Olympia School District Honors Longtime Educators Kristen Draper and Heidi Heiser with 2024 Teacher of the Year Award


We all remember the teachers that shaped us in our childhood. Educators at every grade strive to instill a sense of wonder about the world and encourage lifelong learning. The Olympia School District (OSD) is proud to honor the teachers that are going above and beyond to support student success through the annual Teacher of the Year award. In 2024, lifelong educators Heidi Heiser and Kristen Draper were awarded this incredible honor thanks to their ongoing commitment and daily devotion to every child in their class. They both were touched to be recognized for their efforts and are grateful for the support of the Olympia School District teachers and team.

OSD Recognizes Impactful Teachers Through OSPI Criteria and Internal Nominations  

The Teacher of the Year Award recipients are selected through internal nomination. The nominations are made through a written suggestion of which educator the staff feels deserves this honor for their commitment to education. The Olympia School District uses the criteria provided by the Office of the Superintended of Public Instruction to discern the educators that have gone above and beyond in their work. The criteria include guiding students of all backgrounds to achieve excellence, collaborating with colleagues, connecting classroom to community, and demonstrating leadership inside and outside of class. All of these things are key characteristics and actions of educators that are striving to make a difference in the lives of their students.

The nominations are gathered and reviewed by a screening committee to determine which educators will receive the award. Many outstanding educators were nominated this year, each with their own amazing contributions to the community and their schools. Once a decision was reached, the awarded teachers were surprised with the honor at a school staff meeting surrounded by their colleagues. It was a wonderful and unexpected surprise that brought everyone together to recognize Kristen and Heidi’s commitment to education over the last year and their careers as a whole.

Kristen is honored as Teacher of the Year amongst her colleagues. Pictured from left: Superintendent Patrick Murphy, Centennial Elementary Principal Shannon Ritter, Centennial ES PE Teacher Kristen Draper, and Olympia School Board President Hilary Seidel. Photo courtesy: Olympia School District

Centennial Elementary Teacher Awarded Teacher of the Year

Kristen Draper has been a P.E. teacher for kindergarten through fifth grade at Centennial Elementary School for the last six years. She and her colleagues were called to a brief staff meeting after school, and she had no idea that she was about to be recognized for all of her amazing work. When she walked in, the superintendent, principal, and Human Resources staff were there along with her fellow educators. She was so shocked when Superintendent Murphy started talking about the award and announced her as Teacher of the Year.

Kristen Draper showing kids sitting on a gym floor how to serve a volleyball underhand
Kristen Draper finds it so rewarding when a group of kids finally gets a new concept and applies something new they have learned. Photo courtesy: Olympia School District

“It was very humbling in the sense that I work with so many extraordinary teachers, so being honored was such a ‘wow’ experience,” shares Kristen. “I want to say a special thanks to my entire Centennial staff and administration, who are phenomenal and inspiring to work for, and to my fellow PE educators who challenge me to step out of my comfort zone.” For Kristen, her role is even more unique in that she gets to work with every student in the school and watch their growth and development over the years. While she recognizes the importance of academics, she finds it incredibly fulfilling to be able to create a space for students to also shine outside of core academic subjects. She is grateful for her work and community.

Olympia High School Teacher Awarded Teacher of the Year

Heidi Heiser has been a science teacher at Olympia High School for the last 22 years, the first 20 in biology and the last two in environmental and physical science. The award announcement was scheduled for a staff meeting, which Heidi almost missed to go to an appointment she had scheduled. A fellow teacher encouraged her to stay for at least the first 5 minutes of the meeting, and she was so glad she did. She was wondering what the meeting was for when the superintendent started talking about teacher of the year, finally announcing she was the 2024 Teacher of the Year. It was quite a surprise and incredibly honoring.

Heidi Heiser is recognized as Teacher of the Year with her colleagues. Pictured from left: Board President Hilary Seidel, Olympia High School Environmental and Physical Science Teacher Heidi Heiser, Superintendent Patrick Murphy and Olympia High School Principal Matt Grant Photo courtesy: Olympia School District

“When I got to this school, I was a really fresh teacher, and these colleagues all molded me into the teacher I am today,” shares Heidi. “I want to give a big shout out to the science department at OHS, who poured onto me lessons, units, advice and curriculum. I am thankful that all of those groups have given me a job that I can do that fills me and that I love to do.”

Through her classes, Heidi has the opportunity to teach a wide age range of students, including a mix of both Advanced Placement and standard levels. She has become very fond of the mixture because it brings together a variety of skillsets and shows students with different strengths how they can work together. Where one student struggles another may shine, and that teamwork has been very inspiring and rewarding to see.

Heidi Heiser standing in front of a high school classroom
Heidi Heiser loves her diverse classes and values giving each of her students and opportunity to shine in front of their peers. Photo courtesy: Olympia School District

Teacher of the Year Award Recognizes Educational Leadership in Olympia

Olympia School District has an exceptional team of educators, each bringing something unique to their school and students. Both Kristen and Heidi expressed that every teacher they work with brings so much to the community, and while the award is an incredible honor, the real reward comes from being able to make a difference for students and work on a team that cares just as much about the next generation as they do.

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