In front of a sold-out crowd of enthusiastic supporters, the Highline Schools Foundation presented the 2024 Gold Star Awards Wednesday night, Mar. 27, 2024 at the annual Gold Star Bash, held at the SeaTac Community Center.

In all, eight awards were presented, honoring the outstanding work and deep commitment of teachers, staff, volunteers, and others throughout Highline Public Schools. These individuals live out the district’s commitment to know every student by name, strength and need.

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And the 2024 Gold Star Award Winners are…

  • Outstanding Administrator: Kevin Takisaki, Principal at Innovation Heights Academy
  • Outstanding Professional Staff: Jill Wilson Zahn, EBC Social Worker, Secondary Schools
  • Outstanding Classified Staff: Lisa Lay, Office Manager at Hilltop Elementary
  • Outstanding Volunteer: Nimat Aljabori, White Center Heights Elementary Family Resource Center
  • Outstanding Alumni: Sean Goode, Mount Rainier High School Class of 1999
  • Special Recognition Award: Scott Logan, Chief Operations Officer, Highline Public Schools
  • Outstanding Rookie Teacher: Kristen O’Conner, Special Education Teacher at Gregory Heights Elementary
  • Outstanding Teacher: Erin Enquist, 4th Grade Dual Language Teacher at Mount View Elementary

Highline Schools Foundation Executive Director Fred Swanson said:

“What an absolute honor to celebrate Highline’s incredible educators and leaders. We’re so grateful for the ways that our teachers, administrators, and volunteers show up for the students and families of Highline and so impressed by the graduates like Sean who go on to make such a difference in our communities and world. Congratulations to all of our nominees and winners.”

This year’s Gold Star nominee field was the largest in five years, with nearly double the nominations over last year – 156 nominations for 118 individuals, representing 36 schools, programs, and departments across Highline.

Here’s more about the 2024 Gold Star Award Winners:

Outstanding Administrator
Kevin Takisaki, Principal
Innovation Heights Academy

Kevin is the Principal at Innovation Heights Academy, formerly New Start High School. In two years, he has worked to transform New Start High School, one of Highline’s small, alternative high schools, into a new model – a half-day, multi-disciplinary, project-based learning model that allows students with exceptional barriers in their lives to recover credit at an accelerated rate while receiving wrap around support. Receiving seven nominations in the category, Kevin’s nominators shared:

“Kevin’s commitment to educational equity is far beyond anything I have ever witnessed. His thoughtfulness, intentionality, lifting of student and community voices, and empowerment all have created something truly special at IHA for many students who have been negatively impacted by our educational system.” “Kevin Takisaki is an administrator unlike any I have ever known. He is a genuinely warm, caring person who is quick to laugh and makes anyone in his presence feel comfortable and accepted, whether they are a student, parent, or staff member. At the same time, he is a wise and insightful leader who is skillfully steering our ship to a new destination while inspiring everyone on board to pull in the same direction.” “He inspires his team, sets forth a clear vision, gets everyone on board and then supports a culture of fun, hard work and life balance. He encourages us all to have brave, hard conversations. He connects with each of his staff members as individuals and makes them feel appreciated. He sees good in each person (both staff and students), which makes each person want to strive to meet his expectations.”

Outstanding Classified Staff
Lisa Lay, Office Manager
Hilltop Elementary

Lisa is the Office Manager at Hilltop Elementary, where she is often the first face that greets students, families, and staff at Hilltop Elementary. She takes this role seriously, learning names, strengths, and needs of individuals to make them feel valued and supported. Her nominator shared:

“Lisa is the heart of Hilltop, driving progress through her organization, empathy, and dedication behind the scenes. Things feel easier because she handles difficulties; systems run smoother because she oils the gears. We function as a community because Lisa connects people to the resources they need. Her work strengthens foundations so teachers can focus on students, and students can focus on learning. Her effectiveness shows in morale, climate, and the human experience; if we are surviving and thriving amid adversity, Lisa deserves immense credit. I cannot quantify all she does, but her impact resonates across each person touched by Hilltop Elementary – past, present, and future.”

Outstanding Professional Staff
Jill Wilson Zahn, Social Worker
Secondary Schools

Jill has more than 20 years’ experience in Highline Public Schools, most of which has found her as an itinerant EBC Secondary School Social Worker, working at every middle and high school carrying an EBC class. Additionally, she has her own private practice, and works with Childrens Hospital in the Journey Program, dedicated to Grief and Loss for families in need. Her nominator shared:

“Jill is one of the most approachable and calming people I know. Her gifts in listening, communicating, and making people feel ‘heard,’ are some of her finer qualities. She rarely complains and is one of the most ‘self-actualized’ and ‘self-realized’ people I have had the honor in knowing. She creates a supportive and welcoming environment where individuals feel heard, understood and valued. Her presence enriches the lives of those around her, making her an invaluable asset to her community. Her unwavering commitment to fostering meaningful connections and promoting personal growth exemplifies the spirit of the Gold Star Award.”

Outstanding Volunteer
Nimat Aljabori, Family Resource Center Volunteer
White Center Heights Elementary

Nimat is a longtime volunteer in the Family Resource Center at White Center Heights Elementary, where her four children attended and now come in to volunteer with her. Her nominator shared:

“Nimat is a huge advocate for supporting the community in and around White Center. She has raised four wonderful children, who have all attended White Center Heights Elementary and who all volunteer to help her out in the Family Resource Center. Nimat is extremely proud of what the Family ResourceCenter represents at White Center Heights -a place where all are welcome. Our center provides the basic needs such as diapers, clothes, toys, books, shoes, household goods, and fruits and vegetables. It takes a LOT of time and energy to organize everything and keep it organized. Nimat has spent countless hours providing support in the Family Resource Center. The entire community knows her and knows that she is a person that is always willing to help. This is her third year supporting the Family Resource Center. The center means so much to so many people in our community and it wouldn’t exist without her. Our school, students, faculty, and neighborhoods are beyond grateful that she is our friend and champion.”

Outstanding Alumnus
Sean Goode, Seattle Foundation
Mount Rainier High School, Class of 1999

Sean is a speaker, facilitator, actor, writer, podcast host, executive coach and non-profit leader – there is little that he cannot do. Driven by the mantras “possibilities over problems,” and “grace over guilt,” Sean inspires everyone around him to look for the good in others and bring out the best in themselves. Sean was the founding Executive Director of Choose 180, an organization that exists to transform oppressive systems that have caused harm and assist young people to wholeness as they heal from hurt. Sean is a graduate of Mount Rainier High School, class of 1999. HPS School Board Vice President Joe Van shared:

“Sean, you are not just an individual who has excelled in your personal and professional endeavors, but you are also a beacon of inspiration for our entire community. Throughout your journey, you have consistently demonstrated unwavering dedication and passion in advocating for the betterment of our students, both locally and at the state level. Your tireless efforts have not only transformed the lives of countless individuals but have also significantly contributed to the advancement of our educational institutions. As an advocate, you have fearlessly championed for the rights and opportunities of students, ensuring that their voices are heard, and their needs are met. Your commitment to fostering a supportive and inclusive environment has created a lasting impact that will continue to resonate for generations to come.”

Highline Schools Foundation Special Recognition Award
Scott Logan, Chief Operations Officer
Highline Public Schools

Scott has served as the Chief Operations Officer for Highline Public Schools for several years; prior to the COO role, he served as the Director of Transportation and Interim Director of the Safety and Security Department. His day-to-day management efforts ensure that all district support departments maintain a safe, clean learning environment for staff, students, and the community. Among his accomplishments during his COO tenure, he has negotiated the first bond-funded priority-hire Community Workforce Agreement in the region, is planning innovative, energy-efficient heating systems at Tyee and Evergreen that will reduce Highline’s carbon footprint, as well as worked with former Washington Supreme Court Justice Bobbi Bridge toward building a more equitable juvenile legal system. As his executive assistant Kelly Barron shared:

“I’ve been lucky to get to know Scott on a deeper level and have gotten to hear about all the places he has gone throughout his various careers. Did you know that he is a retired Fire Chief? Or a pilot? And was a captain of a successful dinner cruise? One thing I know for certain is through Scott’s many journeys, and life adventures, he has developed an incredible skill set that has been invaluable to Highline and the community. From my perspective, I believe the most impactful is the energy he brings every day, and the relationships he maintains throughout the district. Despite the heavy workload of a COO, he’s always available for his team, makes time for admin at our schools, and walks his rounds at the office. Scott has truly modeled a culture of belonging and we’ve been lucky to be a part of that experience, and I know no matter what’s in store for him next, he will continue to bring the sunshine with him.”

Outstanding Rookie Teacher
Kristen O’Conner, Special Education Teacher
Gregory Heights Elementary

Kristen is a Special Education Teacher at Gregory Heights, after beginning her teaching journey at Sylvester Middle School as Special Education Para Educator. She accompanied students from the self-contained program at Sylvester to Gregory as a part of a Buddy Reading program last year, and realized by the end of the school year that she wanted to be an Elementary Special Education teacher. She became fully certified at the end of November and has recently completed her master’s degree in education while teaching full time as a Special Education Teacher and Case Manager. Her nominator shared:

“Kristen lives the Highline Promise. She knows every student by name, strength and need. She works from 5:30 AM until the end of her last meeting every day doing high quality, thoughtful work. Then she picks up her kids, gets dinner, supervises her kid’s homework, does her own homework, rises at 5 to do more of her own homework, teaches 6:15 yoga a few days a week in Burien and is in the office before me, ready with 1 or 2 intelligent questions regarding writing IEPs. And always with congenial candor. She Is Stellar.”

Outstanding Teacher
Erin Enquist, 4th Grade Dual Language Teacher
Mount View Elementary

Erin teaches 4th grade dual language at Mount View Elementary. Erin received a remarkable eight nominations, including three from current and former students. Her nominators shared:

“Erin is the kind of teacher who we all wish we could be just a bit more like in order to meet all our students’ needs the best way possible. She is a dual language teacher on the English side of the program, but she works hard to learn, practice, and model use of Spanish for her students to support their growth and confidence. She knows each of their strengths and needs and has the most beautiful and positive rapport with her students – even when they exhibit challenging behaviors, she has each student start with a completely clean slate and unending positivity and support every day. I can’t think of a harder working, more positive, and more committed teacher that I have met in years. She gives her all to her students and community. She dedicates so much time without hesitation to meetings to bring parents closer to the school and to connect with their child’s educational community.” 

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In addition to the Gold Star Bash, the Gold Star Winners will be celebrated at the 2024 Gold Star Fundraising Breakfast, on Friday, May 3, 2024 Cedarbrook Lodge in SeaTac.

More information can be found on the Foundation’s website at:

https://highlineschoolsfoundation.org/gold-star-fundraising-breakfast/

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