Teacher of the Year finalists announced in Muscogee County

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 18, 2014 

The finalists for the 2014 Teacher of the Year award in the Muscogee County School District were announced Tuesday.

The three finalists are:

• Bruce Fussell, Allen Elementary School, fourth and fifth grades

• Laura Perryman, Blackmon Road Middle School, eighth-grade math

• Brandy Sipling, Midland Academy, second grade.

The Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation conducts the district's Teacher of the Year program. The faculty at each of the district's 57 schools nominated a teacher. The foundation's selection committee read the nominees' applications and chose 10 semifinalists.

The other semifinalists announced earlier this month were:

• Yolanda Arnold, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary

• Dolly Baker, Spencer High

• Darlene Cook, Arnold Magnet Academy

• Tamara Garner, Northside High

• Bethany Getz, Forrest Road Elementary

• Robert Harris, Jordan High

• Amanda Reynolds, Aaron Cohn Middle

The selection committee interviewed the semifinalists to name the finalists. Committee members will observe the finalists teaching in their classrooms to determine the winner, which will be announced during the foundation's annual gala, May 1, in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.

RiverWay South executive director Carole Rutland, a retired educator and former director of the Columbus State University Coca-Cola Space Science Center, is chairwoman of the selection committee. Other members are: Crystal Shahid, senior commercial credit analyst at Synovus and chairwoman of Partners in Education; Barbara Buckner, dean of CSU's College of Education and Health Professions; Vincent Sneed, 2012 MCSD Teacher of the Year and Hardaway High band director; Paul Hampton, a Columbus High drama and math teacher when named 2011 MCSD Teacher of the Year, now the magnet program's director; retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza, chairman of the National Infantry Foundation; Larry Sanders, retired chief executive officer of Columbus Regional Health; and David White, vice chancellor of Troy University.

Rutland called all of the semifinalists “outstanding” teachers. What set the finalists apart in her mind, she said, was showing the best evidence of working beyond their expected duties to educate their students.

For example, Rutland said, one teacher visited the home of a student who was crying after being asked why he habitually failed to finish his homework. The teacher learned that one parent had an alcohol problem and another was abusing other drugs.

“The teacher started cutting the student’s homework requirement down a little so he didn’t have to face as much at home,” Rutland said. “He probably realized that the teacher cared about him, so he tried more and struggled through his homework to finish it, and he’s apparently doing fine now and at the level he should be.”

Rutland summed up the significance of that story: “We’re not looking for the smartest teachers necessarily but rather teachers that are unique for the setting in which they work every single day.”

The foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering educational excellence by focusing on teachers who are innovative and exceptionally effective. Since its inception 18 years ago, the foundation has awarded more than $1,650,000 to such educators through the Teacher of the Year program and grants. Those grants include helping teachers to receive more technology and learn how to better use it in the classroom, as well as a summer session of professional development at Harvard University.

IF YOU GO

What: Muscogee County School District 2014 Teacher of the Year gala

When: May 1; reception starts at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m.

Where: Columbus Convention & Trade Center

Tickets: $35, on sale April 14-25 at the Springer Opera House box office

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