RCK Member Lynne Fugate, former Knox County School System Board of Education member and current Knoxville City Council member, introduced the Teacher of the Year Award program.  Lynne emphasized that from her years of experience and perspective, we are blessed to have a good educational system here in Knox County.

She first introduced Tanna Nicely, Principal at South Knoxville Elementary School.  Dr. Nicely thanked RCK for its annual recognition of Knox County school teachers.  She indicated that in her view, the South Knoxville Elementary School fourth grade teacher that she is introducing today, Susan Parker, the recipient of the Elementary School Teacher of the Year Award, is a superstar.  She noted that Ms. Parker has been a teacher at various levels for 28 years, is a cancer survivor, and is a fighter in every sense of the word, particularly for her students.

Ms. Parker noted that she found out about the award on Friday afternoon and has been smiling ever since.  She emphasized that she and other teachers do not do the job for recognition, but it certainly feels good to be recognized.  She thanked her principal, other faculty and staff at South Knoxville Elementary, and all of the students that pass through her fourth grade class each year.

Her obviously heartfelt remarks included several factors that she considered important for a successful class, including a loving environment, genuinely caring for the students.  Ms. Parker pointed out that the class must be structured.  She believes that students need and want structure.  She noted that expectations are important for students.  All should know that they are expected to do their best.  And, she emphasized that part of her job is to help them believe that they can do their best.  She emphasized that education is a game changer for many of her students.  Changing their mindset to expect something from themselves and their education is important.

On a lighter note, Ms. Parker said that after she finished giving what she thought was a particularly good, well thought out and planned lesson, she asked her students if they had any questions.  One little girl raised her hand and her question was:  “Where do you get all of your scarves?”

It was quite apparent that Ms. Parker was being entirely truthful when she said that at the end of each school year each of her kids leaves with a little piece of her heart.

Ms. Fugate then introduced Tammi Campbell, Executive Principal at Austin-East Magnet High School.  Ms. Campbell indicated that the winner of the Middle and High School Teacher of the Year Award, Austin-East English teacher, Skikila Smith, is quite simply one of the best teachers in the world.  Both Principal Campbell and “Miss Ski” (pronounced Sky) are proud graduates of Austin-East.  Ms. Campbell emphasized that particularly with their students, education can be a great equalizer.  But, she noted that you usually do not get a do-over with respect to a child’s education.  Both Ms. Campbell and Miss Ski serve their community and school with passion and pride.

Miss Ski began her remarks by pointing out that her path to teaching was nontraditional.  She has only been teaching five years.  She grew up in the Lonsdale community in a difficult situation.  She became a single mom of three children at age 21.  She went back to college when her daughters were adults and her youngest son was a freshman in high school.  All of them encouraged her to become a teacher.  She went to the University of Tennessee and received Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees.  She completed her student teaching at Austin-East and has been on the faculty there since.

Miss Ski indicated that her students are always on her mind.  For many of them, education is a bridge to a better future.  She pointed out impediments to education that many of her students face, including hunger, housing, other vital necessities and safety concerns.

She teaches English and Advanced Creative Writing.  Miss Ski described her own teaching approach as sometimes unorthodox and noted that she appreciated the flexibility afforded her by Principal Campbell.  For example, Miss Ski’s nomination letter noted that desks are permanently arranged in a circle in her classroom, encouraging students to participate as equals with each other and with the principal.  Miss Ski emphasized her gratitude for the Teacher of the Year award, and remarked that she and other teachers are empowered by support from RCK and others in the community.

Each Teacher of the Year Award winner received a plaque recognizing her achievement, a $275 gift certificate from RCK Member Rob Johnson and A&W Office Supply for materials for her classroom, and a check for $500 from the Rotary Foundation of Knoxville.

It was quite clear that these two teachers love their students.  They are an affirmation of the purpose and importance of the RCK Teacher of the Year Awards, and yet another example of why this program is the favorite of the year for many of our members.