Back-to-class blowout

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Educators cut loose at Celebrate Great Teaching

By Reece Murphy

Lancaster County teachers blew it out again this year during the school district’s Celebrate of Great Teaching event at Lancaster High School gymnasium Tuesday, Aug. 13.


One part welcome back meeting, one part awards ceremony and one part pep rally, this year’s event carried on a tradition that began last year with hundreds of teachers and staff members dressing up in zany costumes to film a “lip dub” video earlier that morning.

Produced by LearnTV students Emily Fitzpatrick, Kayland Hagwood, Hannah Knight and Jorge Velaquez, with help from staff members Richie Knight and Markevious Cathcart, the lip dub video captured nearly every school district employee singing as the camera weaved its way across campus.

Back inside the gym for the start of the event, educators filled the stands with cheers as Lancaster County School District Superintendent Dr. Gene Moore welcomed them back to work.

“I love the summer and the chance to recharge my batteries, but as always, it seems as if summer flies by,” Moore said. “But I also love the adrenaline rush I get when a new school year begins.

“For me, it’s always been great to have the privilege of returning to a profession where everything you do, and everything you say, can, and probably will, make a significant difference in somebody’s life,” he said.

In kicking off the event, McDonald Green Elementary School students Yarmarian Spark and Dawson White helped lead the educators in the Pledge of Allegiance. School board members then sang the National Anthem in what turned out to be an unexpectedly good performance as a choir.

“I bet you there’s not another school board in the country would do what they did this morning. Let’s give them a hand,” Moore said. “They’re not just great singers, they also serve as advocates in our county and our state, for our children, for our teachers and for our public education system.”

Among those attending this year’s event for the first time were nearly 120 new teachers and staff members, as well as the district’s 114 National Board Certified teachers.

Buford High School calculus teacher Margaret Page, with 47 years of service, was the last teacher left standing during an annual tradition to determine the longest serving educator in the district.

The theme for this year’s event was “Learning to Drive 2013,” a theme that reflected the speech given by 2012 District and Elementary School Celebrate Great Teaching award winner Jason Weiss of Indian Land Elementary.

Weiss was the first district award winner to win the use of a new car for a year, in addition to the award’s $1,000 in prize money, a lime-green Ford Fiesta provided by Robert Burns of Burns Ford.

During his speech, Weiss said the win was the “recognition with prizes/perfect career moment” that teachers dream about, or so he thought.

“I got in and it felt wrong. I sat there in the car silently for a long time and finally said, ‘I can’t drive this,’” Weiss said. “You see, the car was a six-shift, a manual transmission, and at 37 years of age, I had never in my life ever even tried to drive a manual.”

Weiss said he was scared of driving a car with a manual transmission and asked for trade, but Burns told him to he’d have to learn how.

He thanked  co-worker Risa Lail for her willingness, encouragement, enthusiasm and patience to teach him.

Within the story, he said, was a lesson for teachers summed up in a quote attributed to Socrates, “Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn.”

The situation, he said, put him in the shoes of a student struggling to learn a new topic who takes the easy way out.

Weiss compared his situation to a student using CliffsNotes of a good book instead of reading the book itself.

It took him about a month to feel comfortable driving the car, Weiss said, but he did; and the lesson learnd was that it was the enthusiasm and encouragement of others that made him want to push aside his fears and succeed.

“We, as teachers, need to work together, continue to learn and grow together in order to attempt to reach our students,” Weiss said. “We can’t be afraid of trying new things or learning a new approach to teaching.

“There is no comfortable place in teaching where you can sit back and think you’ve seen it all, or know the best way to teach and engage or get things across to students,” he said. “We as educators can never be afraid to learn. We must never cease to learn.”

As always, the event ended with the naming of the district’s Celebrate Great Teaching award winners, this year chosen from a field of 250 nominees.

Each winner took home a Bob Doster sculpture and $500 for use in their classrooms, with the district winner earning an additional $500.

This year’s High School and District Celebrate Great Teaching award winner is Lancaster High School literature teacher Richard Gay.

In announcing his win, Moore quoted one of the teachers who nominated Gay, saying he “pushes his students to excel” and someone whose “contributions to the community are too numerous to list.”

“He really deserves it. It really would have been a shame if he’d retired and not won this,” said Dr. Joe Keenan, LHS principal. “He’s just the epitome of a teacher.”

Like Weiss, Gay won a one-year lease on a new car from Burns Ford, this year a 2013 C-Max Hybrid. The lease was presented by Robert Burns and his wife, Sarah.

Robert Burns said he and his company were glad to provide the vehicle in honor of a profession that is helping educate children who are the future of the community.

“Teachers mean everything to us and we’re happy to give back in this way,” Burns said.


Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151