The Pinnacle Awards celebrate the work of outstanding individuals whose original solutions maximize resources and enhance student achievement.

Congratulations to the 2022 Pinnacle Award recipients—innovators in school business management!


Pinnacle of Excellence Award Recipient

Charles W. Warren, CPA, SFO
Chief Financial Officer
Fort Smith Public Schools
Fort Smith, AR

The renovation of two high schools in Fort Smith meant no food service for either high school for the 2020–2021 school year. The district looked outside the school campuses for solutions and found one at a church, centrally located between the two high schools, with a commercial-sized kitchen that could accommodate meal preparation. The district made equipment upgrades and repairs to the church’s kitchen; the church charged rent merely to cover the utility costs.

The district purchased two cargo vans to deliver the hot meals to the high schools. Cold meals were prepared in temporary buildings on campus that were fitted with dishwashing sinks, cold food storage, and final meal prep stations. Students ate meals in the school hallways and classrooms.

Although the pandemic exacerbated the school renovation headaches, the creative temporary offsite kitchen kept students well-fed and grounded in the middle of all the chaos.

Pinnacle of Achievement Award Recipients

Jason P. Demerath, CSRM, SFO
Director of Business Services
School District of Fort Atkinson
Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin

Communicating to the public the complex financial information surrounding federal COVID relief funds is a challenge all districts are facing. To meet that challenge, the Fort Atkinson School District created an online dashboard that includes short videos outlining the funding and possible uses, links to state and federal information about the funding, and interactive charts and pictures to illustrate how the district is using the funding. The dashboard also included a survey in both English and Spanish to gather stakeholder feedback on how they believed these funds should be invested to benefit students.

The district added a social worker at each of the elementary, middle, and high school levels, as well as math interventionists and coaches. These positions were allocated to ESSER funding, freeing nearly $1.5 million in operational dollars.

Jim Westrum, CPA, SFO
Executive Director of Business Services
Orono Public Schools
Orono, Minnesota

The pandemic, labor shortages, and inflation have made ensuring safe, affordable student transportation challenging for many school districts. When negotiating with their current transportation contractor, the Orono Public Schools used interest-based negotiations. District leaders, students, parents, and the bus company staff collaborated to develop mutually beneficial terms. The multifaceted process requires participants to take a whole-system view and develop a mutually beneficial contract.

In the end, the process paid dividends to the students and families of the district. It addressed driver shortages; ensured reliable, safe student transportation for the next four years; garnered significant financial savings to the district’s general fund; and increased parent use of tracking software. Perhaps the most impressive outcome is the financial savings of almost $300,000, which Westrum says can be directed to student instruction.

Mark Wilsey, MBA, CEM, SFO
Bond Officer
Harrison School District 2
Colorado Springs, Colorado

After passing a large bond encompassing a tear-down rebuild of a middle school, two major complex additions, and renovations at every school in the district, Harrison School District 2 leaders realized traditional methods would not ensure the successful completion of the projects. The district developed a unique integrated project delivery process that included city building and planning departments, the city fire department, and other state and local agencies on high-performing teams.

The IPD approach allowed the teams the flexibility to start design early, bring on subs as needed to work with the design team, identify long lead items and order early, work with the city building and planning departments to ensure review processes and inspections were completed as scheduled, and overcome the many obstacles created by COVID. All projects were completed early/on time and under budget.

Pinnacle Project Summaries