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Fantastic Staff Appreciated Before BOE Meeting

Ben Wells, P.E. teacher at BRES, receives accolades during Fantastic 49.

District 49 is filled with fantastic staff members, and several were thanked for helping students build foundations for learning during the Fantastic 49 celebration on April 14.

Athletic Director Jackie Ornelas from Horizon Middle School was first to receive accolades. Ornelas has built a strong athletics program at HMS and is a key contributor to the Renaissance Program that helps build school culture. “There is not a better example of what Horizon is than Jackie,” said Dustin Horras, principal at HMS. “She is willing to do anything she can … everything possible to help kids.”

Stetson Elementary Principal Beth Dowdy honored a team of teachers who lead P.E., art, music and technology classes—Dave Ritz, Lauren Waldorf, Nicholas Nelson and Meghan Jannicola. The group of educators was described as passionate about collaborating and contributing to a balanced and foundational education for students. “This team is comprised of two veterans and two brand new teachers,” shared Dowdy. “They have taken their backgrounds and really blended together as a wonderful team.”

Building essential social skills is also important for D49 learners, and a transportation team member was thanked for her role in supporting interpersonal skills at Falcon Elementary School of Technology. “Julie Ellstrom personifies our D49 cultural compass,” explained Paula Kavalec, principal at FESoT. “She is an expert in productive conversations and she deals with difficult circumstances using restorative approaches that help maintain healthy families and school relationships.”

Marianne Holt, culturally and linguistically diverse education teacher at Skyview Middle School, was recognized next for creating strong bonds between home and school to ensure all students have equal access to an education. “Mari works extremely hard to help teachers build strong academic support for students in our classrooms,” said Matthew Sisson, principal at SMS. “For us to have someone with that dedication and passion for students … it is an honor to have her on our staff.”

Jackie Ornelas, athletic director at HMS, is honored at the April Fantastic 49 presentation.

To wrap up the celebration, Ben Wells, P.E. teacher at Bennett Ranch Elementary, was honored for his innovation in blending physical fitness and technology. His classes incorporate a Lü Interactive Playground, which essentially brings life-size video games to the gym. Martina Meadows, principal at BRES, shared many ways that Wells contributes to their building, and for that, he was grateful. “Bennett Ranch is a new school and we are trying to make a name for ourselves … and having an administrator that will support what you do, gives you that opportunity to help students succeed.”

Fantastic 49 is the district’s recognition program that celebrates fantastic staff, students, and community members before the board of education meetings. A sincere thank you to Air Academy Federal Credit Union, Dion’s, Texas Roadhouse, and Whirlyball for donating gift cards for all honorees.

D49 Core Commitment Spotlight: Foundations

Through the month of April, D49 is collaborating with the communications department to feature stories that show how D49 builds firm foundations for all learning and support. For our students, that means emphasizing foundational skills like literacy, math, critical thinking and creativity. For our workforce, firm foundations means great onboarding, thorough training, and providing the right tools to do our jobs.


The Stetson Elementary team of specials teachers is honored during Fantastic 49.. Julie Ellstrom from the transportation department receives an award during Fantastic 49.. Marianne Holt receives a plaque at the Fantastic 49 presentation.