Mr. Huber is the definition of that exact kind of teacher. He is outgoing, compassionate, willing to go above and beyond, and relights fires that have been extinguished for one reason or another.” A student said: “Mr. Huber is the most supportive, challenging and caring teacher I have had. He saw the potential I had and took me under his wing to help me further my education in science. In class, he would constantly challenge me to do better than I did before and learn something new every day.”
Bryan High School
Family and Consumer Science
Krystal Kolb has spent all of her 28-year career with OPS at Bryan. Originally from DeWitt, Neb., she has a B.S. from Kearney State. A colleague wrote: “Krystal understands the individual needs of students and encourages their talents. She is frequently using her resources to provide other opportunities for students outside of the classroom. It is through these efforts that Krystal has brought in numerous outside agencies to provide students with opportunities to volunteer and create.” Another said: “She is the hardest-working teacher with whom I have ever worked. She arrives early, teaches with all her heart and is often the last one to leave the building. She has a passion for teaching and the kids can feel that. Her teaching style is energetic, genuine and continually evolving.”
Marrs Magnet Center
English as a Second Language
Daniel Lopez has been with OPS for 11 years, all of them at Marrs. A native of Lexington, Neb., he has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A student wrote: “The knowledge and wisdom he has showered upon me has been a great help and support throughout my life. I believe my success as a student and an athlete is in part due to his sincere support and mentorship. He always believed in me and never gave up on me. He has inspired me to pursue my goals with hard work and dedication.” Another said: “Daniel Lopez was not only a great teacher in the classroom but an excellent coach and mentor who cared for the growth of his students in their pursuit of a better life. He taught me, and countless others, the importance of determination, fortitude, patience and teamwork. Even after graduating from middle school, he served as a source of knowledge of how we could reach our educational and career goals.”
Dundee Elementary School
Jennifer Miller has spent her entire 16-year career with OPS at Dundee. She has a B.S. from Wayne State College and is from Omaha. A colleague said: “Jennifer has made a difference in so many lives that past and present students continue to thank her for her assistance. I am constantly amazed at the new methods of instruction and the patience she displays every single day. Jennifer’s students may leave her classroom but they do not leave her care.” Another wrote: “Mrs. Miller is a dedicated teacher who goes above and beyond to serve her students. She is at school early, stays late and spends her weekends emailing staff to coordinate and plan. My students with special needs have shown growth in both reading and math that have far exceeded expectations—thanks to Mrs. Miller.”
Burke High School
Michael Mingo has been with OPS for 25 years, all of them at Burke. A native of Glenwood, Iowa, he has a B.S. from Drake University and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A student said: “He is a favorite teacher of many for a wide variety of reasons. Mr. Mingo has a passion for teaching, and you can tell. He fills each class with material and finds ways to connect it to the outside world. It’s obvious that he cares about his students and their futures.” Another wrote: “He is extremely dedicated to his job and especially his students. He impacts everyone he meets through his positive, funny attitude and everyone loves him. He genuinely cares about us and shows it through hard work and great attitude. He manages to make a somewhat dry subject like accounting very fun and exciting.”
Florence Elementary School
Catrina Nahayo has spent her entire 16-year career with OPS at Florence. She has a B.S. from Peru State College and an M.S. from Wayne State College. She is from Fremont. An admirer said: “Catrina will stop at nothing to do everything she can for her
students and Florence Elementary. If you go into her classroom, you will see students who are eager to learn and always seem to be enjoying their time in school. If there is something Catrina can do for a student, she will find a way for it to get done.” A colleague wrote: “Her class is a place where the kids feel safe and loved. Catrina is a hands-on teacher who spends hours away from school making materials that will excite the kids in doing their daily work. She loves teaching.”
Chandler View Elementary School
Dan Nowak has been with OPS for 12 years, all of them at Chandler View. An Omaha native, he has a B.S. from Northwest Missouri State University and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. An admirer said: “Daniel is always eager and willing to implement new and innovative ways to help his students meet, or exceed, the second grade objectives. He has high expectations for all students, yet differentiates his instruction to help each child grow and learn. He is one of the most dedicated and compassionate teachers in the profession.” A parent wrote: “Dan Nowak taught all three of our daughters. For all of them, his class was not only pivotal but also their favorite. Dan brings complete dedication to his classroom every morning. He views each child as a valuable and unique individual and his confidence in them causes their own confidence to flourish.”
Lewis and Clark Middle School
Holly Ortega has been with OPS for 16 years, all of them at Lewis & Clark. Originally from Thousand Oaks, Calif., she has a B.A. from the College of St. Mary and an M.A. from Nebraska Wesleyan University. A colleague said: “Mrs. Ortega is a teacher who taught students a lot of teachers had given up on. They were disengaged with the educational system and in jeopardy of dropping out. She provided a safe environment to learn, ask questions and to make mistakes without judgement. Very few teachers have the long-lasting effect on young people that Mrs. Ortega does. She gives faith in education back to children unsure how to maneuver the educational system successfully.” A student wrote: “Mrs. Ortega is an amazing teacher and I always enjoy learning in her classroom. She makes learning fun and enjoyable.”
South High School
John Tripp has spent his entire 12-year career with OPS at South. He has a B.A. from Dana College and is a native of Omaha. An admirer wrote: “Mr. Tripp is an exceptional biology teacher who inspires his students to learn. He is committed to his students’ education and supports and encourages them daily to be the best they can in the moment.” Another said: “John Tripp continuously goes above and beyond for his students. He puts in a great deal of time to ensure his students get the best. He implements creative and interactive activities to keep his students learning, yet entertained. It is common for him to spend his own money to ensure these activities happen.”
Kellom Elementary School
Carolynn Virgillito has been with OPS for 21 years, all of them at Kellom. She has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She is from Lincoln. An admirer said: “She teaches with compassion and understanding and has the respect of her students. Mrs. Virgillito is willing to assist any student having difficulty. She truly knows how to give every student a chance to learn and improve. She cares so much for her students and understands the struggles they go through.” A parent wrote: “Mrs. Virgillito understands how to meet children where they are and lead them to learn and flourish. She creates an environment where they enjoy and want to learn. She sees and feels the hardships and joys that her students bring to the classroom and she encourages them to move forward.”
South High School
David Weisser has spent his entire 12-year career with OPS at South. An Omaha native, he has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A student said: “In his classroom, nobody feels insecure, nervous or left out. He can relate to all of his students and makes the things we tell him relate to what is being discussed in class. He is the kind of teacher who tries to get the best out of his students one way or another.” A colleague wrote: “David Weisser is one of the most selfless and entertaining teachers I know. He has an amazing gift for reaching his students. He inspires students to achieve things higher than what they thought possible. Mr. Weisser is always searching for new and innovative ways to engage and instruct his students.”
222 Kiewit Plaza Omaha, Nebraska 68131 Telephone: (402) 943-1300
©2016 The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. All rights reserved.