The Shelby County School District honored its top teachers at the Teacher of the Year reception and awards ceremony held December 2 at Oak Mountain High School. The event honored the Teacher of the Year winners from every school in the district, as well as the three overall winners from the elementary, middle and high school grade spans. Teachers who recently earned or renewed their National Board certification were also honored. The event was sponsored by the Shelby County Schools Education Foundation.
The overall Teacher of the Year winners were Sandy Evers – Forest Oaks Elementary School; Kevin Pughsley – Calera Middle School; and Michael Smith – Calera High School.
Sandy Evers – Forest Oaks Elementary School
Evers has taught for 13 years, the past five in Shelby County. She currently teachers Physical Education at Forest Oaks Elementary School. She serves in numerous leadership roles at her school, including Wellness Committee Coordinator, “Fitness at the Forest” Coordinator, Forest Oaks Safety Team, Sunshine Committee Club, Acorn Advisor Peer Help, and the Forest Oaks Book Club. She also serves on the school district’s Safety Team.
Her previous awards include Chelsea Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2012-2013, Walmart’s Teacher Reward winner in October 2014, and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Award for Bravery in February 2013 for her involvement in handling a situation with an armed gunman at Chelsea Middle School, where she formerly taught.
Evers wrote about that incident, and more specifically school safety, as part of her teacher essay submitted to the awards committee. She credited the school district with improving safety at school entrances, working with local law enforcement to increase School Resource Officer (SRO) presence at schools, and emphasizing the importance of regular safety drills and training.
“I think the Shelby County has done an outstanding job with school safety in response to a gunman situation that happened in one of our schools,” she continued. “We were fortunate that day. In response, it forced our hand to look hard at safety issues first hand and evaluate our systems and find the gaps. It’s an ongoing process – and it should be.”
Evers said she believes her entire life has “foreshadowed” and influenced her as a teacher, from being an active student athlete to the mom of four very active sons. As a teacher, Evers said she loves the fact that Physical Education teachers have access to every student in the building, every day.
“PE teachers not only see every single student in the school every single day, but they are the only people in the entire school who will SEE and TEACH a child EVERYDAY for a child’s ENTIRE elementary school career,” she noted. “At Forest Oaks Elementary, I will teach a child for six years – everyday. I will watch them grow from a tiny five-year-old kindergartner their first day of school and develop into a “tween” 5th grader ready for middle school! If you want to know any information about a child in school – ask a PE teacher.”
She noted that because her students see her everyday, they are very comfortable around her and view her as a mother figure at school – a role she is more than willing to play.
“It is truly a privilege to be able to be a role model for our young student’s every day,” she said. “I am able to be a recognizable face, a stable environment, and a trustworthy smile that a child can count on year after year. The joy and happiness I get in watching my student’s grow is a reward in itself.”
Kevin Pughsley – Calera Middle School
Pughsley has taught for eight and a half years, all at Calera Middle School. He teaches 6th grade Earth Science and also serves as the school’s head football coach, head track and field coach and athletic director. He also sponsors the broadcasting club, the 6th grade Gentleman’s class, is the co-leader of Field Day, and the master of ceremony for the Talent Show.
His previous awards and honors include Calera Intermediate School’s Teacher of the Year in 2008 and being selected to go to Honeywell Green Bootcamp in San Diego in 2013, which focuses on teaching communities about green living and energy efficiency. He has also served as a mentor teacher at Calera Middle and is currently hosting a student intern from the University of Montevallo.
Pughsley recounted in his essay how two teachers in high school finally made learning relevant for him, after he had struggled with grades and behavior throughout his elementary and middle school years. He believes it is important for teachers to not only make learning real – fun, relatable and easy to understand, but to also develop relationships with students. More importantly, he feels teachers need to understand the journey that each student in on, including their backgrounds and struggles which might be directly impacting classroom performance. Equally important is for teachers to give students a glimpse of who they are as persons in order to develop stronger relationships and trust with their students.
“As I discovered in my journey, relationships are the key to breaking down barriers,” Pughsley said. “As teachers, we have been given the invaluable opportunity to build relationships with students, and hopefully make them impactful and lasting. We have the chance to allow them to learn who we are, where we have come from, what struggles we may have faced, and how those things have helped shape us in the person and teachers we are today. The teachers that made an impact in my educational journey developed relationships with me, took an interest in who I am, and wanted to see me develop as a young man.”
Pughsley said he strives every day to create an environment in his classroom that is safe, free of judgment, and encouraging.
“Once that relationship is created, a relationship is forged between me and the students,” he said. “I create an atmosphere in my classroom that can be described as unusual, unpredictable, entertaining, and easy to learn. I strongly believe that positive attitudes are contagious and spread quickly.”
Michael Smith – Calera High School
He has served at his school as the Soccer Coach, Key Club sponsor, Destination Imagination sponsor and by tutoring and mentoring students.
Smith did not always aspire to be a teacher, but rather obtained a degree in science based on “simple curiosity.” After becoming a teacher, he realized that he could combine his love of science with the opportunity to positively influence the lives of young people, which is what has kept him in the profession.
Smith said he knows firsthand what type of positive influence a caring adult can make in the life of a student, just as he knows how much the absence of an adult advocate can negatively impact a young person’s choices. He understands because at the age of 16, he became a high school dropout.
“I am the kid that fell through the cracks. I am a high school dropout,” Smith wrote in his essay. “There was not an adult in my high school that I felt would look out for me, or listen, or try to understand. During my high school year in high school, at the age of 16, I took my GED, withdrew from high school and entered a local junior college.”
It was at the junior college that Smith first found a caring, adult mentor in his college history professor. That professor became the pivotal educator in his life and one that he now tries to be for his students.
Smith said he believes one of the biggest issues facing educators today is an increasing attitude of apathy, entitlement, and lack of personal accountability. The effects of that apathy can be seen in the lowered expectations of parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders.
“Many of the venues through which students can be held accountable for their academic and behavior choices have been modified or undermined to the point that they are ineffective,” Smith said. “These types of cultural shifts are many times the unintended results of well intentioned litigation or legislation. It is my belief that more rules are not the answer. It is the actions individuals take based on personal well intentioned beliefs that make a difference.”
“Our school’s motto has become ‘WHAT YOU DO MATTERS!’ I agree completely,” Smith added. “Ideas and beliefs are great, but if you never act on those ideals they have little effect.”
Because of his personal background, Smith said he believes he does his best work with at-risk students.
“I know what it is like to be ‘at-risk’,” he said. “I believe that engagement is critical to these students. It is imperative that these young people know that you care about what happens to them and that you show this through the things that you do.”
Smith said he realizes the most important thing he does on any given day may have nothing to do with the course of study. He recounted a recent event where he spent his entire planning period consoling and counseling a very bright student who was struggling with some personal family and monetary issues.
“The greatest threat to her academic success is the threat of personal implosion due to stress,” Smith said. “So I listened and I paid her thirty dollar application fee to college. I have full faith she will get a scholarship and I told her so. There is no College and Career Ready Standard that covers this situation. My reward will be watching her and other like her, those that have had a crisis of two of faith in themselves or the educational system, walk across the stage and receive diplomas in May 2015.
Additional School Winners:
Elementary: Calera Elementary – Angie Lacroix; Calera Intermediate – Courtney Anne Banks; Chelsea Park Elementary – Hannah Burton; Elvin Hill Elementary – Michelle Branson; Helena Elementary – Allison Hoff Festavan; Helena Intermediate – Shelli Abernathy; Inverness Elementary – Mera Price; Linda Nolen Learning Center – Michaelle Ledlow; Montevallo Elementary – Kristen McKee; Mt Laurel Elementary – Amy Holmes; Oak Mountain Elementary – Anne Kimbell Neighbors; Oak Mountain Intermediate – Michelle Tindal; Shelby Elementary – Angela Harrison Binkerd; Vincent Elementary – Sharee Casteel Winslett; and Wilsonville Elementary – Penny Guy Lindley.
Middle: Chelsea Middle – Gary Black; Columbiana Middle – Dustin Smith; Helena Middle – Meredith George; Montevallo Middle – Raquel A. Stevenson; Oak Mountain Middle – Ashli Polizos; and Vincent Middle/High – Cory Williams.
High: Chelsea High – Carrie Weathersbee Radice; Helena High – Dale Massey; Montevallo High – Brandi Holloway Eades; New Direction – Mera Underwood; Oak Mountain High – Jennie Gandy; Shelby County College and Career Center – Mickey Caldwell; Shelby County High – Ellie M. Littleton.
National Board Certified Teachers: Misty Floyd – Helena Elementary; Sarah Morris – Shelby County High School; Sarah Hopper – Helena Intermediate (renewal) and Allen McGowan – Oak Mountain Elementary (renewal).