The Tifton Rotary Club honored the 12 recipients of this year’s Excellence in Teaching Awards Feb. 20. The Tift County Foundation for Educational Excellence (TCFEE) has been “tapping” Tift County’s finest for 23 straight years.
One hundred Rotarians and guests gathered at the Tiftarea Conference Center for a delightful evening. Rotary President Andy Borem presided, Dr. Wayne Roe offered the blessing and TCFEE President Tammy Griffin formally thanked the Tifton Rotary Clubfor underwriting the event. As all were enjoying the dessert course, The 8th Street Singing Company – directed by Joanie Davis – filled the room with song, beautifully and enthusiastically delivered.
The main event followed with the BOE Public Relations Director Stacey Beckham reading with masterful intonation comments from each recipient’s nomination letter as they were called forward to receive a plaque and a $250 check amidst thunderous applause.
All seven school board Mmembers and Superintendent Patrick Atwater were among the cheering fans of outstanding teachers. Eight former winners were also present, four of whom were now principals in our schools.
A special thanks goes to the Tifton Council of Garden Clubs for the lovely flowers and books decorating the table. The books have been donated to the Tift County Public Library.
The 12 award winners are listed by school, subject and/or grade level. This brings the total number of teachers honored to 239. Honored teachers included Myra Smith, Darah Wells and Valerie Poppell, Tift County Pre-K; Stacy Jones, Eighth Street Middle, seventh grade math; susan Nimmo, Annie Belle Clark, third grade; Shonta Walker, Omega, fifth grade; Dana Foster, Len Lasting, K-3 GATE resource; Pinkey Barr, Northside, third grade; Debbie Whitehead, G.O. Bailey, kindergarten; Patti Barber, TCHS, AP Science; Debbie Salter, TCHS, Literature/ELA; and Shelley Fandel, TCHS, U.S. History/Social Studies.
Comments about each of the winners, as spoken the night of the dinner, are as follows:
• Myra Smith is one of those teachers you hope your child gets to have. She is admired by her peers, parents and administration for her dedication to literacy and maybe even more important for a Pre-K teacher, her calm demeanor and never-ending patience with her students.
One parent commented, “Whenever I visited her classroom, I was instantly hooked on the behavior of her students. All 22 were always attentive, polite and respectful to each other. This was also reflected by Mrs. Smith to her students. She never raised her voice, she never said negative comments to them, and she was always available for a hug or to wipe a tear away.” She added that “I can only imagine all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into planning to spend eight hours a day with 22 4 and 5-year-olds, but her love for the job and the passion she shares to see her students succeed are extremely obvious. My child now has a very firm educational start to help him excel in his future because of Mrs. Smith.”
Our Pre-K Center Director Wanda Veazey summed Mrs. Smith up perfectly: “She truly is in the profession she was born to fulfill-educating young children.”
• Darah Wells is already the Teacher of the Year for our Pre-K Center, and for good reason. Wanda Veazey said “Mrs. Wells is a great inclusion teacher. Her strength lies in her ability to take each student as they enter her classroom and individually move them forward to reach the fullest of each of their potentials. Her students and teachers adore her for this talent.”
A parent of one of her students experienced first-hand what a difference Mrs. Wells could make. “My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s a year ago. Mrs. Wells has been very helpful in finding ways she could assist him. There was one incident in particular that really touched me. I came to eat lunch with him one day and had to leave afterwards, which was my son’s naptime. He started really crying for me not to leave which, of course, upset me, too. Mrs. Wells told me not to worry, that he would be fine. Shortly after I left, I received a message from her telling me that he was fine. She had rubbed his back until he fell asleep. Right then, I knew her job was more to her that just being a teacher. It meant loving each child as her own and doing what each one needed every day. It is always a great feeling knowing someone loves your child like you do.”
• A Pre-K teacher, Valerie Poppell is described as incredibly organized and very tech-savy. Wanda Veazey said “She moves her students into the technology age through power points, iPads and lessons on smart boards.” While she’s focused in the areas of technology and planning, she still has her students’ individual needs at heart.
One parent wrote: “Mrs. Poppell has really done a wonderful job teaching my son. She’s taken time to individually help him, as we both knew he was developmentally delayed and possibly autistic. We love her because she always keeps me aware of any issues with my son-good or bad. He has had a blast with her and my family is very pleased and honored to have had her as his teacher.”
• Stacy Jones is currently teaching seventh grade math at Eighth Street Middle School. Mrs. Jones was nominated by several of her students. They said she really helps them understand math by telling them stories they can use to remember things by, that she gets on their level, but still keeps them in check. But there was one thing that seemed to matter to them more than making the subject material accessible. They said when one of their friend’s parents were going through a divorce, Mrs. Jones just sat and talked with him more than an hour. “They said “She is always there for us, and better yet, we can go to her for anything.”
One of her other nominees was a parent of a former student. Here’s what she had to say about Mrs. Jones. “Sometimes certain people come along that change your life forever. Stacey Jones did just that. She may not realize this, but she impacted my daughter’s life more than she will ever know. Math had always been my child’s least favorite and hardest subject, until Mrs. Jones anyway. My daughter is also painfully shy, and I have always struggled to get her to open up. This was the first year she ever came home and talked to me so openly about things going on at school. Every day it included something about Mrs. Jones. I am grateful that she made learning fun, made school interesting and ‘broke math down’ to a middle schooler’s age level. Teachers like her are the ones that change the lives of children like mine.”
• Susan Nimmo is a third grade teacher at Annie Belle Clark. She is an enthusiastic teacher who brings life to the classroom. Her parents rave about the manner in which she interacts with the students. Her Principal Stephanie Morrow said how impressed she always is with Mrs. Nimmo’s instruction techniques. She does a great job bringing the curriculum to life for the students.
One particular parent said her knack for communication with students and parents and her compassion are what really make her stand out. She said once her son had an asthma attack in class and the caring and concern Mrs. Nimmo showed for her child touched her heart. Knowing that you never have to worry about your child’s well-being makes everything better.
• Shonta Walker teaches fifth grade at Omega Elementary, and she is currently the Tift County Teacher of the Year. She also is serving on State School Superintendent John Barge’s Teacher Advisory Council. One of her nominees said when she thinks of Mrs. Walker, “Leadership comes to mind. Not only does she serves as grade chairperson for fifth grade, but her classroom as been used on numerous occasions as a model classroom for other teachers. In addition, she consistently challenges her GATE students to exceed on the CRCT test. Last year, her class met the challenge, and as promised, Mrs. Walker proudly kept up her end of the bargain and wore blue hair to work for an entire week.
Principal Victoria Melton described her as “an excellent classroom teacher who has superb interaction with her students. She communicates well with her parents and colleagues while being a good leader and a great team player.”
• Dana Foster is the gifted resource teacher at Len Lastinger Primary School. She’s known for her larger-than-life projects and over-the-top, decorated, theme rooms each year. Her Principal Richard Fisher said parents adore her and a unique thing about Mrs. Foster is that her work benefits all students in the building, not just ones in her classroom.
One parent was lucky enough to have all three of her children in Mrs. Foster’s class. This is what she had to say: “In addition to teaching her students subjects about which they loved learning, she has taught them the importance of taking risks in the classroom, of working together with others and being respectful of their fellow students, teachers and adults. She has taught them to be proud of and take responsibility for their work. She has taught them to be confident, to find and be thankful for their own individual strengths and to utilize the gifts and talents they have been given. She has always remembered they are children and has made school fun for them, while encouraging a love of learning. She is not an outgoing person, but she truly relates to the children, and they feel safe and important in her presence.”
• Pinkey Barr teaches second grade at Northside Primary School. One parent wrote that Mrs. Barr had made a huge difference in her son’s life. She said her son’s weak point in school was reading. When he started the year with Mrs. Barr, he was at the lowest level she was teaching. As the year progressed, she gave the parents ideas of things they could do at home to help him improve. As time went on, they all were able to see such a difference in him. By the end of the year, he was benchmarked at the highest level she could have him. This parent said “Because of Mrs. Pinkey Barr, my son was able to move on with confidence.”
Principal Kelly Pearson added that Mrs. Barr is wonderful about keeping her parents informed about what’s going on in her class. She always has an open door policy with her parents which is a crucial piece of the puzzle for every student’s success.
• Debbie Whitehead is a teacher at G.O. Bailey Primary School where she has been a fixture on the kindergarten hallway. When it comes to making sure her students are progressing, there is absolutely nothing that can hold her back. She believes in her students, and it shows. She is much more likely to bring a student to the office to show off an accomplishment than to ask for help with behavior. She believes every student that walks in her door is capable of the very best work in the county. Principal Rose Wilhite even said she’s heard it said that Mrs. Whitehead could even teach a rock to read. Mrs. Wilhite added that “Her optimism makes her an inspiring partner in school projects, and her willingness to pitch in and stick with a job until it is completed makes her a very popular and valuable member of our school faculty.”
She is never satisfied with great teaching. She is only after great learning. Her laughter and tireless efforts even while facing adversity in her life have made her a standout to peers and parents alike. Because of all these qualities she has been described as nothing less than a force of nature.
• Patti Barber teaches science, including anatomy, at Tift County High School. Recently a former student who is now in medical school talked to another teacher in our system. She told her that everything she knew about anatomy, she learned from Patti Barber. She said college and medical school had been a review because of her.
Principal Kim Seigler had this to say about her: “Mrs. Barber is a teacher who demands excellence from her students. She sets high standards and pushes students to rise to her expectations. She is always bringing interesting creatures into her classroom-snakes, frogs, insects-for students to observe, and even the occasional ‘road-kill’ for dissection. Mrs. Barber truly believes that her calling is teaching, and she is always educating students about the world around them.”
• Debbie Salter teaches AP Language classes at our high school. A regular STAR teacher, she is loved by her students. One of her nominees said Mrs. Salter introduced her to the subtle world of literature and didn’t think a novel had ever had such an impact on her before Mrs. Salter’s class. She added that “I’d like to think that her class gave me the tools to be both a better reader and a better consumer. Before Mrs. Salter, I never enjoyed literature. But after her class, I gained a whole new perspective on society and academia.”
Seigler said Mrs. Salter is the epitome of an excellent educator. She spends her day challenging students in her AP language classes and in the evening she teaches review classes during the 21st Century Afterschool program. Watching her side-by-side with these struggling students in her caring, supportive manner warms the heart.
• Dr. Shelly Fandel teaches history at Tift County High School and also serves on State School Superintendent John Barge’s Teacher Advisory Council. She worked as a professor at Darton College and as an admission counselor at ABAC before coming to Tift County High. And since she joined our system teaching AP US History, enrollment in the class has continued to grow-growth than can very much be contributed to Dr. Fandel.
Seigler said Dr. Fandel’s AP US History classrooms are always buzzing with activity. She reaches far beyond the textbook to bring her subject to life. Mrs. Seigler said she never knows what special guest may be coming to visit Dr. Fandel’s classroom. Her students are always highly engaged in the lesson and interested in what they are learning. In addition to teaching, Dr. Fandel coaches the Academic Quiz Bowl Team and is an official scorer for the national AP US History test. And as I’m sure they’ll gladly tell you, her students’ parents love and respect everything she does for them.