Seven MCSD teachers selected for prestigious conference

The Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation will send seven teachers in the first three years of their career to a prestigious conference designed to help them develop engaging and rigorous lessons for all learners across disciplines and cultures.

Columbus Councilor Judy Thomas, the MEEF chairwoman, announced the inaugural group during a news conference Wednesday afternoon in the Wynnton Arts Academy library. Chosen to attend the Project Zero Perspectives conference May 8-10 in Atlanta are:

Connie Enfinger, Arnold Magnet Academy

Fuadh Faruque, Rothschild Leadership Academy

Chris Lovelock, Arnold Magnet Academy

Danielle McCoy, Columbus High School

Akear Mewborn, Kendrick High School

Chelsie Rogers, Northside High School

Natalie Whitehurst, Wynnton Arts Academy

Project Zero, based at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, collaborates with the Center for the Advancement and Study of International Education to conduct the conference. This session’s theme will be “Think, Create, Innovate,” which thrills Mewborn, a third-year English teacher at Kendrick.“The whole point is learning what I can do to make sure my students achieve,” she said. “We can’t teach the same way to all kids.”

Mewborn intends to show that she still is a student too.

“I love to learn, and I try to impart that passion to my students,” she said. “You should never stop learning. That’s what makes us who we are.”

Ronda Allen of Arnold Magnet Academy is among the 20 teachers during the past four years MEEF has sent to the weeklong Project Zero Classroom summer institute at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. After she returned from her trip to Cambridge, Mass., she told the MEEF board about the program’s “transformative effect” but wished she had the opportunity earlier in her career, said MEEF projects chairwoman Carole Rutland, retired director of the Columbus State University Coca-Cola Space Science Center. And when two other Harvard Fellows from the district, Scott Chandler and Ben Faust of the St. Elmo Center for the Gifted, told the MEEF board that the Project Zero conference will be in Atlanta, well, motivation met opportunity.

“So with those two thoughts together,” Rutland said, “they inspired the MEEF board to look into something we’ve been wanting to do for quite a while, and that is to develop a program that could have a significant impact on new teachers while continuing to recognize and reward excellence in the teaching profession.”Each of MCSD’s Harvard Fellows, who were eligible for their fellowship because they were a top 10 semifinalist in the district’s Teacher of the Year program, could nominate a teacher in the first three years of his or her career.

“They were being nominated by someone already vetted,” MEEF administrator Marquette McKnight said, “so we are taking their recommendation as further recognition and reward.”

And the chance to pay the learning forward.

The honorees from the past two years of the district’s Outstanding First-Year Teacher program also could apply. Eighteen teachers were nominated, Rutland said, and seven teachers were selected.

“That’s going to help increase our teachers’ capacity to improve learning for all children,” Rutland said.

Project Zero Classroom helps teachers develop students’ “multiple intellectual strengths, encourage students to think critically and creatively, and assess student work in ways that deepen their learning,” Rutland said.

MCSD superintendent David Lewis called it “truly an exceptional opportunity for these younger teachers to be part of this great experience.” He thanked the foundation for “continuing to be a great partner with our school system.”

The foundation will spend about $2,500 on each of the seven teachers to send them to the conference, McKnight said. It has cost MEEF between $5,000 and $6,000 to fund each of the 20 Harvard Fellows, she said. The investment comes with the expecation that those teachers share what they learned with their colleagues through staff development classes, McKnight said.

MEEF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting educational excellence by recognizing and rewarding effective teaching in the Muscogee County School District. In its 19-year history, the foundation has awarded more than $1.9 million through the Teacher of the Year, STEM T3 and Harvard Fellows programs, as well as grants.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.