Muscogee County announces 2014 Teacher of the Year

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMay 1, 2014 

Brandy Sipling, a second-grade teacher at Midland Academy, is the 2014 Teacher of the Year in the Muscogee County School District.

The Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation, which conducts the district's Teacher of the Year program, announced the winner Thursday night during its annual gala, attended by a record crowd of 967, in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.

The foundation also honored retired Columbus State University president Frank Brown with the Jim Buntin Award for Excellence in Education.

Sipling didn’t make an acceptance speech. But after posing for photos, she said, “I think I just couldn’t say any more words today.”

She was “completely spellbound” when her name was announced. She called it “an amazing honor.”

“My second-graders have been counting the days,” she said. “They were like, ‘You’ve already won.’”

Sipling, a 14-year educator, thanked her supporters for helping her reach this moment.

“I’ve had a wonderful set of mentors here in the county,” she said. “I’ve done my entire teaching career here, and without those folks I wouldn’t be standing here.”

While announcing the Teacher of the Year, foundation chairwoman Betsy Covington read some of the comments the selection committee wrote after visiting Sipling's classroom.

"It was, at first, impossible to find the teacher," Covington said. "Students were spread across the room, in twos, threes or even by themselves. Everyone was busy working and learning, and there was a quiet hum of involvement and sharing -- sitting on the floor, around centers of activity, or engaged with other students, while the teacher was leading a small reading group. Everyone knew what to do, where to do it and how to do it. … The students were excited. They were interested. They were enthusiastic and engaged. They were learning."

According to the foundation's news release, Sipling said in her interview with the selection committee, "My teaching philosophy is rooted in the fact that I love my students and I want them to know it. They are my kids from the moment they walk into our classroom until the day I take my last breath."

Bruce Fussell, a special-education teacher at Allen Elementary School, and Laura Perryman, a math teacher at Blackmon Road Middle School, are the other Teacher of the Year finalists.

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 are: 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; and Amanda Reynolds, Aaron Cohn Middle.

The selection committee interviewed the semifinalists and chose three finalists. Committee members observed the finalists teaching in their classrooms to determine the winner.

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.

The foundation awarded $100 to each nominee, $500 to the semifinalists, $1,000 to the finalists and $5,000 to the winner. The semifinalists also received an annual movie pass from Carmike Cinemas and a rafting trip from Whitewater Express. A Bell Media digital billboard will honor Sipling as the winner.

In addition to the Teacher of the Year program, the foundation also supports teachers by issuing grants and paying for them to attend professional development sessions at Harvard University.

In its 18-year history, the foundation has given more than $1.6 million to "outstanding and innovative" teachers in the district, said Helena Coates of Media, Marketing and More, which servers as the foundation's administrator.

Buntin Award

Lee Brantley, chairman of the foundation's Buntin Award selection committee, presented the honor to Brown.

"The foundation only gives this award when we find the individual who has lived up to its tenants of advocating for excellence in education and has gone above and beyond to make a difference in education," said Brantley, retired WTVM general manager.

Brantley highlighted Brown’s educational career: CSU attained university status, grew enrollment and expanded its campus under his guidance; he led CSU into partnerships with the school district; and he helped start the foundation, its $1 million endowment and served on its board.

The award is named after Jim Buntin, former superintendent of the school district, who was among the foundation's founders. He was the first recipient in 1999, followed by: Jack Goldfrank, retired president of Mead Westvaco's Center for Packaging Innovation; the late David Rothschild II, philanthropist and school board member; Guy Sims, retired school district superintendent; John Greenman, retired Ledger-Enquirer publisher; Meridith Jarrell, chairwoman of the Muscogee County Library Board; Teddie Ussery, former foundation chairwoman; and Cavezza, who also was Fort Benning commanding general and Columbus city manager.

“I will tell you what each of those recipients would tell you as well,” Brown said. “Nobody does anything by himself or herself in Columbus. This is a teamwork, leadership, partnership city, and I’ve been privileged to be the partner of many people on many projects through the years.”

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkRiceLE.

BRANDY SIPLING

Experience: Second-grade teacher, Midland Academy, 2006-present; first-grade teacher, Eastway Elementary School, 2001-06; Title I reading teacher, Eastway Elementary School, 2000-01.

Education: Advanced degrees in elementary education, Troy University, specialist's in 2005 and master's in 2002; bachelor's degree in early childhood education, LaGrange College, 2000.

Professional activities: Endorsements in gifted education, 2007-08, and mentoring, 2010-11; model classroom teacher for Cornerstone Literacy, 2010-12; served on MCSD taskforces for Muscogee County Way Phonics, 2012, and Student Learning Objectives in English Language Arts, 2013.

Community activities: Columbus Youth Soccer Association coach, 2002-05; Columbus State University Math Collaborative teacher, 2003-04; St. Luke United Methodist Church Vacation Bible School teacher, 2009-10; Relay for Life team member, 2007-11.

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