Sheryl Green of Jordan High School is the Muscogee County School District 2015 Teacher of the Year.
The Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation announced the winner during its annual gala Thursday night, attended by a crowd of approximately 875 in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
Green teaches English to dual-enrollment students who earn credit at Columbus Technical College. She also teaches 10th-grade literature.
Columbus Councilor Judy Thomas, the foundation's chairwoman, asked Green to "say a few words" to the audience, which was giving her a standing ovation.
"Wow! That's a few letters," Green said wryly. Then she continued in a more serious tone.
"I am truly humbled to be in the presence of so many outstanding educators and to be in a room full of so many people who value what teachers do," she said. "What a tremendous honor and what a vast responsibility it is to represent my colleagues of Muscogee County. And it is a responsibility I do not take lightly.
"I have a great vision for what this position can be, and I'm thrilled and excited to get to work. I do appreciate the trust that the selection has placed in me, and I will work tirelessly to make sure I live up to that trust."
The other two finalists are Oliver Ellis, a seventh-grade science teacher at Fort Middle School, and Isiah Harper, a theater teacher at Northside High School.
The foundation's selection committee chose Green among the 56 teachers who were announced in January as the nominees from their school. After reading the applications, the committee announced the 10 semifinalists in March. Along with Green, Ellis and Harper, they are:
Pagianna Boykin, Dorothy Height Elementary School, fourth-grade math
Beth Horner, Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy, kindergarten
Karen McDavid, Midland Academy, third grade
Jeffrey Pearce, Columbus High School, chemistry and physics
Lynn Robertson, Aaron Cohn Middle School, seventh-grade science
Ebony Robinson, North Columbus Elementary School, third grade
Aleatha Thrush, Britt David Magnet Academy, art.
The committee interviewed the semifinalists and announced three finalists in April. To decide the winner, committee members then observed the finalists teaching in their classrooms.
Carole Rutland, retired executive director of the Columbus State University Coca-Cola Space Science Center, chairs the committee. She was impressed that Green gave her lesson plan to the committee members before they visited her classroom.
Rutland, a former teacher and now the coordinator of the Coalition for Sound Growth, wrote this about Green after observing the lesson: "An outstanding talent demonstrated by Sheryl was her ability to fully engage the entire classroom in critical thinking, collaboratively pursing the meaning and power of words through analytical thought, drawing the students into discussion through their own views and experiences, thereby sharpening their understanding, as steel sharpens steel, to hone an ongoing desire to learn and embrace a future, where they will have a meaningful significance."
No wonder all of Green's dual-enrollment students are on track to earn that college credit.
Although she is passionate about her subject, her object is to motivate her students to pursue their passions. She wrote in her application, "As a teacher, I vow to help each individual student see something greater outside the four walls of my classroom and then strive with relentless pursuit to reach those aspirations. More importantly, however, I hold the philosophy that sometimes, just maybe, preparing a youngster for the world involves much more than perfection on an essay about 'The Canterbury Tales.'"
Green also advises the yearbook staff and coaches girls soccer at Jordan, where she has worked since 2013. Her previous teaching stops include Hardaway High School and the cities of Social Circle, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., and Vienna, Austria. She earned a bachelor's degree in English from High Point University in 1995, a master's degree in teaching from Lauder University in 1999 and a specialist's degree in teacher leadership from Piedmont College in 2012. She is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Green won this award two nights after standing on the Bill Heard Theatre stage as one of three finalists for another education honor, the Sara Spano Top Teacher, during the Ledger-Enquirer's Page One Awards, which recognize outstanding local high school seniors and teachers. This time, she took home the first-place prize.
"To my biological family and my school family, what a team effort this was," Green said. "And we did it."
Along with Rutland, the selection committee members are: Rodney Close, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Chattahoochee Valley chief executive officer; Steve Davis, Columbus Water Works president; Kim Lester, the 2013 Teacher of the Year when she taught at Britt David (now at St. Elmo); Marquette McKnight, Media Marketing and More chief executive officer and the foundation's administrator; Joe Mills, the 2002 Teacher of the Year when he taught at Johnson Elementary (now an educational consultant at the Center for the Collaborative Classroom); Bill Murphy, Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce executive vice president for economic development; and Warren Steele, Columbus Regional Health Board of Directors chairman.
The foundation awarded each nominee $100, each semifinalist $500, each finalist $1,000 and the winner $5,000 plus the honor of being celebrated on a Bell Media billboard. The semifinalists also received a movie pass for a year from Carmike Cinemas.
MEEF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering educational excellence by helping and honoring innovative and effective teachers. In its 19-year history, the foundation has awarded more than $1.9 million through the Teacher of the Year, STEM-T3, Harvard Fellows and Harvard Project Zero programs, as well as grants.