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.
Northwest High School
Rachael Arens has been with OPS for 4 years, all of them at Northwest. She has a B.A. and an M.S. from UNO. A student wrote: "She made me feel like I was special and that my opinions and views on topics were valued. She has personally impacted my life and has helped me do things that I would have never dreamed." Another said: "Her lively attitude and bubbly personality makes her one of the most kind and approachable teachers I know.She makes learning fun, as well as engaging." Miss Arens is from Pierce, NE.
Burke High School
S. Hakan Armagan, a native of Turkey, has been with OPS for 14 years. A student said: ”Mr. Armagan is the most kind, loving, and caring teacher there is. He cares about his students as much as he would his family. Every single day he encourages us to be the best we can be. He believes in us when we don't believe in ourselves." Another wrote: "What sets his class apart is he welcomes questions and uncertainty. He will spend time answering any questions, no matter how basic, or advanced, and treat each question or doubt with the same importance." Mr. Armagan has a B.S. from the University of Ankara and an M.S. from UNL.
Davis Middle School
Penny Eastwood has been a teacher with OPS for 5 years, all of them at Davis. A colleague wrote: "Mrs. Eastwood has exhibited unmatched levels of compassion, patience, understanding, and constant energy. I have seen Mrs. Eastwood calmly working with a student who is throwing a tantrum, never raising her voice or showing any sign of frustration. She truly demonstrates that she care about her students every moment of the day." A parent said: "She is always going above and beyond her job expectations to do things that make students feel special and an important part of the school. She encourages parental feedback at any time so we all are on the same page." A native of Omaha, Mrs. Eastwood has a B.S. from Concordia University.
Central High School
Jimmie Foster, a native of Broken Bow, OK, has spent his entire 21-year teaching career with OPS at Central. A student said: “In Mr. Foster’s class we learned how to be better students, and most of all, better people. He asked a lot out of every student, but if a teacher doesn’t push you, are you really reaching your full potential?” A colleague wrote: “His teaching style, approach and methods were purposeful for all students in helping them to find success academically as well as socially. Jimmie has the gift of making a connection with both his students and his athletes.” Mr. Foster has a B.S. and an M.S. from UNO.
Colleen Kurmel has been with OPS for 35 years, 34 of them at Bancroft. A colleague said: “Colleen has worked with many students who have the most challenging behaviors. However, she has high expectations and requires students to get to work and participate in learning. If life is not going well and students are having rough days, she is their soft place to fall.” Another wrote: “Beyond curricular skills she is also very alert to the social and emotional needs of her students. She is a very kind, gentle and calm person; this helps to calm her students, especially when they are agitated or upset.” Mrs. Kurmel is from Omaha and has a B.S. from Morningside College and an M.S. from UNO.
Laura Marr has been with OPS for 13 years, all of them at Liberty. A colleague wrote: “Laura is full of energy and has a care and love for her students like no other. She has taken every challenge in stride and always does what’s best for kids. Her classroom is full of students who are growing socially and academically.”An admirer said: “Lucky are the students that enter Laura Marr’s classroom.Mrs. Marr gives these students an introduction to school that will change their lives forever. They enter not only a classroom but a refuge. A place where there is an adult that wants nothing more than to give them love and help them learn.” Mrs. Marr is a native of Ft. Gordon, GA and has a B.S. from UNO and an M.Ed. from Concordia University.
Central High School
Jodie Martinez, a native of Des Moines, IA, has been with OPS for 31 years, all of them at Central. A former student wrote: “Ms. Martinez enjoyed being in our class and that quickly translated into the students looking forward to her class. She always took the time to build your confidence as she was building our skills. The material was challenging, yet her love of it made it so we couldn’t not help but appreciate it.” Another said: “I will always be grateful for having been taught by Ms. Martinez. I can honestly say she is the reason for every good grade I received on a term paper in college. She has an uncanny way of helping each student shape and articulate their own voice.” Ms. Martinez has a B.S. and M.A. from UNO.
English as a Second Language
Debbie Oshlo has been teaching in OPS for 13 years, 11 of them at King. A colleague wrote: “She is one of the nicest, most thoughtful people I have ever had the chance to work with. She goes above and beyond the duties of her job as an ESL teacher. She is always looking for ways she can help our families.” Another said: “She works very hard to help her students adjust to a new country. She will often spend her own money to get her students what they need. She is one of the first teachers to arrive and is always the last one to go home. We are so lucky to have her on the King staff.” Ms. Oshlo is from Council Bluffs and has a B.S. and an M.S. from UNO.
Central Park Elementary
Durkhany Prososki has been with OPS for 14 years, all of them at Central Park. A colleague said: “What makes her an outstanding teacher is her commitment to building a rapport and a relationship with her students. She spends the time to get to know each of her students personally. She is not only an instructor, but a counselor, liaison between parents and the school, as well as a friend.” Another said: “She has amazing personal relationships with students. This love and respect for children doesn’t stop at just her classroom. When Durkhany steps onto the playground she is bombarded with hugs from younger students who want to spend time with her. She tells them that she loves them and that she is proud of them.” Mrs. Prososki is from Omaha and has a B.S. from UNO and an M.S. from Wayne State College.
Gomez Heritage Elementary
Ana Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, has been with OPS for 18 years, 14 of them at Gomez Heritage. A colleague said: “Ana is willing to give her personal time to help students who may be struggling. She tutored a student who was having a difficult time with Spanish in the mornings, twice a week, on her own time. She wants to give everyone an opportunity to be successful in the dual language program.” Another wrote: “Ana Rivera is the most dedicated, caring, hardworking, kind, collaborative, thorough educator and person I have ever known. Mrs. Rivera so loves her students; nurturing them and providing a safe learning environment for them to succeed.” Mrs. Rivera has a B.A. from the University of Puerto Rico and an M.Ed. from Concordia University.
Danielle Rowe has been with OPS for 9 years, all of them at Washington. A former student wrote: “She is truly amazing and made learning fun. When I go back to her classroom every child smiles and says they love her. I have known her for so long she is no longer just my kindergarten teacher, she is my family.” A parent said: “She has the ability to recognize the different variety of students and to tailor her teaching to them. Her kindness and thoughtfulness were always something you could see shine through and that was reflected in the students themselves.” Ms. Rowe, a native of Riverside, CA has a B.A. from Wayne State College.
McMillan Magnet School and North High School
Rose Rydberg has been with OPS for 10 years; 10 at McMillan and 3 at North. A grandparent wrote: “Rose Rydberg is a wonderful person inside and out. She is a great role model for the students to look up to. They can talk to her about anything and know they will be listened to and not criticized. She always has time for her students.” A former student said: “Mrs. Rydberg has made and continues to make one of the longest lasting impressions on my life. She made me fall in love with music and with playing the violin. I am forever grateful to her and she is truly one of the most incredible people I have ever had the honor of being taught by.” Mrs. Rydberg has a B.M. and an M.M. from UNO. She is from Omaha.
Beveridge Middle School
Nicholas Spath has been with OPS for 15 years, the last two at Beveridge. A student wrote: “Mr. Spath is the best music teacher I have ever had. I am able to play two instruments with almost no experience with either of them before middle school and I love it. He is the one who helped me get to this point. Without him I never would have made it past day one.” A former student said: “Mr. Spath is one of the nicest and most caring teachers I had. He always goes out of his way to help his students. For me, band was a safe place where I could be myself.” A native of Omaha, Mr. Spath has a B.M. and an M.M. from UNL.
Morton Middle School
John Urbanski has been with OPS for 17 years, all of them at Morton. A parent wrote: “I always hoped my son would have wonderful role models and mentors in his life. John has been such a figure. He has shown my son what it means to be responsible and passionate about something you love and has coached him how to work hard for something you want.” A colleague wrote: “He goes way above and beyond for his students whenever necessary. He shows the kids everyday that he truly cares about them and their educational needs.” Mr. Urbanski is from Grand Island and has a B.A. from UNK.
Gregory Verranault has been with OPS for 11 years, the last four at Fullerton. A parent wrote: “Thanks to his dynamic personality, patience, kindness, and clear instructions my daughter is thriving. My child, who normally had come home with emotional, relationship related problems which often distracted her from learning, is focused and learning. This man loves his job and the kids can tell!” Another said: “I have seen my son flourish under Mr. Verranault’s guidance. He seems more confident in everything he does, especially with his day to day schoolwork. My son has loved every one of his teachers, but I think Mr. Verranault has been the teacher that has made the biggest impact on his life so far.” A native of Kearney, Mr. Verranault has a B.A. from UNK and an M.S. from Peru State College.
The Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation responds to questions about the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award only. The Foundation does not respond to other inquiries.
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