One of 20 local teachers will be named Delaware’s Teacher of the Year for 2017.
Selected from among the 9,000 public school teachers in the state, the nominees each represent one of the state’s 19 school districts and network of charter schools. The winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at the annual awards banquet. The reception begins at 5 p.m. at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino in Dover. The program begins at 6 p.m. with the winner named at the conclusion of the evening. Funding for the award ceremony is made in part by grants from Voya Financial and Hope Street Group.
The 2017 candidates were nominated by their districts or the charter network during the 2016 calendar year because of their superior ability to inspire students with a love of learning, exemplary demonstration of professional traits and strong sense of dedication and devotion to teaching.
Each nominee submitted a detailed portfolio exemplifying his or her teaching philosophy. Five Delaware Department of Education staff members independently evaluate each portfolio. A former state Teacher of the Year and a member of the department staff also visit each candidate’s classroom to observe his or her teaching.
Taking into consideration the ratings from the portfolio review and classroom observation, another independent panel of non-department judges then selects the one teacher who will serve as the 2017 Delaware Teacher of the Year. The teacher chosen to become the State Teacher of the Year will become Delaware’s nominee in the national program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with Voya Financial.
The Delaware Teacher of the Year also takes on the important task of representing all teachers in the state, addressing community groups, business leaders, legislators and educational organizations to inform the public about education in Delaware.
By action of the General Assembly, the Delaware Teacher of the Year will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of his or her students, a personal grant of $3,000, and a $5,000 gift from Voya Financial. Additionally, all nominees will receive a $2,000 grant from the state.
- Olivia A. Suchanec, Appoquinimink School District’s Everett Meredith Middle School, Grade 6 social studies
Teaching was not always a dream of mine. Due to a speech impediment and shyness, I really did not consider teaching as an option. I did, however, enjoy working with children. My speech affected my confidence and changed the way others perceived me. High school was when my confidence slowly shifted and I decided that I was no longer going to let my speech define me. There were a few teachers who really inspired me; one was an awesome middle school teacher and in high school, they were history teachers. This is how teaching chose me.
- Wendy Turner, Brandywine School District’s Mt. Pleasant Elementary School, Grade 2
Growing up, I never thought I would teach. I dreamt of becoming a businessperson, sitting at a desk, doing what I believed was important. After graduating college, I worked at a large CPA firm in a big city – my dream fulfilled. Thirteen years later, it hit me. I just did not want to work in corporate America anymore. By then I was married, a mother to an eight-month-old daughter and aunt to five nieces and nephews. Being a parent greatly changed my perspective and was a significant factor in influencing my deep desire to do something meaningful; I wanted to be a teacher.
- Melissa Rapp, Caesar Rodney School District’s Caesar Rodney High School, Grade 9 history
Growing up I was the eldest of five children. There are many benefits to having so many siblings, but it was very easy to also get lost in the shuffle. School was a place I felt I belonged. Going into my teachers’ rooms to have conversations about what I was studying or reading, or simply to talk about things going on in my life helped me to feel a sense of connection and belonging that I struggled to find elsewhere. It is because of these experiences that I gained a sense of confidence and purpose.
- Melissa Dawson, Cape Henlopen School District’s Rehoboth Elementary School, Grade 1
It was not until my sophomore year in college that I knew that I was meant to be a teacher. During the spring semester I took an introductory course in children’s literature, and I also became a literacy tutor. I was fortunate to be placed in a phenomenal classroom where learning was exciting and fun. It was amazing for me to see the children learn so much from a lesson that I had created. I knew I wanted to learn more about education.
- Michele Johnson, Capital School District’s Towne Point Elementary, gifted & talented /library media specialist
I attended eight different schools across three states between kindergarten and eighth grade. In each school what I remember most is the kindnesses of teachers. I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Wolfe, helped me catch up to grade level in reading and math and loaned me books from her personal collection. As my competence grew, so did my confidence. I literally found my voice in her class and started doing book talks, singing at church, and then in school plays. Teachers’ investment in my life have paid dividends over my lifetime. That is my goal as a teacher.
- Kristin E. Roberts, Christina School District’s Bancroft Elementary School, Grades K-2 special education English language arts & mathematics
I always had a love for education and enjoyed going to school. I was extremely fortunate to have many people and experiences throughout my life influence me to become a teacher. There is one person in particular who influenced me – it was my younger brother David. It was through David’s struggle that I realized a teacher can make a life-changing impact on a child’s life. Through David’s hardship, I was able to see firsthand the impact a learning disability has on a child. I knew I wanted to be a teacher.
- Sarah Bateman, Colonial School District’s New Castle Elementary School, Grade 3
I have always loved being a student. In my experiences as an elementary and middle school student, I struggled at times. It was those experiences that became influential in me wanting to be a great teacher. I have always loved working with children and always knew I wanted a career serving and helping others. After careful consideration, I decided to become an educator. I knew that I was just one person but vowed that every child who entered my classroom would feel valued and cared for. I vowed to build every student’s confidences so that they didn’t struggle internally the way that I had.
- Kristen Jones, Delmar School District’s Delmar Middle School, Grades 5-8 business education
Shortly into my college career I met a business professor who single handedly changed how I approached life and played an instrumental role in me becoming a teacher. He taught me that in business the only constant is change and to be prepared for change, no matter what the circumstance. My professor asked me to be a judge at the Business Professionals of America State Leadership Conference. It was at this time that I was able to see high school students already have a deep passion for learning about business. I loved what I saw that day.
- Melissa L. Grise, Indian River School District’s John M. Clayton Elementary, Grade 4
In elementary school, I was the quiet one in class – the one who lacked confidence and never thought of herself as a leader. My teachers’ influence allowed me to reach my full potential. They taught me how to challenge myself in the classroom and encouraged me to push myself. Their constant support and unwavering encouragement allowed me to understand that I could do anything I put my mind to. The quiet girl in the back of the class in elementary school became a student leader amongst her peers.
- Heather M. Melvin, Lake Forest School District’s Lake Forest North Elementary, Grade 1
I remember sitting in my sixth grade social studies class. I was an average student. I had little motivation for things other than sports. We were taking a quiz on the United States and their capitals. As I looked around the room, the accelerated students were flying through the answers. Some were already putting their heads down. The academically challenged students were doodling on their papers, while trying to see if they could copy off their neighbor. The average students, like myself, were hoping for at least a passing grade. I didn’t know all of the answers, nor did I care that I didn’t know them.
The teacher sat at his desk, in the front of the classroom, reading the daily newspaper. It was then that I realized that I had no one to challenge me to be a better student. I felt that we were all there so that the teacher could earn his paycheck. Personal connections were not being made. There was no one calling home to tell the parents their child was performing below their capabilities. There were no standardized tests to measure student growth. If they didn’t care, why should I?
- Emily Edmonds-Eveland, Las Americas ASPIRA Academy Charter School, Grade 4
Learning to read was difficult for me as a child. When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher found ways to identify my needs and personal interests, motivating me and helping me to read. Not only did she teach me to read, she helped me rebuild self-confidence affected by my previous school’s teaching approaches. I recall coming home and telling my parents, “My teacher is an angel.” I knew from that experience I wanted to become a teacher, so that I could also be a positive influence in the early years of a child’s life, paving the way for them to accomplish their goals and dreams.
- Erin Brennan, Laurel School District’s North Laurel Elementary School, Grade 2
From a young age, I always had a hunger to learn. I was constantly asking questions about the environment around me. I loved attending school and could not wait for each new year with a different teacher. I was the student who always begged to stay inside from recess and help my teacher. I adored putting stickers on papers or helping around the classroom.
- Julie A. Hickman, Milford School District’s Mispillion Elementary, Grade 5
I grew up in a small town, an hour north of New York City, where appearance and family status were everything. It wasn’t the best place for a tall, frizzy haired girl whose father was a cop in the city, and whose mother was in and out of the picture. I hated school. My poor self-image and awful opinion of school completely changed when I stepped into Mrs. Morgante’s fourth grade classroom. It was a magical year of transformation, and I didn’t want it to end.
- Jermaine Anthony Williams, New Castle County Vo-Tech School District’s St. Georges Technical High School, culinary arts / co-op coordinator
As a child, my career goal was to either become an auto-mechanic or a chef. It was not until my junior year at Hodgson Vo-Tech that I started to think about a possible career in education. During the summer of my junior year, I attended a summer camp for 7th and 8th graders. This turned out to be an exceptional week and one that changed my future forever. It was at this moment that I started to think about becoming a teacher as a career choice.
- Dennis J. Haley, POLYTECH School District’s POLYTECH High School, Grades 9-12 computer engineering technology
After years of working in the information technology industry, an opportunity presented itself to me to become a teacher of IT certification courses at the high school level. Becoming certified as a career and technical education teacher, I was able to harness all of my experiences and share my expertise with my students, facilitating their journey to become IT professionals.
- Holly M. Golder, Red Clay Consolidated School District’s Cab Calloway School of the Arts, Grades 8, 12 social studies
Growing up in a small upstate New York town, I did not spend countless hours pretending to be a teacher to my stuffed animals. Instead, I was playing outside, helping others through my church’s youth group, volunteering in clubs while in high school and leading others in a myriad of positions such as drum major of the high school band and class president. What I did have was a strong desire to help and lead others.
- Nikki Bean, Seaford School District’s Blades Elementary School, Grade 1
I grew up spending my entire summers at the Seaford Golf and Country Club, where my mom was an office manager. As soon as I was old enough to be an employee at the pool, I was asked to assist in teaching swimming lessons. From that very early age, I knew that I wanted to work with children and dedicate my life to getting students to trust me and become confident in whatever I was teaching them to do.
- Jennifer McCutchan, Smyrna School District’s Smyrna Middle School, Grades 7-8 music
I will always remember the sounds of my childhood of Harry James, Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman accompanying the great Frank Sinatra on my parent’s old console stereo in our living room. I guess you can say I have always had a love and passion for music. I have always been fascinated by the sounds instruments made and how each instrument can blend together to create such wonderful melodies and harmonies
- Vincent James Colombo, Sussex Technical School District’s Sussex Technical High School, Grades 9-10 physical science and biology
I never thought I would be the leader of a classroom, let alone be able to influence children. When I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and left for basic training, my life was transformed, and it made me the man I am today. The Marine Corps changed my outlook on life and eventually would lead me into a career of service.
- James R. Weiler, Woodbridge School District’s Woodbridge High School, Grades 9, 11 English language arts
In grade school, I experienced a counterfeit education wealthy in content but worthless in application. Consequently, I succeeded in classes without satisfaction, for I had only accomplished rote regurgitations of material fed by teachers. My counterfeit education left me rich with questions but poor with answers until I discovered theatre arts and its instructor, Mr. Paul Setlock. I adopted a learning-by-doing mentality.