ROCK HALL — Likening the ceremony to the Academy Awards, the Kent County Board of Education celebrated the school system’s top educators Monday, April 12.
The annual Kent County Public Schools ceremony honoring the Teacher of the Year, Support Staff Member of the Year and the Promising Educator Award winner was held in person this year with board members and administrators at the central office in Rock Hall, though the event has not returned to the gala affair it was pre-COVID.
“It is kind of like the Academy Awards because it is a chance for us to recognize and really celebrate what our employees are doing,” said Ed Silver, supervisor of human resources for Kent County Public Schools and a one-time Teacher of the Year himself.
Silver said it a was tremendous group of promising educators, support employees and teachers who were nominated this year and participated in the interview process that led to the winners’ selection.
“We want to honor all of them tonight,” Silver said. “It’s a celebration of all our teachers.”
The 2021 Teacher of the Year is Caren Saunders. Saunders has been with Kent County Public Schools since 2004. She currently teaches psychology at Kent County High School.
“Mrs. Saunders is an educator who believes learning is inherently beautiful and unending, and encourages her students to harness their inner curiosity,” said Gina Jachimowicz, the school system’s director of teaching and learning, in announcing Saunders’ award. “Congratulations.”
In thanking everyone for her recognition, Saunders said she felt very honored. She started by thanking her fellow teachers, those in the high school as well as those in the middle and elementary schools.
“I am also proud to be a member of the Kent County Public Schools family. I am so fortunate to have my children in this school district and for my children to have the teachers they have had over the years,” she said.
Saunders and her husband Ron have four boys, two have graduated from the school system and two are still enrolled. She thanked them all as well.
She also spoke about the challengers educators have faced over the past year.
“This year has truly felt like a blender for all of us in education, not just for teachers but for everyone at every level. The bus drivers, the cafeteria staff, guidance, our technology department, the supervisors, the building principals: I think all of us have been pushed in many ways and all of us have learned and really helped each other in ways that we could never imagine,” Saunders said.
She closed by echoing Jachimowicz’ introduction, saying that she has always believed that education and learning are “inherently beautiful and unending and emancipatory.”
“And the best thing about this career and this job is that it is all about learning,” Saunders said. “Thank you so much for this honor. I am truly blessed to be a part of this team. Thank you.”
As part of Saunders’ honor, she will be given a car from Hertrich Automotive to drive for the year.
Each school nominated a Teacher of the Year. Those nominees were Brooke Mulford at Kent County Middle School; Dawn Webb for Galena Elementary School; Mary Brown of H.H. Garnet Elementary School; and April Gagalski for Rock Hall Elementary School.
This Support Staff Member of the Year is Dana Bourne, an information technology instructional assistant at Garnet Elementary.
“Dana’s work and dedication has always been an integral part of the school community, but in a virtual learning world she has demonstrated her true ability with technology and communication. She has worked tirelessly to assist students, parents and staff and has always kept a smile on her face,” Silver said in introducing Bourne.
Bourne thanked Principal Brenda Rose, the staff at Garnet and families for making the school a wonderful place to work.
She singled out Garnet coworkers Kiki Jones, Flo Terrill and Cheryl Santmyer “for their daily support and humor” and she thanked Kent County Public Schools Supervisor of Information Technology William Poore for his dedication, leadership “and always answering my phone calls.”
Most of all, she said, she thanked her husband Peter and their three children.
“It’s an honor to be the support employee of the year for Kent County Public Schools,” Bourne said. “This past year has been a year that will not be forgotten.”
The fellow nominees for Support Staff Member of the Year were George Goldsboro at Kent County High School; Sara Moore of Kent County Middle School; Anne Marie Llewellyn for Galena Elementary; Kathy Smith at Rock Hall Elementary; and Susan Pavon at the central office.
This year’s Promising Educator Award for teachers in the early years of their careers went to a Kent County High School alumnus.
Silver said winner Taylor Hudson returned to her alma mater this year as an English teacher. Silver said Hudson made a huge impact by keeping in constant communication with her students and their families.
“She worked hard to identify barriers and do everything possible to remove them,” Silver said. “She is incredibly positive and always brings fresh perspective and ideas that are welcomed by all.”
Hudson thanked everyone from board members to coworkers and administrators. She thanked her family.
“Perhaps above all, thank you to my students. I strive to make our classroom a warm place to be, especially this year when human contact has been limited. But that is not something that I can achieve on my own. Our space needs to be one full of positivity, enthusiasm, respect and camaraderie and it is my students that help to create that atmosphere,” Hudson said.
She said it is rapport that makes her truly love her job and hopefully helps students love their classroom. She hopes students look at the interactions and conversations with her and see the value in them.
For Hudson, it was a moment of rapport with a teacher of her own that inspired her to become an educator. She said it is a full-circle interaction in that it occurred in the same room where she teaches now.
Hudson said it was when her teacher Gillian Spero — who is now a literacy coach for the school system — told her her essay nearly made her cry.
“In that small moment of a teacher reaching out, I perhaps for the first time realized that my story mattered outside my household,” Hudson said.
The additional nominees for the Promising Educator Award were Daniel Atadan at Kent County High School and Patrick Statler for Kent County Middle School.