Charlie Parnell Memorial Award for Excellence in Special Education

For 13 years, the Minnetonka Public Schools Foundation and the Parnell Family proudly honored compassionate teachers and staff members in the Minnetonka School District who went above and beyond to touch the life of a student with special needs.

The award honors the memory of Charlie Parnell, a dedicated parent and volunteer for Minnetonka Schools. When the Parnell family established the award, they intended it would last throughout the time their children attended Minnetonka Schools. The youngest Parnell, Ben, graduated last year with the Class of 2020, and so 2021 marked the final year of this award. To conclude the award’s history, the Parnell family presented the Charlie Parnell award to three educators in 2021.

Past award recipients

  • 2021 - Shelly Dekker, Adapted Physical Education Teacher, Districtwide (watch video)
  • 2021 - Taylor Moon, Special Education Teacher, Minnetonka High School (watch video)
  • 2021 - Janie Warner, Paraprofessional, Clear Springs Elementary (watch video)
  • 2020 - Kaari Cox, Special Education Teacher at Clear Springs Elementary
  • 2019 - Mary Miller, Districtwide (watch video)
  • 2018 - Susan Walker, Minnetonka High School (watch video)
  • 2017 - Kelly Kautz, Minnetonka High School (watch video)
  • 2016 - Sarah Koopman, MCEC
  • 2015 - Lisa Lund, Minnewashta
  • 2014 - Lindy Hanson, MCEC
  • 2013 - The Rainbow Room, MCEC
  • 2012 - Ford Thompson, First Student Transportation
  • 2011 - Tasha Chang, Minnetonka High School
  • 2010 - Kelly Pederson, Groveland Elementary
  • 2009 - Michelle MacKinney and Kim Wichterman

Award criteria

All teachers and staff members who worked with Minnetonka students with special needs were eligible for this award. 

Nomination process

Nominations for the Charlie Parnell Memorial Award for Excellence in Special Education were sunset after 2021.

The Charlie Parnell Award: History and Philosophy

by Amy Parnell

Charlie Parnell was a dedicated parent and volunteer in the Minnetonka School District who passed away in July 2006 at the untimely age of 40. He left behind his wife Amy and three children, Laura, Kelly and Ben who are students in the Minnetonka Schools.

Few parents, including Charlie and Amy, ever forget the moment their child was first diagnosed with a disability or special health care need. In their book, You Will Dream New Dreams, Stanley Klein and Kim Schive capture many of these feelings. "There is sadness, some dreams are lost. You will mourn, but you can heal. You will be happy again; you will dream new dreams."

Charlie loved being a dad and saw the beauty in what made each of his children unique, especially Kelly who was born with low muscle tone. Charlie and Kelly were alike in so many ways. With smiles and personalities that could light up a room, they shared the special gift of impacting everyone they have met. Charlie was a successful entrepreneur who was not afraid of hard work. Like Charlie, Kelly’s motivation and determination has enabled her to surpass all expectations. It takes a village to raise a child and Kelly is thriving in large part thanks to the support she has received from Minnetonka Public School District staff since she was four months old.

Students with special needs are often overlooked. Regardless of their specific disability or health care need, these kids have to work harder and overcome many obstacles to accomplish specific disability everyday things that able-bodied people take for granted. Charlie always saw every child and each special gift. His family would like to celebrate Charlie and his love for special kids by establishing a fund to honor Minnetonka staff members who touch the hearts of special kids while helping them achieve their dreams. These staff members can see beyond the disability or medical condition and see the real child.