Award Winners Biographies

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District 60 / Pueblo City Schools
2019 CO Teacher Award Winners

Heather Atencio

With a contagious passion for teaching math in a way that inspires students to be independent, motivated learners, Heather Atencio believes forming relationships with students and using innovative and engaging teaching methods lead to student success. She embraces students’ individuality and takes time to know each student’s strengths and weaknesses, struggles and accomplishments and seeks to understand any barriers that may stand in the way of each individual learner. Each year, she redesigns or recreates lessons to appeal to the current group of students in her class. She incorporates cooperative learning with hands-on, interactive activities that not only appeal to students but showcase her love for math, helping students understand math’s purpose and application in real-world scenarios.

Atencio uses innovative activities that challenge and engage students, such as designing escape-room scenarios to introduce mathematical concepts and problem-solving situations that facilitate learning through the activity. The escape rooms require critical thinking, cooperation and rigorous mathematical reasoning with computation designed in a way that a student or group of students cannot progress until they cooperatively solve the preceding problem.

Her strategies have been effective in helping her students consistently achieve math scores above the state average. Her escape rooms have become highly sought after by her peers around the country; her new ones are quickly purchased from Teachers-Pay-Teachers. As with the escape rooms, Atencio keeps abreast of current mathematical teaching methods and takes what she learns and creates professional development opportunities for other teachers at Goodnight School.

 Nominated by Jackie Horton and Alison Selle

Mike Palumbo

Mike Palumbo is a master teacher in the art of hands-on, project-based learning combining the expertise of a certified teacher with that of a contractor. He teaches students the fundamentals of construction technology through real-world, cooperative learning applications, providing students continual practice throughout projects to ensure mastery, safety and lifelong knowledge.

Through his partnership with Habitat for Humanity and the newly formed agreement with the board of education, Palumbo immerses his students in the process of building houses while developing their passion for serving the community. The special agreement will allow him to provide students with a rare and unique opportunity to construct one of his custom homes from the ground up.

While building, students are required to call on what they have learned from their other classes such as math, science and English and apply that knowledge to the professional job site. This requires them to use their critical thinking and apply it safely and effectively while being fully engaged and productive in the job at hand.

Palumbo’s classwork also includes building safe and usable sets for drama productions, school dance props, sheds and multiple repair projects with the school. Curriculum includes everything from carpentry to electricity. Palumbo’s relationships with local builders, contractors and sub-contractors have led to extensive opportunities for students to be hired, earn internships and pursue college degrees. Many of his students have gone on after graduation to pursue college degrees in construction technology as well as engineering fields. 

Nominated by Dave Craddock and Joe Petrick

Amy Thielemier

Amy Thielemier has been at the forefront of building the culture of academic excellence and a caring climate at Goodnight School for the past 18 years. She has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of students throughout the years, carrying the school’s academic visions with her data and consistently exceeding Pueblo City Schools’ and the state’s assessment scores.

She instills excitement for learning in her students through her unmatched energy, employing a multitude of research-based strategies like Kagan and Whole Brain techniques to her lesson plans. Thielemier believes in not just teaching the multiple contents but being deliberate about teaching the “whole kid.” She teaches students how to handle conflict, interact with other people and cope with struggles. She creates a classroom climate that is conducive to all students having equal opportunity to learn. Many of them feel like her classroom is a second home.

She has mastered the art of implementing tiered, differentiated instruction in each of her daily lessons for individual students and uses inquiry-based methods to inspire critical thinking – instead of giving students answers or teaching directly, she asks them questions within the Depth and Complexity Framework. Goodnight has a diverse population of students – including 63 percent Hispanic, 30 percent white, 2 percent African American and 1 percent Asian – and 72 percent of students quality for free and reduced lunch.

She takes into account that many of her students are facing challenges outside the classroom and tries to ensure students are in the right emotional state to be able to learn content. She holds weekly class meetings in which students have a safe environment to be able to open up and talk about any issues they are having as a class. Students are encouraged to share their successes for the week with peers. At the same time, she creates a combined environment of fun and excellence.

Due to her years of success, Goodnight’s administration selected Thielemier to be the Building Literacy Lead providing multiple literacy Professional Developments to staff. She has also worked on the Goodnight Barn Historic Preservation Committee to help students learn about the history of the school’s name and even helped change the name of the school’s mascot to Longhorns in honor of the famous cattle drives of Charles Goodnight. 

Nominated by Deborah Jackson and Justin Shue



Val Vigil
Executive Assistant –
Pueblo City Schools