Kim Lester of Britt David Elementary Magnet Academy was named the Muscogee County School District 2013 Teacher of the Year during Thursday night’s gala in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
“I cannot wait to tell the kids tomorrow,” Lester gushed when she stepped to the microphone and her standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 800 subsided.
Lester has been teaching at Britt David since 2010. She also has taught at two other Muscogee County elementary schools: Downtown from 2006-2010 and South Columbus from 2002-2006.
Lester said she was honored to be in the company of the other finalists: Hardaway High School science teacher Brenda Howell and Gentian Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Ellen Lane. She also congratulated all of the 59 nominees.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to tell everybody what a great profession this is,” she said. “Being a teacher is the best. I know we take some flak, but it really is a wonderful job.”
In her application, Lester wrote, “Education today is about bringing the world closer to our students’ lives and turning subjects that may have once been mundane textbook fodder into relevant learning models that inspire children to take lessons further and deeper than ever before.
“Teaching in this climate requires not just a command of Common Core Curriculum standards but an understanding of human nature and the responsibilities that come with being an influential part of a child’s life.”
Lee Brantley, chairman of the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation, which conducts MCSD’s Teacher of the Year program, read from the selection committee’s comments about why Lester was chosen:
“The classroom had an air of excitement the minute we walked into the room. She created a safe environment where creativity and curiosity are welcome. While observing this teacher, we could feel her energy and passion for her work. More importantly, the students were learning. They were fully engaged with all their senses.
“ This teacher demonstrated multiple techniques, allowing her students to explore different ways of learning. She made the learning personal. It was clear to the judges that this teacher would be a wonderful representative of Muscogee County’s finest.”
The foundation’s selection committee chose the finalists after interviewing the 10 semifinalists out of 59 applicants, who were nominated by their respective schools. To determine the winner, committee members observed the finalists while they taught in their classrooms.
The other semifinalists were: Ronda Allen, Arnold Magnet Academy, language arts Benjamin Foust, St. Elmo Center for the Gifted, creativity Christy Grigsby, Early College Academy, English/language arts Stephanie Marley, Brewer Elementary School, kindergarten Rodolfo Perez, Baker Middle School, special education Jennifer Sappington, Northside High School, civics, U.S. history and world history Carol Wink, Clubview Elementary School, physical education.
Janet Davis, TIC Federal Credit Union, is chairwoman of the selection committee. The other members are Travis Chambers, ERA Elite Ventures Realty; Tom Titus, retired from Columbus Regional Healthcare System; Tom Hackett, Columbus State University; Debbie Caballero, Girl Scouts, Partners in Education; Colby Cardin, Columbus Bank and Trust; and past Teacher of the Year winners Debra Everett of Spencer High, Christine Powell of Northside High and Paul Hampton of Columbus High.
The foundation awarded prizes of $100 to each nominee, $500 to each semifinalist and $1,000 to each finalist. As the winner, Lester received $5,000 and will be featured on a billboard.
The foundation has given more than $1.5 million in 17 years to innovative teachers through the Teacher of the Year program, grants, an endowment fund and professional development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The crowd also saw retired Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza receive the Jim Buntin Award for Excellence in Education. The award is given to a community leader who advocates excellence in education. It is named in honor of the retired Muscogee County superintendent who helped start the foundation.
Betsy Covington, the foundation’s chairwoman-elect, presented Cavezza the award, which is given not necessarily every year but when the foundation finds someone who has “gone above and beyond a traditional volunteer role to promote excellence in our schoold district,” she said.
Cavezza’s past positions include Fort Benning commanding general, executive director of the Columbus ‘96 Olympic softball committee, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports & Events Council, Columbus city manager and executive director of the Columbus State University Cunningham Center for Leadership Development. Covington said Cavezza’s leadership in education has been behind the scenes but pivotal. He helped establish the Columbus Public Library and enabled Muscogee County's high school graduation ceremonies to move to the Columbus Civic Center. He also was a dependable liaison between the school board and city council, she said.
Covington praised Cavezza for “his gentle nature, ability to achieve swift action, strong support of education and leadership.”