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ASD Selects Classified Employees of the Year

Auburn School District #408
915 Fourth Street Northeast
Auburn, WA 98002


March 8, 2019


ASD Selects Classified Employees of the Year

The Auburn School District Board of Directors will recognize Nicki Burkhauser, Denise Daniels and Melinda Wentzel as the Classified Employees of the Year at 7 p.m., March 11 in the James P. Fugate Administration building.


Classified Employee of the Year
Nicki Burkhauser, para-educator
Lea Hill Elementary

The Auburn School District Board of Directors will recognize Nicki Burkhauser, para-educator at Lea Hill Elementary, as a Classified Employee of the Year.

Nicki is in her second year as a para-educator in the Pathways program at Lea Hill Elementary. The Pathways program serves students with significant social/emotional and behavior needs and Nicki loves working with the students.

“I love being able to help them be successful in our classroom, the general education classroom and in the community,” she said.

Nicki graduated from Auburn Mountainview in 2014.  She attended Colorado State University where she played Division II lacrosse as a goalie for two years. She returned to Auburn and began subbing in the ASD. At the same time, she earned her EMT certification.  She worked as an EMT for several months, but decided she prefers working with children to EMT work.

She builds relationships with students, staff and families.  She has a great sense of humor, is calm, respectful, creative and has high expectations for her students.  She works with students in small groups and delivers effective instruction to a wide range of learners.  The Pathways staff is a cohesive team where Nicki plays a key role.

Lea Hill Principal Ed Herda said, “We are extremely fortunate to work with Nicki each and every day.”

Nicki’s sister is a teacher at Auburn High and her mother works in the ASD human resources department, so working for the ASD is in the family.  Nicki thoroughly enjoys the people and students she works with.  She has not decided what her next career move will be.

She currently lives on a Christmas tree farm in Maple Valley and is considering learning to drive heavy machinery.   She also is considering becoming a teacher.

In her spare time, she is still involved in lacrosse.  She coached Auburn Youth Lacrosse and is currently the goalie coach for the Pacific Lutheran University lacrosse team.


Classified Employee of the Year
Denise Daniels, Assistant Director Equity, Outreach & Engagement
JPF Administration Building

The Auburn School District Board of Directors will recognize Denise Daniels, assistant director of equity, outreach and engagements, as a Classified Employee of the Year.

Denise has been with the ASD for five years.  Prior to working in Auburn, she worked in a variety of roles in the Renton School District. In her current role, she is instrumental in defining the vision for programs of engagement and equity in Auburn.  She combines research, investigation, intuition and commitment to develop a long-range plan of service delivery to address our community’s needs.

She provides leadership and training on racial equity and facilitates the district’s Connecting on Racial Equity committee.  Her leadership was critical in creating the racial equity policy and resulting procedures.  The ASD was the second district in the state to approve a racial equity policy.  She engages others in this work through the creation and provision of professional development opportunities and is in high demand on district waiver days, learning improvement days and building professional development opportunities. She seeks out and promotes participation in equity training, student leadership opportunities and more.

Rhonda Larson, assistant superintendent of family engagement and student success said, “Denise is critical to our much-needed efforts in cultivating a culture of success for all students, and a welcoming school environment for all families.”

Denise loves the connections she gets to make with people.  She views her role as an opportunity to educate people to be better advocates for students.

“The work I do changes lives,” she said.

Denise earned her bachelor’s in human services and business management from the University of Phoenix and her master’s in executive leadership from Liberty University.

In addition to her work in the ASD, Denise is involved in a variety of community groups. She is a Kent School Board director, a Soroptomist, active in regional equity work, serves on a committee for gang prevention and served on the Blue Ribbon Committee for the City of Auburn.

She and her husband Mike have seven children and one grandchild.  In her spare time, she attends her kids’ music and sporting events, is a Seahawks season ticketholder, spends time with friends and likes camping and traveling.


Classified Employee of the Year
Melinda Wentzel, Para Educator
Auburn Mountainview High School

The Auburn School District Board of Directors will recognize Melinda Wentzel, para educator at Auburn Mountainview High School, as a Classified Employee of the Year.

Melinda joined the Auburn Mountainview staff two years ago, after serving as a para educator at Rainier Middle School for 17 years. She plays an active role in the 10th grade Lion’s Den language arts classes. Melinda excels at her job on a daily basis. She arrives early and stays late to help with lesson plans and provide additional help to the teacher and students.

She has a genuine love for and interest in her students and their lives outside of school.

She said, “I love being around high school kids.  I love hearing their ideas and life stories, watching them try new things, helping them to believe in their worth and to care about those around them. I like sharing in their accomplishments in and out of the classroom and listening to their dreams.  Each student is unique and has so much to offer.”

Melinda also is very involved in the community. She has served as a Young Life leader at Rainier Middle School for 24 years.  She also attends numerous school sporting events and is active in her church.

Auburn Mountainview teacher Kady Buchanan said, “Melinda embodies what it means to be a caring and compassionate teacher and mentor.”

Melinda grew up in Federal Way and earned her bachelor degree in social work from the University of Washington.  After working at a group home for juvenile boys and in human resources for Boeing, she started her favorite job of being a mom.

She and her husband Gary settled in Auburn. All three of their children are Auburn High graduates and all three became teachers!  Gary passed unexpectedly from a heart condition just over two years ago. They were married for more than 38 years.

When not working Melinda loves to spend time with her friends and family, especially her six grandchildren.  She also likes to read, travel, go on coffee dates and walk on the beach.