Aztec, Farmington educators make list of 16 finalists


FARMINGTON — Two local educators are among 16 teachers from five New Mexico communities chosen as finalists for the 2019 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching at elementary schools.

The annual award by the Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico “honors outstanding teachers for their exceptional work in helping students learn, think, and create,” the foundation said in a press release.

Cynthia Gustamantes of McCoy Avenue Elementary School in Aztec and Samantha Nelson of Esperanza Elementary School in Farmington were chosen.

Teachers face thorough review process

Nelson said today she does not know who nominated her. The fourth-grade teacher said she and her students are looking forward to a site visit by program judges later this month.

Award nominees are asked to answer many questions as part of the initial evaluation. Then their performance is evaluated through on-site investigation and evaluations.

"I'm excited to get to go to this point in the process," Nelson said. 

Nelson, who moved to New Mexico from Colorado, has taught second-, third- and fourth-graders. She has 11 years in the classroom. Although a degree in administration may be in her future, she said "I love the classroom right now."

While not counting any chickens before they hatch, Nelson has given some thought to how she would use professional development money that would come with this award should she be a winner. She's leaning toward incorporating more science into the curriculum.

More: Farmington teacher honored in statewide competition recognizing excellence

With Farmington supplying electronic devices for elementary students this year, she said her fourth-graders already have a technological advantage the kids didn't have last year.

"Every one of the kiddos has a laptop this year," Nelson said. "That has been amazing."

Gustamantes could not be reached for comment today.

Seven eventual winners

Seven teachers will be chosen from the finalists to be inducted into the Golden Apple Academy of Fellows. The award also comes with a professional development fund and a cash prize. 

Finalists were among many educators nominated by their communities and selected through a formal application process. There will be school site visits over the next few weeks from the Golden Apple Selection Committee to pick the seven winners.

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“Reaching this phase in the selection process is a real accomplishment," Golden Apple executive director Brian O'Connell said in the release. "These teachers deserve all the recognition they can get, and it will be very competitive to select the seven eventual recipients. We hope this process highlights some of the truly inspirational educators in our communities." 

The winners will be announced in November.

Other finalists are:

• Michael Anderson, Inez Elementary School, Albuquerque

• Brittany Behenna-Griffith, Nye Early Childhood Center, Santa Fe

• Bella Chandler, SY Jackson Elementary School, Albuquerque

• Jacqueline Cook, Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School, Albuquerque

• Sharon Eanes, Double Eagle Elementary School, Albuquerque

• Shelly Grim, Arts Academy at Bella Vista, Clovis

• Christi Hartley, Arts Academy at Bella Vista, Clovis

• Kimberly Henderson, Osuna Elementary School, Albuquerque

• Kristin Herrmann, North Star Elementary School, Albuquerque

• Amy Lauer, Monte Vista Elementary School, Albuquerque

• Roxanne Mitchell, Sandia Elementary School, Clovis

• Shari Stewart, Manzano Day School, Albuquerque

• Penny Voss, Manzano Day School, Albuquerque

• Stephanie Walstrom, Bandelier Elementary School, Albuquerque

The nomination process for the next set of awardees begins in December. Go to for more information.

John R. Moses is the editor of The Farmington Daily Times. He can be reached via email at or by phone at 505-564-4624.

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