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.
Tom Brown has been with OPS for 18 years, the past 12 at Saddlebrook. A native of Omaha, he has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A parent wrote: “Mr. Brown is seriously the most incredible teacher I have had the pleasure of working with. When I think of our son’s success, I think of Mr. Brown’s support of our son and of us as his parents. His work moves mountains for our son and our family.” Another said: “Mr. Brown is by far the best teacher my daughter has ever had. He is very engaging and gets the children excited to go to school each day. He holds firm with what he expects on homework and tests but he makes the children want to do better.”
South High School
Spanish & English as a Second Language
Laura Chambers has been at South High School for all of her 22 years with OPS. She is from Beaver Crossing, Nebraska, and has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska Kearney and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A student said: “As a student, I saw how she helped out every single student. She provided me support on any lesson I was having difficulty with. Mrs. Chambers was an example for me because I saw a strength in her that she shared with her students.” A colleague wrote: “She creates lessons that are relevant and engaging and challenges students to take risks. Not only does Mrs. Chambers advocate for her students in the classroom, she has also gone to bat for students outside. Her students come back year after year just to say thank you.”
Kim Dutiel has been with OPS for 31 years, all of them at Dodge. An Omaha native, she has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A parent wrote: “She tirelessly works with each student, leading with humor. She is patient even during difficult situations and pushes students to achieve even more than they knew they could accomplish.” Another said: “Miss Dutiel has a way of drawing the best out of students. She makes learning fun and relates very well with the students. I have heard a number of parents say that their child hated school until they had Miss Dutiel as their teacher.”
Amy Fitl has been with OPS for 14 years, eight of them at Edison. She is from Omaha and has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A parent said: “Mrs. Fitl realizes the difficultly for kids to learn when their basic needs are lacking and inconspicuously assists while maintaining the child’s dignity. She loves all her students and wants so much to help them be the best they can possibly be. She wants them to recognize all the talent and potential they possess and to realize they can make a positive difference in the world.” Another wrote: “Mrs. Fitl does so many things and she does them all well. She always finds time to cheer someone up who is having a difficult time. She has the rare ability to draw out the quiet student so that all members of the group feel they have contributed.”
Burke High School
Craig Horobik has been at Burke for the entirety of his six-year career. A native of Benkelman, Nebraska, he has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A student said: “He has shown me in many different ways that he cares about the students he teaches by always being there for them and doing anything to make sure they learn and understand what is being taught. I’ve never in my entire ten-plus years of going to school had a teacher who cared so much about my learning.” A colleague wrote: “Throughout his career, I have known Mr. Horobik to do great things, inspire struggling students, and assist anyone and everyone in any possible way. I believe that his efforts directly lead to improved morale at Burke.”
North High School
Allison Iles has been with OPS for 16 years, all of them at North. She is from Plattsmouth, Nebraska, and has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, an M.A. from Doane University and an M.S. from Creighton University. A parent said: “She has time and again shown her passion for students, her passion for teaching and her passion for Omaha Public Schools. She strives to make all students feel safe, confident, and heard regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or cultural beliefs. Miss Iles is a safe haven for students.” A student said: “The combination of her support, dedication, amazing personality, and love for her students is rare. I am so lucky to have her as a guidance counselor and I know that I would not have had my success in high school without her belief in a young, ambitious girl.”
Western Hills Elementary
Debi Bischof Jaeke has been with OPS for 29 years, the last six at Western Hills. An Omaha native, she has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska Kearney, an M.A. from the University of Nebraska Omaha and an M.S. from Wayne State College. A parent wrote: “Mrs. Jaeke has been a huge ally in my son’s education. Without her support, patience, and guidance my son easily could have continued down a harder path. Her amazing personality and ability to recognize what a child needs have truly helped him become a great student.” A colleague said: “Mrs. Jaeke is such a tireless fighter for our students. She is always buzzing around the school making sure students have food to go home with them, hats and gloves to keep them warm in the winter and advocating for students with additional needs by providing resources and love.”
Lewis & Clark Middle School
English as a Second Language
Molly Mertz has been with OPS for nine years, all of them at Lewis & Clark. A native of Minden, Nebraska, she has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska Kearney and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A colleague said: “Molly’s persistence, patience, and clarity allow her students to achieve their goals during their first years in this country. She encourages her students by positive reinforcement, very high standards, and plenty of extra individual support.” A student said: “She was an extraordinary teacher with a lot of patience. I’m so thankful that she was my first English teacher and also the first person who made me feel at home. Being in her classroom was like an adventure and the energy she transmits to students is very positive.”
Northwest High School
Donna Murphy has spent her entire 24-year OPS career at Northwest. A native of Grand Island, Nebraska, she has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska Kearney and an M.A. from Doane University. A colleague wrote: “She has a way of relating to some of our most challenging students and getting them to achieve and behave at their best. Countless Northwest students have walked across the stage and earned their diplomas because Donna Murphy was involved in their education.” A parent said: “She is such a special, caring person. She has been the lifeline for my son throughout high school and made it possible for him to achieve his graduation goals. She is nothing short of amazing.”
Oak Valley Elementary
Kelly Nielsen has been at Oak Valley for 12 of her 13 years with OPS. Originally from Omaha, she has a B.S. and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A parent wrote: “It’s not easy to be a child with a learning disability, but Mrs. Nielsen has shown both of our children different ways to work through math problems and helped them tremendously with word recognition and reading. She genuinely loves and cares about our kids’ success. She has comforted our fears in regard to our kids keeping up with their grade levels.” A colleague said: “Not only does she provide the academic support needed to improve her students’ success in the classroom, but she also provides emotional support and is knowledgeable about community supports. Kelly has worked with many students with turbulent family lives and she is the rock many of those students need.”
Lisa Price has been with OPS for 24 years, the past 10 at Washington. A native of Columbus, Nebraska, she has a B.A. from the University of Nebraska Kearney and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A parent said: “When COVID first started, Mrs. Price went out of her way to create videos, props, and educational activities for her students. She saw the importance of keeping her students on track so they wouldn’t fall behind. My daughter’s face lit up every time she’d open a new video; it gave her a sense of normalcy.” A colleague said: “Lisa is innovative, organized, and hard working. She is willing and eager to take on new challenges and experiment with new projects.”
Burke High School
Patrick Ryan has been at Burke for his entire 18 years with OPS. He is from Huntington Beach, California, and has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. An admirer wrote: “Patrick has always excelled at making sure students achieve what they set out to achieve. He has always led by example to show students and other faculty what it truly means to be a leader and a role model.” A former student said: “He is the type of individual that never stops trying to help in any way he can and because of this he has inspired countless students to become the best they could be. He has become a mentor to me and I will be forever indebted to him.”
Lewis & Clark Middle School
Sarah Short has been with OPS for 22 years, the last 17 at Lewis & Clark. She is from Omaha and has a B.A. and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska Omaha. A colleague said: “Mrs. Short takes each child where they are and allows them to be a musician; a skill they will have for the rest of their lives. She is able to do this with careful planning and expertise in listening to students’ interests and passions.” Another said: “When you walk into Mrs. Short’s classroom you immediately know you are entering a room with a love of music history, technique, and collaboration. Students perform at a level not seen at any other middle school in the city.”
Norris Middle School
Cheryl White has been with OPS for 20 years, all of them at Norris. She is a native of Bellevue, Nebraska, and has a B.S. from Illinois State University and an M.A. from Concordia University. A colleague wrote: “When you walk into Cheryl’s room you immediately feel a sense of warmth. She gets to know her students’ interests, their personalities, their struggles, and their successes. I can’t think of a student that Cheryl didn’t find a way to reach.” A student said: “Mrs. White is kind, funny, empathetic, and most of all, moral. She is the only teacher I feel I can talk to no matter what.
Mrs. White is always there for me.”
Bryan Middle School
Family and Consumer Science
Kristi Woodworth, an Omaha native, has been with OPS for 15 years, all of them at Bryan. She has a B.S. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, an M.A. from Peru State College and an M.A. from Concordia University. A former student said: “Mrs. Woodworth goes above and beyond in every aspect. She helped me become the woman I am today. She is inspiring, motivating, and beyond caring. Mrs. Woodworth is a prime example of a dedicated teacher who truly cares about her students.” A parent wrote: “Mrs. Woodworth made a lasting impression on my daughter. Beyond the required curriculum, she taught her how to think critically, the purpose of a budget, and the life skills needed to be a productive citizen.”
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