The Highline Schools Foundation this week announced the winners of its 2021 Gold Star Awards, highlighting the outstanding efforts of its educators, staff, volunteers and alumni.

“In a year like no other, these individuals overcame obstacles, embraced online tools and worked collaboratively during the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen the community of students and families within the Highline School District,” organizers said.

These individuals live out the District’s commitment to know every student by name, strength and need.

Read on to learn more about what makes each of these seven winners extraordinary:

2021 Gold Star Winners

    • Outstanding Classified Staff – Silvia Lopez Ortiz, ELL Paraeducator, Gregory Heights Elementary
    • Outstanding Professional Staff – Stan Harrison, Dean of Students, Big Picture Schools
    • Outstanding Volunteer – Rose Clark, Capitol Facilities Advisory Committee, Highline Public Schools
    • Outstanding Alumna – Pat Thompson, Executive Director and Co-Founder, YES! Foundation of White Center, and graduate of Evergreen High School
    • Outstanding Administrator – Catherine Carbone Rogers, Chief Communications Officer, Highline Public Schools
    • Outstanding Rookie Teacher – Gami Diaz, 1st Grade Dual Language Teacher, Hazel Valley Elementary
    • Outstanding Teacher – Kristin Wesp, Integrated Learning Center (ILC) Teacher, Mount Rainier High School
      91 individuals were nominated for the 2021 Gold Star Awards, representing 37 programs, schools, and departments throughout Highline Public Schools.

More about the 2021 Gold Star Award Winners:

Outstanding Classified Staff
Silvia Lopez Ortiz, ELL Paraeducator
Gregory Heights Elementary

Silvia is an ELL (English Language Learning) Paraeducator at Gregory Heights Elementary, where she is a trusted staff member, particularly for Spanish speaking students and their families. Her nominator shared that:

“Amongst staff, she is one of our “go to” people for so many situations and she always has time for everyone and everything. She is an integral part of our school – our identity and culture. She is the ultimate collaborator.”

Outstanding Professional Staff
Stan Harrison, Dean of Students
Big Picture Schools

Stan serves as the Dean of Students at Big Picture Schools, support students and their families in many ways. From delivering food boxes to families who can’t access pickup spots, supporting the mental health needs of students in navigating counseling services and supporting teachers connecting to families, to supporting restorative justice for students in conflict – Stan does it all. From his nominator:

“Students regularly seek out Stan because they know he will give them his full attention and jump into action as needed. I’ve already lost track of how many times I’ve heard a student say ‘I need to go talk to Stan.’ It’s remarkable how he is able to follow through for the many kids and families that rely on him.” He worked tirelessly last spring and fall to ensure technology access for all Big Picture families, including over 100 home deliveries. Stan truly embodies Highline’s mission of knowing every student by name, strength and need.”

Outstanding Volunteer
Rose Clark, Capitol Facilities Advisory Committee
Highline Public Schools

Rose Clark has worn many hats in her many years as a volunteer and supporter of Highline Public Schools. District parent, Tyee High School employee, city council member, member, and co-chair of committees. From her nominator:

“As a retired person now for a number of years, she has had more impact in our schools and communities in the last five years than most people can only hope to have in their lifetime. She is motivated by care for students, staff, and our community. This passion inspired her to use her talent at working with people and committees to tackle complex and controversial community problems with outstanding leadership and a can-do attitude. She is a Highline Hero.”

Outstanding Alumna
Pat Thompson, Executive Director and Co-Founder, YES! Foundation of White Center, Graduate of Evergreen High School

Pat Thompson is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of YES! Foundation of White Center, a nonprofit organization serving children, youth and young adults through relationship-based programs that foster self and social awareness, promote education, and repurpose power in an under resourced community. She is a proud graduate of Evergreen High School. From her nominator:

“Pat is a die-hard Wolverine. Pat is a pivotal partner, bringing Evergreen into the community and the community to Evergreen. She is dedicated, kind, and overall a true servant leader. Much of the success of Evergreen’s relationship with community partners is because of her leadership, relationships, and steadfast commitment to Evergreen High School.”

Outstanding Administrator
Catherine Carbone Rogers, Chief Communications Officer
Highline Public Schools

Catherine has led the Communications team at Highline Public Schools since 2005. She oversees all communications for the district, including strategic communications and all aspects of internal and external communications. From her nominator:

“It is not often you meet a person with the level of commitment, responsibility, grace, and drive embodied by Catherine Carbone Rogers, APR, Chief Communications Officer. For nearly two decades, she has worked tirelessly to build trust in our school community through transparent, reliable and award-winning communications.”

Outstanding Rookie Teacher
Gami Diaz, 1st Grade Dual Language Teacher
Hazel Valley Elementary

Gami Diaz is a first grade Dual Language teacher at Hazel Valley Elementary. In the past 2.5 years, Gami has taken on the roles of: Capacity Builder, GLAD Lead Teacher, Dual Language Committee member, Mentor Teacher for a student teacher, 1st Grade Professional Learning Committee Lead, piloting a new curriculum with the Language Learning Department, and conducting research with Richard Dunn that was presented at a West Coast conference. His team shares that he:

“…is an animated educator, a dedicated teammate, and a passionate planner. He goes above and beyond his job description duties, all because of his large heart and open mind. I’ve never seen so many former students volunteer in a colleague’s classroom! They constantly popped their heads into his room and asked, “Señor Diaz, ¿necesitas ayuda?” It’s clear Gami has left a positive impression on many of his students.”

Outstanding Teacher
Kristin Wesp, Integrated Learning Center (ILC) Teacher
Mount Rainier High School

Kristin Wesp is the Integrated Learning Center (ILC) teacher at Mount Rainier High School. The ILC provides educational services for students with intellectual and/or multiple disabilities and to increase independence in communication, functional academics, daily living skills, and self-care. Kristin’s nominator shared:

“I have not worked with a teacher more talented and student centered. She is completely dedicated to the needs of her students and families. In a program where it would be easy to see deficits, Kristin only sees abilities. She is keenly aware of each student’s interests and strengths, and skillfully organizes learning experiences around those so students are able to reach their potential. Parents are thrilled with the progress they see, and the positive experience Kristin provides their child. Her ever present smile and warm approach makes all this seem easy, though it is anything but. Positive, professional, and insanely skilled, Kristin is grace under fire.”

In addition to the surprise award presentations, the Gold Star Winners will be celebrated at the 2021 Virtual Gold Star Breakfast, on Friday, April 2, 2021, which will stream online.

The Gold Star Breakfast is the Highline Schools Foundation’s biggest fundraising event of the year, helping us raise critical funds that give us the opportunity to provide a variety of programming throughout Highline Public Schools. Funds raised at Gold Star help us to provide school supplies and basic needs to students throughout the district, boost innovative learning in classrooms and libraries through Excel and Impact Grants, and pivot quickly to new and emerging needs as they arise.

Our live-streamed program will feature dynamic speakers, a celebration of the 2021 Gold Star Award Winners, and highlights of the work Highline Schools Foundation has been doing in support of Highline students and families throughout the pandemic, all while raising critical funds to continue this work.

For more information, and to register to attend the Virtual Gold Star Breakfast, please visit:

The Highline Schools Foundation is an independent 501c3 organization, established in 1999, to support the students, faculty and staff of the Highline School District whose geography includes Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, Beverly Park, SeaTac and White Center. With more than 18,800 students and 2,000 staff, it represents one of the most diverse school districts in the state with more than 99 languages spoken. Nearly 7 of 10 students qualify for free or reduced-cost school meals so the Foundation prioritizes funding programs in three main categories – meeting basic student needs, enriching learning experiences with classroom grants, and supporting college and career opportunities for high school seniors. The Foundation is funded solely by private contributions and operates separately from Highline Public Schools.

Founder/Publisher/Editor. Three-time National Emmy Award winning Writer (“Bill Nye the Science Guy”), Director, Producer, Journalist and more...