These MCSD teachers are 2019 Harvard Fellows, selected for a free week of learning

How the Harvard Fellows Program helps strengthen MCSD teachers

Marquette McKnight, executive director of the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation, and Superintendent David Lewis talk about the importance of the Harvard Fellows Program. MeeF announced the 2019 Harvard Fellows at a press conference.
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Marquette McKnight, executive director of the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation, and Superintendent David Lewis talk about the importance of the Harvard Fellows Program. MeeF announced the 2019 Harvard Fellows at a press conference.

Nine more Muscogee County School District teachers will have an all-expenses-paid week of professional development at Harvard University, thanks to another year of the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation funding this program.

MEEF announced its 2019 Harvard Fellows at a news conference Tuesday in the Wynnton Arts Academy library:

Bethany Ailstock of North Columbus Elementary School.

Pagianna Boykin of Midland Academy.

Susan Elder of Johnson Elementary School.

Kimberly Evans of Double Churches Middle School.

Florence Evermon of Key Elementary School.

Cholana Foley of Forrest Road Elementary School.

Melanie Gouine of North Columbus Elementary School.

Teresa Szabo of Key Elementary School.

Lindsey Woods of Veterans Memorial Middle School.

Each year, the candidates are the 10 semifinalists from the previous 10 years or more in the MCSD’s Teacher of the Year Program, conducted by MEEF. Boykin was a semifinalist in 2015, when she taught fourth-grade math at Dorothy Height Elementary School. She also was selected as a Harvard Fellow that year, but she had to decline the offer to keep her commitment for basic training with the Air Force National Guard, where she is a senior airman.

Last summer, Boykin again was set to be a Harvard Fellow, but she again couldn’t attend. The Guard called her to duty and deployed her overseas in Doha, Qatar. She served as a water-quality specialist for six months there and returned in January.

Having her Guard commitment block her Harvard opportunity left Boykin “extremely disappointed,” she told the Ledger-Enquirer.

“It was a hard choice,” she said. “At the time, I was indecisive about my career in the military. I knew that the point of staying in was to be able to afford an advanced degree. So I sacrificed all in the name of education.”

Now, she is in her first semester of graduate school at Auburn University’s doctoral program for education administration — and finally available to go to Harvard this summer.

“It’s amazing,” said Boykin, a Carrollton native in her ninth year as an educator, teaching fifth-grade science and reading at Midland. “It’s such a good opportunity. I feel like it will give me more insight to network and talk to other teacher leaders in Muscogee County. I’m excited about that.”

Boykin also expects the professional development at Harvard will make her a better teacher after being out of the classroom for half a year.

“I kind of feel like I lost a little bit of what I had,” she said. “I wasn’t able to focus on education (in Qatar), so I hope this puts a little bit of fire under me and motivates me. . . . I am so grateful to MEEF for giving me this opportunity.”

Marquette McKnight, the foundation’s executive director, said in a news release, “MEEF’s Harvard Fellows increase the capacity to improve learning for all children by bringing back what they learn at Harvard and sharing it with other teachers. Their classrooms become models, based on what they learned; they share with their colleagues at their own schools and others; and they are now the advisory council to Superintendent David Lewis. Their experience and input directly effect, practical and powerful applications in MCSD, where they are now seen as teacher leaders.”

Early College Academy history teacher Shane Larkin, MEEF’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, explained the impact of his Harvard experience.

“Being a Harvard Fellow is professional development in its truest form and in new forms,” he said. “Teachers hear the term PD (Professional Development), and they think they are going to get resources or the newest, coolest educational trend. Harvard’s Project Zero is not this. . . . It is about a paradigm shift in education.”

For example, Larkin said, “PZ instructors will make statements like, ‘Learning is a consequence of thinking.’ Thinking and learning are made visible through documentation and artifacts. Project Zero teaches educators to use holistic approaches to provide students with the tools needed to succeed and make an impact in this ever- evolving 21st Century.”

Including this year’s group, MEEF has invested more than $346,000 in MCSD teachers by funding 62 Harvard fellowships.

In its 23-year history, MEEF has awarded more than $2.4 million to outstanding MCSD teachers through its Harvard Fellows, Teacher of the Year and STEM T3 programs, plus grants and an endowment fund.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.