A convoy of Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation members made surprise visits to three Columbus public schools Friday to announce the finalists for the Muscogee County School District’s 2017 Teacher of the Year award.
The finalists are:
▪ Tesharra Alexander, a sixth-grade English language arts teacher at Blackmon Road Middle School
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▪ Tabitha Ginther, an English language arts teacher for grades 10-11 at Northside High School.
▪ Shane Larkin, a social studies teacher for grades 9-12 at Early College Academy.
The convoy first stopped at Early College, where Larkin has taught since 2014 after a 2008-14 stint at Arnold Middle School. This is Larkin’s ninth year teaching. He retired from 10 years of service in the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant. He has two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and a specialist’s degree from Columbus State University.
MCSD Superintendent David Lewis congratulated the finalists via the video chat app FaceTime because he was out of town Friday to watch his daughter play with Jacksonville State University in a softball tournament.
“It’s an amazing honor,” Larkin told Lewis. “I thank my students for allowing me to have this honor.”
The teachers received a cake from the foundation and cheers from their students.
Referring to the foundation members, Larkin told his students, “You talk about community involvement in education, this is what changes education on the community level, on the national level, when all of these people get involved in your education.”
The convoy’s next stop was at Northside, where Ginther has taught since 2011 after a 2005-11 stint at St. Anne-Pacelli Catholic School. She has been a teacher for 12 years. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and specialist’s degrees from CSU and her doctorate from Mercer University.
Selection committee member Marquette McKnight, the foundation’s administrator and president of Media, Marketing & More, told Ginther’s students, “We are excited about recognizing and rewarding outstanding teachers and the great things that they do with students like y’all.”
Ginther gestured toward her students and said, “These guys are the real celebrities. They’re the ones who come in every day and do most of the work.”
In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer, she added, “I’m very humbled. I’m so glad to represent Northside and the amazing students and teachers here. This is a fantastic school, fantastic community and family.”
The convoy’s last stop was at Blackmon Road, where Alexander has taught since 2015 after stints at East Columbus Magnet Academy (2008-15) and Merry Acres Middle School in Dougherty County. She is in her 16th year as a teacher. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Albany State University and her specialist’s degree from Argosy University.
As she FaceTimed with Lewis, she told the superintendent, “I hope I make you proud.”
Lewis replied, “You make us proud.”
Alexander told the Ledger-Enquirer the surprise announcement was “overwhelming.”
“I’m so glad to be able to share this opportunity with my students,” she said. “They’ve been waiting on it. They’ve been with me every step of the way, so it’s been amazing.”
The faculty at each of MCSD’s 56 schools and centers nominated a teacher to represent them and compete for the award. After the nominees were announced in January, MEEF’s selection committee members chose 10 semifinalists in February, based on applications.
The committee members interviewed the semifinalists to determine the three finalists. They will observe the finalists teaching in their classrooms Tuesday to select the winner, who will be announced during the foundation’s annual gala, May 4 in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
Coalition for Sound Growth coordinator Carole Rutland, a retired teacher and retired executive director of the Columbus State University Coca-Cola Space Science Center, chairs the selection committee. Along with McKnight, the other members are 2015 MCSD Teacher of the Year Sheryl Green of Jordan Vocational High School, Sendreka Lakes of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, Allen McMullen of McMullen Funeral Home, Daniel Parker of Coldwell Banker, Theresa Robertson of Outdoor Events, Gwen Ruff of Columbus Water Works, Mike Venable of Columbus and the Valley/Valley Parent magazines and David White of Troy University-Phenix City.
Asked why the committee selected Alexander, Ginther and Larkin as the finalists, McKnight told the Ledger-Enquirer, “You could go with any of the top 10. I mean, they are all such strong teachers. But I think what struck most of the committee is that these three teachers are very vociferous about being continual learners, not only in what they learn from their students but their deep desire and need to push themselves to learn more, whether it’s about pedagogy or how you use data or how kids learn, so they can be even better teachers.”
The finalists also “take data analysis to the nth degree,” McKnight said. “They talked very specifically in their interview and their application about how they use data to change their instruction, depending on what their students are and are not learning. They customize it as much as humanly possible.”
In its 21-year history, MEEF has awarded educators more than $2.1 million through the Teacher of the Year, Harvard Fellows and other programs or grants, McKnight said.
If you go
What: Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation gala, including the announcement of the Muscogee County School District 2017 Teacher of the Year.
When: May 4, 6 p.m. reception, 6:45 p.m. dinner and program.
Where: Columbus Convention & Trade Center, 801 Front Ave.
Tickets: $40, on sale April 10-14 at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts box office, 900 Broadway.