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.
Burke High School
Brian Anderson, an Omaha native, has been with OPS for 18 years, all of them at Burke. He has a B.A. from Dana College and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. A student wrote: “I had him as a teacher for all four years of high school and he was the teacher I always knew I could go to for both artistic support and support for other problems going on outside of school. He cares for all of his students as if they were one of his biological children.” Another said: “With him as a teacher I have grown as an artist and as a person. He allows all his students to be themselves and he makes a connection beyond regular student-teacher relations.”
Michelle Aschenbrenner has been with OPS for 33 years, the past 23 at Columbian. A parent said: “Mrs. A brings such positivity everyday to her students. She believes they can all succeed in anything they try. Mrs. A also challenges many students that need the challenge.” A colleague said: “Mrs. Aschenbrenner is upbeat, fun, and innovative. She treats every student kindly and fairly. Mrs. Aschenbrenner is from Omaha and has a B.A. from Wayne State College.
Bryan High School
Royonna Bristol has spent her entire seven-year teaching career with OPS at Bryan. A colleague said: “She is a passionate educator who has a strong desire to make science applicable to the real world and who creates opportunities for her students to practice science in a real-world setting. Bryan High is lucky to have such an amazing educator.” A parent said: “I cannot begin to tell you the number of times my daughter has come home excited to talk about what she has learned in class that day. Ms. Bristol has a special way of engaging her students.” An Omaha native, Ms. Bristol has a B.A. and two M.S. degrees from the University of Nebraska Omaha.
Burke Middle School
Family Consumer Science
Andrea Burton, an Omaha native has been with OPS for 17 years, all of them at Burke. A student wrote: “Ms. Burton has been one of the most influential people in my high school career. Her knowledge, humor, and transparency are inspirational. Not only does Ms. Burton care for her students’ education, but their physical, social, and emotional aspects of their lives are just as important to her.” Another said: “She is a great person to go to when you’re struggling with anything and is very understanding. She has had a major impact not only in school but in my life.” Ms. Burton has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Nebraska Omaha and an M.S. from Wayne State College.
South High School
English as a Second Language
Coral Hannah has spent her entire 19-year teaching career with OPS at South High School. She has a B.S. from the University of Northern Iowa and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska Kearney. A colleague wrote: “She is a fierce advocate and is constantly fighting to have school counselors and staff in the classrooms to support the extra needs of the students. She oversees the bilingual liaisons to assist in translating for teachers and staff to support student learning and their families.” Another said: “She has the innate ability to connect with all students, many who speak limited English, and teach them how to write, read, and navigate the American high school experience. Students enjoy her classes because they find success and gain confidence in the English language.” Mrs. Hannah is from Des Moines.
South High School
Hannah Holguin, an Omaha native, has been with OPS for 8 years, 4 of them at South. She has a B.S. from Wayne State College and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A colleague wrote: “She makes herself available to tutor students and explain work in creative and fun ways. Hannah teaches the whole child, and she pours her heart into her work and into our school community.” A student said: “Mrs. Holguin has a remarkable ability to stimulate learning in students. She is an authentic and eager teacher ready to help students by going the extra mile for me and my classmates. She reaches out to struggling students and families with professionalism, empathy, and motherly instincts.”
Krissa Hollinger has been with OPS for 10 years, all of them at Dodge. A native of Kansas City, she has a B.S. from the University of Central Missouri and an M.E. from Creighton University. A colleague wrote: “Mrs. Hollinger gives her time, attention, and love to all students she interacts with. She makes the world a better place through the passion she has for children.” A parent said: "Mrs. Hollinger has been an absolute rock for her students during COVID. From making each of them feel special and included to addressing their emotional needs. Mrs. Hollinger is a creative and fierce advocate for her kids.”
Rose Hill Elementary School
Christine Koltas has been with OPS for 15 years, the past six at Rose Hill. She has a B.A. for the University of West Florida and an M.Ed. from Concordia University. A parent said: “Mrs. Koltas has been a beacon of everything positive during a very difficult time. I can see how she interacts with my son and the other students, is interested in what they have to say, and they are interested in what she has to say. She is making learning ‘cool’ and her positive attitude rubs off on the kids.” Another wrote: “She has a unique ability to have the respect of students while making learning fun and interesting. She is a teacher that has a passion for what she does and who has spent her career learning to teach to the many different needs and styles of her students.” Mrs. Koltas is from Pensacola, Florida.
Bryan Middle School
Dianne Lee has been with OPS for 19 years OPS, the last three at Bryan. A colleague said: “There are many children who have had their lives completely changed by working with Mrs. Lee. She works tirelessly to help children faced with behavior problems, abuse, and learning challenges. She always works above and beyond scheduled time to be sure that students have what they need.” A parent wrote: “To this day my daughter will say that Mrs. Lee was her favorite teacher. Mrs. Lee was her favorite because she had a way of relating what they were learning in class to the students’ everyday lives.” A native of Keene, New Hampshire, Mrs. Lee has a B.S. from Keene State College, an M.A. from Antioch University, and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Kiley Ruff has been with OPS for eight years, all of them at Washington. A parent wrote: “Miss Ruff really knows her students. It is a priority for her to invest relationally with each child, learning their likes and dislikes, communicating with them about what is going on in their lives, and taking time out of her weekends and evenings to attend events or other activities they are involved in. It is so evident that she genuinely cares deeply for each of these children.” Another said: “Kiley Ruff is the kind of teacher who exudes passion for her job in everything she does. Her efforts to provide differentiated learning, her balance of fun and discipline in the classroom, and her engaging classroom environment are only three of the many things that distinguish her as an outstanding educator.” Miss Ruff has a B.S. from Wayne State College and an M.Ed. from Doane University. She is from Bennington.
South High School
English and Journalism
Aaron Stepp has been with OPS for six years, all of them at South High. A native of Marietta, North Carolina, he has a B.A. from the University of Central Florida, an M.S. from the University of Tennessee, and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A student wrote: “If I can credit anyone for my passion for learning, it’s Mr. Stepp. He changed the way I saw the world of journalism, as a class and as a career. It’s rare that students remember high school teachers beyond graduation but this is one teacher that will always have a spot in my heart and in the hearts of many other students.” Another said: “Mr. Stepp is a one of a kind teacher. His methods of instruction have a way of reaching the entire class and leaves almost no student confused as to what he/she is supposed to be learning or doing.”
Benson High School
Paula Vazzano has been with OPS for 32 years, the past 30 at Benson High. A student wrote: “She has been a comforting and amazing teacher. I have always had a love for the subject of English and literature. She’s made me fall more in love with it.” Another said: “I can confidently say that Mrs. Vazzano was one of the main factors in my success and growth in life. She always pushed me towards my limits. Her AP classes were notoriously challenging, yet she welcomed me and everyone else with eagerness and grace. She saw potential in me and continued to push me out of my shell.” Mrs. Vazzano has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She is from Wayne, Nebraska.
Central High School
Cassie West has been with OPS for 16 years, the past 14 at Central High. A native of Kearney, she has a B.A. and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A student said: “My year in her class was the only year of math that was truly great in my K-12 education. Her style of instruction is simple, direct, and makes complete sense – she is confident and assured, interesting and vibrant. You want to do well for Mrs. West. It was a joy and privilege to be a part of her classroom.” Another wrote: “Her enthusiasm for math was something I had never experienced before from a math teacher. That excitement started to rub off on me, making me want to work harder. She got me to understand topics that I had struggled with for years.”
North High School
Jeremy Wiemer has spent his entire 13-year career with OPS at North High. A student said: “I got into robotics in middle school but never went far with it. Once I was in North High’s program, I excelled. Mr. Wiemer encouraged me to push myself and helped me gain confidence in not only myself, but also the people on my teams.” Another wrote: “All throughout my time here I’ve never met a teacher who’s pushed me and my peers so hard and taught us to set new records for ourselves. He is always keeping us on our toes and shows just how deeply he cares for us as a team and as individual students. He’s a great leader and role model for us all.” A native of Lincoln, Mr. Wiemer has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an M.Ed. from Concordia University.
Benson High School
Jennifer Wittry has been with OPS for 19 years, all of them at Benson High. A colleague wrote: “I have never seen a teacher more dedicated to giving students feedback. She spends hours helping students learn from their mistakes and pushing them to achieve beyond what they expect of themselves. Mrs. Wittry’s room is always the room math students venture to after school for help.” A student said: “She helped me understand anything I had learned previously to a greater extent and in a less confusing way. She made the learning experience unforgettable. Outside of the classroom I was able to go to her for help whenever I needed to, even if wasn’t specifically about math.” Mrs. Wittry has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. She is from Blair, Nebraska.
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