The Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation announced Thursday the 10 semifinalists for the 2018 Teacher of the Year award in the Muscogee County School District.
▪ Amanda Hefner, Columbus High School, honors biology, ninth grade.
▪ Kimberly Evans, Double Churches Middle School, English language arts, grades 6-8.
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▪ Dawnell Jacobs, Early College Academy, literature and composition, ninth grade.
▪ Jennifer Richardson, Hannan Elementary Magnet Academy, math and science, fourth grade.
▪ Susan Elder, Johnson Elementary School, special education, K-5.
▪ Florence Evermon, Key Elementary School, special education, K-5.
▪ Melanie Gouine, North Columbus Elementary School, reading and social studies, grades 4-5.
▪ Kristan Macphail, Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts, English language arts and literature, grades 6-9.
▪ Libby Bonin-Campos, Rigdon Road Elementary School, special education, pre-kindergarten.
▪ Lindsey Woods, Veterans Memorial Middle School, science, grades 7-8.
The staff at each of MCSD’s 57 schools nominated a teacher to compete for the award. MEEF announced the nominees Jan. 31. The foundation’s selection committee members evaluated their applications and chose the 10 semifinalists to interview. They will choose three finalists to observe teaching before announcing the winner during the May 3 gala in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
MEEF’s 2018 Teacher of the Year selection committee members are chairman Warren Steele (retired senior vice president for U.S. marketing at Aflac), Carl Brown (insurance agent, C. Brown & Associates), Sheryl Green (English teacher, Jordan Vocational High School, 2015 MCSD Teacher of the Year), Kerry Hand (retired CEO of Communicorp), Donna Kemp (retired MCSD principal), Stefan Lawrence (English teacher, Carver High School, 2016 MCSD Teacher of the Year), Bridget Markwood (education consultant), Marquette McKnight (CEO of Media, Marketing and More) and Jimmy Yancey (retired Synovus chairman).
A common characteristic among the 10 semifinalists, Steele said in a phone interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, is that their applications make it clear they consider their profession to be a calling.
“A lot of them are religious, so it’s God pulling them to be a teacher, or, even the ones who aren’t religious, they are drawn to teach,” said Steele, who also chairs the Columbus Regional Health board. “They are so passionate about kids.”
Another community service role in Steele’s retirement has familiarized him with some of the challenges teachers face. He is the local chapter chairman of the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, a Madison, Ga.-based nonprofit organization that provides free books for preschool children. That’s why he especially appreciates another common characteristic among theses semifinalists.
“Amazingly, they know there are challenges, but they thrive on and are excited about teaching kids who are troubled,” Steele said.
Those challenges include teaching children who are homeless, children who must work to help their family pay the bills, children who come from homes or neighborhoods plagued by violence, and children whose parents are dead or in jail, he said.
“They know they need to teach the whole child,” Steele said. “A couple of them said they need to reach out and grab their heart before they can teach them a lesson.”
These teachers do that by using a variety of approaches, such as games, projects and technology, and by using a variety of seating arrangements, such as yoga balls, benches and mats, Steele said.
“It’s no longer just the teacher in front of the room giving a lecture,” he said.
All of which made their applications inspiring to read, Steele said.
“A lot of these teachers say they know they’re touching these kids forever,” he said. “A lot of them say students come back years later and say, ‘Thank you for getting me to understand what my future could be.’”
Early College Academy social studies teacher Shane Larkin won the 2017 award.
MEEF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering educational excellence by focusing on teachers who are innovative and exceptionally effective in their profession. In its 22-year history, the foundation has awarded more than $2.2 million to such educators through financial incentives in the Teacher of the Year program, the Harvard Fellows program, the MEEF Grant program, the MEEF Endowment Fund and the STEM T3 program.
IF YOU GO
What: Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation annual gala, where the Muscogee County School District 2018 Teacher of the Year nominees will be honored and the winner will be announced.
When: May 3; reception starts at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:45 p.m.
Where: Columbus Convention & Trade Center, 801 Front Ave.
Tickets: $45; on sale March 26 through April 13 at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts box office, 900 Broadway.
Info: Media, Marketing and More, 706-660-9702.