Stefan Lawrence of Carver High School is the 2016 Teacher of the Year in the Muscogee County School District.
The Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation announced Lawrence as the winner Thursday night during its annual gala in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, where a crowd of 1,100 honored the 56 nominees.
Lawrence teaches English and Advanced Placement English at Carver, where he has worked his entire six-year career. He is a product of local schools. He graduated from Northside High School, where his father, Kenneth, is head boys basketball coach. Lawrence played basketball at Columbus State University and earned a bachelor’s (2009) and master’s degree (2012). He is working on a doctorate from the University of Georgia.
After accepting the award from MCSD superintendent David Lewis and foundation chairwoman and Janet Davis, the president and chief executive officer of Kinetic Credit Union, Lawrence thanked his teachers and mentors, his colleagues and supervisors, his family and friends — all who believed in him, including Carver baseball coach David Pollard, the inspirational educator killed last month, when a teen driving a stolen car crashed into him.
“He told me I was going to win,” Lawrence said. “... I appreciate you, brother. Thank you so much.”
Lawrence praised the other nominees and told them, “We truly do God’s work. It is weighty work. It takes a special, special, special person to teach.”
Then he shared God’s word. He paraphrased Romans 12:6, “We all have different gifts, according to the grace that God gives each of us. If your gift is in accordance with your faith, if it is serving, serve. If it is teaching, teach.”
Lawrence added, “As you go into the job tomorrow, next year, remember that we are all winners and the work we do is extremely, extremely vital. Thank you so much. I promise I won’t let you down.”
Columbus Councilor and former teacher Judy Thomas, chairwoman of the foundation’s selection committee, explained in a news release why Lawrence was chosen as the winner. She said, during the committee’s visit to Carver, he brought a “warrior commitment to the classroom, helping his students understand the elements of preparation, assurance and dedication as they worked to prioritize, compare and contrast life choices within the English lesson. He was constantly exhorting his students to delve deeper into the material, examine the story, use their minds to think and reflect and to be smart in all their choices.”
No wonder he led the Carver faculty through a professional development class on student engagement.
Lawrence is the Advance Placement coordinator at Carver, which is one of five Georgia schools named this year as an AP Champion. The designation recognized schools for eliminating barriers that restrict access to the rigorous classes allowing students to earn college credit while still in high school. Carver more than doubled its number of Pre-AP and AP classes from the 2013-14 school year to 2014-15 and has more students taking AP classes and more teachers certified to teach them than ever, principal Chris Lindsey told the Ledger-Enquirer in February.
For the school district, Lawrence created the Bible as Literature Student Learning Objective, co-created the American Literature Common Unit Assessment and coordinates the freshman basketball league.
For the community, Lawrence is a youth consultant at Cusseta Road Church of Christ. He is developing an after-school partnership between Carver and the Boys & Girls Clubs. He speaks in a Delta Sigma Theta program called EMBODI, Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Independence.
The foundation awarded each nominee $100, plus an autographed copy of 2015 Teacher of the Year Sheryl Green’s book, “Beyond the Classroom: Speaking Life and Truth Into Kids,” a compilation of Ledger-Enquirer columns the Jordan Vocational High School English teacher wrote this past year. The previously announced 10 semifinalists received $500, and the previously announced three finalists received $1,000. As the winner, Lawrence received $5,000 and will be featured on a Columbus billboard.
The other two finalists were Fox Elementary School kindergarten teacher Carmen Estes and Blanchard Elementary School fifth-grade language arts and social studies teacher Andrea Toole.
MEEF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering educational excellence by helping and honoring innovative and effective teachers. In its 20-year history, the foundation has awarded educators more than $2.1 million through the Teacher of the Year and other programs or grants.