TSD Q&A: Sarah Rusk, Brandywine School District's Teacher of the Year

At the end of October, Governor Jack Markell named Delaware’s Teacher of the Year for 2013. Nineteen Delaware teachers were selected to represent their school districts from the nearly 9,000 public school teachers in the state. Town Square Delaware caught up with Brandywine School District’s nominee, Sarah Rusk, who both inspires her students with a love of learning and strikes fear in the hearts of the runners she competes against as part of the New Balance Running Team.

Town Square Delaware: Congratulations on being named Brandywine School District’s Teacher of the Year! That’s a nice honor. Tell us how it came to be.

Sarah Rusk: A lot of hard work, dedication and discipline were behind this award. As well as a simple process that all the schools in Brandywine School District (BSD) use to decide their building’s Teacher of the Year. Last March I was nominated by a colleague to be Hanby Elementary’s Teacher of the Year. I was certain the other teacher who had also been nominated was going to win. I actually bought her a “Congratulations” card! However, the teachers voted and I was their choice to represent Hanby as the Teacher of the Year. After that, each building’s Teacher of the Year has the opportunity to become the district’s Teacher of the Year. I submitted my resume, philosophy of education and two letters of recommendation to our district office that were then reviewed by a team of administrators and teachers. Dr. (Mark) Holodick, our superintendent, (shown above with Sarah and Principal Ronnie Wilkie) came to my classroom Friday, May 11th to tell me in person that I had been selected to represent BSD as the 2013 Teacher of the Year. That Sunday I ran the Delaware Marathon, feeling like a winner! Even though it was a tough race due to the heat, something about being honored for my hard work in the classroom, helped pull me through. Being Brandywine’s Teacher of the Year for 2013 is quite an honor, especially since there are so many deserving teachers in our district.

TSD: You went on to represent Brandywine in Delaware’s Teacher of the Year competition. What was that like?

SR: Amazing and inspiring! There are so many fantastic teachers in Brandywine and in our small state. As a nominee for Delaware’s Teacher of the Year, my summer was filled with a ton of writing and reflecting. Countless hours were spent in coffee shops around Wilmington responding to different questions about my community involvement, issues in education, etc. It was all worth it!  Not only did this help me grow professionally, but I was invited to attend a dinner where we spent the evening celebrating education! On October 23rd, the Department of Education, in partnership with ING, hosted a dinner at Dover Downs for the 19 district nominees. The night was magical! Many of our state’s politicians spoke about the importance of education and praised us for our work in the classroom. It’s gratifying to hear from your state’s leaders that you are doing a great job! Representing Brandywine at the state level was a true honor. Teachers are some of the most dedicated and driven people I know, especially the ones at Hanby and in BSD. As our district’s teacher of the year, I have been invited to attend monthly meetings in Dover with our Secretary of Education, Mark Murphy, and the other teacher of the year nominees. He really listens to our concerns and uses our ideas to make positive changes in the schools, which is empowering. I hope these meetings are just the beginning of many more wonderful opportunities that I will have to help improve our public education system.

TSD: You mentioned you ran the Delaware Marathon this year. Something folks might not know about you is that you’re a heck of a runner! In fact, you’re a member of the New Balance racing team in Delaware. How did you get involved with the sport?

SR: In middle and high school, I played soccer, basketball and tennis. I always had a lot of endurance and could out-run any teammate when we had to do any kind of distance running. I never ran competitively in school, but when I moved to Wilmington after graduating from the University of Delaware, I needed something to keep me busy.  So I decided to start running. On a morning run in March, I saw arrows on the road in Rockford Park, some pointing up the hill and others, down. I later found out they were marking the course for a race in Wilmington—the Caesar Rodney Half Marathon. I set a goal for myself…run that race the following year (little did I know a half marathon was 13.1 miles…at that point, the farthest I ever ran at one time was 5 miles). I believe my first CR was in 2005 and I have been hooked ever since! It wasn’t until I ran my first Boston Marathon in 2011 that I decided to take the sport more seriously. I found a running partner (prior to Boston, I did all of my runs solo) who was on the New Balance Team already. He helped me get my spot. Being a part of a team has only improved my running. I am pretty competitive and I have a lot of self-discipline, so having teammates that are fast runners helps me push my boundaries.

TSD: How has running made you a better teacher? Or, how has teaching made you a better runner?

SR: Running and teaching are a huge part of my life. Each plays a critical role in the other. In the classroom, I stress to my students the importance of always doing your best and, no matter how difficult a situation can be, try to push through it. So when I race or do a tough workout, I remember what I teach and know that I must model exactly that. In Boston last April, I knew my students were tracking me online so there was NO WAY I was going to drop out. Remembering that I had “eyes” on me helped me push myself through the mental and physical pain. There are lots of times I think about teaching while I train…I’ve come up with some of my best lessons on a run!

TSD: What’s next for you, race-wise? Another Boston Marathon, perhaps?

SR: This month I have two races on the calendar… the Run the Bridge 10k and the Rothman 8k. I have signed up to run Boston in April and I am hoping for better conditions than last year. I would love to run a sub-three hour marathon and my PR is pretty close to that. My training will start in mid-December and, although I know it will be tough to PR in Boston, I’m certainly going to train like I can!  I always tell my students to try their personal best in whatever they do, so I can’t let them down!

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