By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Nearly two dozen Tupelo School District educators were given monetary awards from the community on Monday to recognize their excellence in the classroom.
The 15th annual Teacher of Distinction Awards luncheon featured the most winners in the event’s history, with 20 teachers and three assistant teachers recognized. The event was held at The Summit Center during a joint meeting of the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs.
Last year, 12 teachers and two assistant teachers were honored. This year, the Association for Excellence in Education co-sponsored the event with the CREATE Foundation and provided $10,000 to expand the number of honorees.
Winning teachers receive $1,000, and assistant teachers get $500 for personal use.
“This money is to say, ‘Thank you,’ for your outstanding service to our school district,” said Greg Pirkle, vice chairman of CREATE.
Fifty-four educators were nominated by parents, students, other teachers, administrators or interested citizens. Winners are chosen by an external committee of professional educators.
“It is an honor,” said Pierce Street fifth-grade language arts teacher Cathy Enis. “…We don’t always get that validation we are doing a good job. It shows the community appreciates our teachers.”
Winning teachers included Enis, Traci Hazel, Katie Pannell, Laurie Alford, Celeste Ellis, Melissa Harris, Tracye Nance, Kim Wyatt, Amy Kingsley, Evanglina Joy Stanford, Kashauna Pittman, Kalicia Henderson, Stephanie Cayson, Sherrie Dickerson, Yolanda Randle, Braden Bishop, Anna Garner, Timothy Matlock, Amber Nichols-Buckley and Jennifer Towery.
Winning assistant teachers were Mary Foster, Andrea Cobb and Patricia Edwards.
“It feels like Tupelo is on an upswing, and it feels good to be encouraged and supported by the community,” said Ellis, who teaches at Lawhon.
Matlock became the first person to win the Teacher of Distinction Award a second time. Prior to this year, past recipients were ineligible to win again. With the new partnership between CREATE and AEE, recipients can be renominated after five years.
“A lot of times, people criticize me for the extra hours and extra work I do, but I don’t see it as work,” said Matlock, who is band director at Tupelo High School. “I see it as doing something I love to do. It is nice to be recognized.”
Tupelo High’s Nichols-Buckley said it was special to know someone made an effort to nominate her. She hopes to use her prize money to attend a conference for English teachers in Boston.