Deborah Burke – 3rd Grade Teacher, Craigsville Elementary School
Ms. Burke begins each school year by teaching her students a class motto that they recite each day: “I am somebody. I can do big things. Even though I will make mistakes, I will always try again. I am somebody!” She makes those words personal to each of them by creating individual strategies that help her students reach their full potential and plan for a future doing whatever it is they desire.
Ms. Burke has taught for 13 years in the same building. During that time her co-workers selected her twice as the school’s Teacher of the Year. She has also taken on many leadership roles, including serving as lead teacher of the third grade, co-sponsor of the school’s SCA team, and most recently as Chair of the Literacy Team.
As an example of her commitment to fostering an engaged classroom, Ms. Burke introduces eight different reading strategies using characters that she personally portrays. Her students love when she puts on a boa or big glasses and uses different voices to introduce reading strategies. They ask to see those characters repeatedly and sing the songs that accompany those characters and lessons.
Ms. Burke supports not only her students, but also their families, the community where they live, and her colleagues. Her classroom has one of the highest attendance percentages because her kids want to be at school and want to learn.
Deborah has a true teacher’s heart. She is constantly striving to learn more, do more, and make her students feel loved and accepted. Every morning, when her students arrive, she welcomes them with a “Good Morning!” and every day before they leave she gives them a hug goodbye.
Victoria Conyers – Chair, Special Education Department, Riverheads High School
During her 32-year career at Riverheads High School, Ms. Conyers has demonstrated an amazing insight to see beyond a student’s disability, focusing on their capabilities, and inspiring them to reach their full potential. She works tirelessly with students whose lives have been filled with years of negativity in order to restore their self-respect.
Vicky spends countless hours of her free time pouring over student records in order to find ways to empower each student to achieve personal success. As evidence of her dedication and the strong, individual bonds she develops with her students, it is common to see Ms. Conyers taking a student to their learners test, using her first block planning period to drive to the house of a student in order to get them to school that day, spending her afternoon taking a student to get food stamps, and sharing her lunch break with a student with social anxiety.
Ms. Conyers is a major force in the community. She is the co-chair of the school’s Gifted and Talented Committee, Coordinator of the Teacher Assistant Team, Member of the Crisis Team, and Faculty Sponsor of the Job Technology Club, an organization she designed to address issues related to transitioning from high school to further education or employment.
While transition education is required in special education, Ms. Conyers routinely goes beyond the basics. She spends time with each student to help them develop broad life goals and detailed plans. Vicky quietly, earnestly, and sincerely looks out for each student and makes a difference in their life. That difference is often a life reliant on on our welfare system and a life of pride with independence as a successful citizen. Students are forever returning to the school to see Ms. Conyers and share their personal success stories.
Alison Cornish – Kindergarten Teacher, William Perry Elementary School
Upon entering Ms. Cornish’s classroom you notice that it has a unique atmosphere of caring and warmth as she has created a learning community where the best is brought out in every child. This trait, among many others, led to her selection as Waynesboro Public Schools 2016 Teacher of the Year.
As a kindergartner teacher, Ms. Cornish has what many would consider the most difficult job in education. Not only is she responsible for teaching her students how to read, the basics of math, science, and social studies, but she also has to teach them how to be students. When the majority of children first arrive in Ms. Cornish’s class they are unaware of the frustrations, the challenges, and the setbacks that come with education.
Ms. Cornish works diligently in her planning to ensure that each lesson reaches each of her students and allows them to find success. She quickly assesses the individual strengths and needs of each child in her classroom and supports families through the difficulties their children may be facing. Her patience, which permeates all aspects of her work, brings out the best in every child, parent, and co-worker she encounters.
Ms. Cornish is also committed to the entire school community. She serves on the School Improvement Team, is a clinical faculty mentor, frequently hosts practicum teachers and student teachers, mentors new teachers, and volunteers her time to work with families as they attend Reading Readiness Workshops.
Most importantly, Ms. Cornish has turned her classroom into a community of mutual respect and she models the kind of behaviors she expects from all of her students.
Jennifer Goss – Social Studies Teacher, Robert E. Lee High School
Ms. Goss is a school leader and a true inspiration for her students and peers. She takes a full-student approach of not only holding high expectations for content-area work but also in helping students develop as writers and researchers while preparing them for college and life beyond high school.
Through her signature course, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Ms. Goss teaches her students the importance of the phrase “never again,” and how they can help make the world a better place. Ms. Goss produced the Emmy-nominated film “Misa’s Fugue,” which involved over 200 high school students, and has published several articles related to Holocaust education, as well as the book “Remember, My Child” that she co-authored with a survivor of the Holocaust.
Ms. Goss is a facilitator for the Anti-Defamation League’s “Echoes and Reflections” Holocaust curriculum and conducts trainings nationwide. She is also a member of the Regional Education Corps for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she worked with over 250 English and Social Studies teachers from around the world last summer.
Ms. Goss is a tireless teacher, often the first to arrive at school and the last to leave. She holds high expectations of her students, as well as herself. While in Arizona on assignment for the Holocaust Memorial Museum she arose at 4:45 AM on a weekday morning to teach her students at Robert E. Lee High School via Adobe Connect.
Ms. Goss also teaches the Advanced Placement United States Government classes, through which her students have achieved a significantly higher pass rate than the national average. She is also credited with increasing enrollment among minority and male students in Advanced Placement cources.
Robert Ham – Masonry Instructor, Valley Career and Technical Center
Throughout his thirty one-year career at Valley Career and Technical Center, Mr. Ham has been known for his compassionate and humble spirit, never expecting recognition or accolades for his efforts.
Mr. Ham’s hands-on coursework in masonry has taught many of his students to rethink how they view themselves and their potential for success. He designs his class activities to both educate and motivate. As one example, Mr. Ham recognizes one student each grading period for his or her exemplary achievement and presents that student with their own new masonry tools.
Mr. Ham plans department open houses that not only showcase the skills and creativity of his students, but also give students an opportunity to meet with potential employers.
Early in his teaching career, Mr. Ham noticed that available masonry textbooks and materials were difficult for his students to comprehend. He spent many years creating his own illustrated classroom materials. As a result of the highly-successful visual illustrations and instructional videos that he created, a major textbook publisher chose Mr. Ham to compose a masonry textbook, workbook, instructor’s resource guide, instructional videos, and a math textbook targeting word problems involving masonry application.
Mr. Ham also strives to initiate learning activities that promote student growth in local history as well as civic consciousness. He and his students are credited with constructing the Woodrow Wilson General Hospital Memorial Monument, an 18-foot tall brick memorial honoring thousands of World War II soldiers cared for in Fishersville. Earlier, he received Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro Habitat for Humanity’s Distinguished Service Award for leading the construction of over twenty house foundations.
Paula Jesalva – English Language Learner Teacher, Fort Defiance High School and Wilson Memorial High School
Ms. Jesalva is well-known for her exceptional effectiveness in helping students overcome language and cultural barriers in order to reach their full potential. She is a dilgent advocate, providing her students with services and opportunities, both in and outside the classroom, which will enhance their success in school and in life.
Ms. Jesalva was selected as the Augusta County 2016 Teacher of the Year. During her career she has taught students from at least 14 countries to speak English. She not only works tirelessly to see her students through to graduation, but also spends her evenings and weekends helping her students gain employment, providing them with food and clothing, taking them shopping, meeting with their families, and offering her friendship.
Ms. Jesalva’s calm demeanor, love for her students, passion, and ability to teach every core high school subject all contribute to the success of her students. She is also highly-skilled in promoting the involvement of parents in their children’s education. Although she is assigned to work in the high schools, she often attends elementary parent-teacher conferences with her families. She also works with the families of her students to help them secure financial aid for advancing their children’s education beyond high school.
In August, the county held its first Summer Learning Academy for ESL students, Ms. Jesalva was integral to the planning process, focusing on areas where the students were struggling and areas that were identified as barriers to graduation for them. Through the Academy her students also had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC, Monticello, the Frontier Culture Museum, and New Market Battlefield to expose them to the American way of life and customs.
Derek McDaniel (Coach Mac) – Athletic Director, Waynesboro High School
Coach Mac has not only created a successful athletic program at Waynesboro High School, but is credited for a positive change in culture throughout the school building. He is especially proud of the fact that his football team’s overall GPA is 3.27. The success of his athletes is directly related to the emphasis he places on being a student-athlete. He holds team study halls, forgoing practice time, to ensure his athletes have the time they need to be successful in the classroom.
Coach Mac also teaches time management skills to help his athletes become successful in all areas of their lives. He talks with families about the discipline required to be effective in athletics and academics, and he helps them understand that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Under Coach Mac’s leadership, Waynesboro High School earned the “Stay in the Game” award given by the Virginia High School League to schools with no ejections or sportsmanship violations for the entire school year. Subsequently, Coach Mac authored an article about fostering and achieving exemplary sportsmanship in the school community, which was published in the April 2016 edition of Athletic Management.
Coach Mac is not only the Athletic Director and football coach at Waynesboro High School, he is a steadfast leader of the Waynesboro community. His entire career in the Shenandoah Valley has been dedicated to the education of students, molding the skills that are required of a mature adult and giving of himself to better others to be honest and hard-working people as well as leaders for tomorrow. Coach Mac has modeled for all what it means to give of oneself as he has relentlessly worked to make our area schools a better place.
Roxie Megginson – 6th Grade Science Teacher, Stuarts Draft Middle School
Ms. Megginson believes in the adage: “Every child is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” Accordingly, she works tirelessly to identify and build on each child’s strengths.
Ms. Megginson’s science classroom is highly interactive and a place where each child has a unique role. She believes that learning is exploring, so her students are rarely confined to their desks. Students don’t just learn about STEM in her classroom, they “do” STEM. She encourages students to think outside the box and develop unique ideas for projects that stretch their limits. She also teaches a “Super Sleuth” class outside of the regular school year, which is like CSI for kids. It has been a unique hook to get students more interested in science.
Outside of her classroom, Ms. Megginson is committed to helping students overcome traditional discipline issues and be more successful in school. On almost a daily basis, with parent permission, she will give up her lunch to walk a troubled student or two to a local business for a personal lunch out of school. While the students see this as a special treat, she views it as an opportunity to help them work out their problems and find unique avenues to success.
As a sixth grade team leader, Ms. Megginson leads their students in a Semester of Service, during which she models her own participation in various service projects and finds ways to get students involved in serving the community. Her own community service includes meeting regularly with female inmates at the Middle River Jail to provide weekly support and guidance in developing plans for a successful transition after their release.
Donna Morris – Librarian, Shelburne Middle School
Named the Staunton City Schools 2016 Teacher of the Year, Ms. Morris consistently creates tailored activities targeted for every type of learner and level. Through her efforts, students develop passions of their own, and with that passion comes great empowerment. She meets them where they are and sets them on a path for growth.
The Shelburne library, nicknamed the Power House, is a living, breathing community within the school. It is alive with activities, the trendiest books, the latest in web quests and problem solving. Ms. Morris offers quality programming to which the students look forward every year, including Literacy Lock-In where hundreds of students read an entire book in one evening while spending the night at school.
Ms. Morris also designs Break-outs as a way for students to explore a concept by using clues discovered in text and video to find codes to allow them to open locked boxes and “break-out” a grand prize box. Her work with this concept has spread to other schools which have borrowed the locks and boxes for their own Break-out sessions.
She also created Wednesday Workshops, a weekly after-school activity designed to encourage at-risk students to get involved in the school community, and she leads Day of Code and May the Fourth be with You. Currently, she is creating a Maker Space in the library to further creativity, thinking, and fun for her students.
A nominee for librarian of the year for the Virginia Association of School Librarians, Ms. Morris has also been a master teacher for WVPT’s National Teacher Training Institute and a FIRST Lego League Regional Tournament Director.
Ms. Morris also volunteers her time and creative talent to designing costumes and props for middle school and high school stage productions, and serves as vice president for the Lee High Drama Mamas and Papas parent booster organization.
Lori Swortzel – Assistant Principal, Robert E. Lee High School
Selected as the State of Virginia FCCLA Administrator of the Year for 2015-16, Ms. Swortzel works tirelessly during the day, as well as evenings, weekends, and summers, to help students understand that life is not just about themselves. She works with the Lee Leaders, the school’s student leadership group, to plan community service activities. Through over 300 projects conducted over the past three year, students have seen first-hand how helping others helps them develop character and learn the true meaning of giving while developing their leadership skills and the ability to work as a team.
Ms. Swortzel was instrumental in earning the grant that has allowed students from our three local school districts, including students at risk of disengagement and dropping out of school, participate in the Governor’s Youth Development Academy. Each of the participating students are still in school and on track to graduate, and many of them are working toward an advanced studies diploma.
Ms. Swortzel also works closely with the school’s Career Coach and counselors to arrange tours of local businesses and colleges. She has established partnerships with local businesses and the Staunton Mentoring Alliance to help arrange support and guidance for students. She has also worked closely with the Secondary Instructional Supervisor to develop new and innovative Career and Technical Education courses to provide more opportunities to learn about career choices.
Through her involvement with Opportunity Knocking, a partnership with local businesses, 4-year colleges, community colleges, and technical schools, she helped to provide current and future Staunton City School students and their families with information on career pathways, in-demand industries, and college readiness.