In Depth: Teacher Awards Presented In Frankfort

A high school English teacher from Jessamine County is the 2011 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

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Erika Webb is a bundle of energy. She bounded to the stage when the nine year teaching veteran was named state High School Teacher of the Year. And when it became clear she was also Kentucky Teacher of the Year, she laughed, and cried, and jumped for joy!

“I’m just one of a bunch of people,” Webb told Kentucky Public Radio. “I’m no different than any other teacher who’s out there doing good work every day. I think it was just one of those random things where I’m lucky enough to get honored. But, I’m nothing special. There are people working just as hard as I do, if not harder, day in and day out in Kentucky public schools.”

Webb, who teaches English at East Jessamine High, was awarded a cameo art glass bowl and a check for $10,000 from Ashland Inc., which has sponsored the awards since 1988. Webb plans to share the prize money with her school.

“I figured I’d ask my fellow teachers what they want – something that would be nice at our school that we could do for them,” said Webb. “There’s obviously always expenses that classroom teachers have, so maybe a lot of the money’s going to go into my classroom and to my students as well – and maybe a fancy dinner with my husband!”

The Middle School Teacher of the Year is Ashley Forrest, band director at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Jefferson County.

“I never expected it,” said Forrest. “But it’s pretty exciting that they’re recognizing the arts and giving the award to someone who’s trying to do good things in the arts. And that’s really exciting in the State of Kentucky.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, whose long resume includes band director, was pleased to see Forrest recognized for her efforts to preserve the arts.

“Too often we focus in on tested subjects,” said Holliday. “But if you look at coaches, and clubs, and bands, and the people who really spend time with kids – they’re the ones making the lasting impression on kids. They’re the ones making the lasting impression on their job skills, like team work, problem solving. That’s where people learn to work together.”

Ashley Forrest received a commemorative glass vase and a check for $3,000. So did Sarah Wilder of W.R. McNeil Elementary in Russell County – this year’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Based on what she sees in her fifth grade classroom, Wilder’s not worried about America’s future.

“No, absolutely not,” said Wilder. “I have full confidence in my students. They are exceptional. And I think that they’re a good representation of the average American student. They’re 10 and 11 year olds, and they just have such high goals and they work so hard to achieve those goals.”

In all, 24 Kentucky Teacher Achievement Award winners from across the commonwealth were honored during the ceremonies in the Capitol rotunda. From here, Erika Webb moves on to represent Kentucky in the National Teacher of the Year competition in Washington. Butch Hamm’s been there before. He was last year’s Kentucky Teacher of the Year and says it was a great experience, but Webb will have to move quickly because the application deadline for the national competition is November 4th.

“We choose our teachers late in the state, as opposed to some of the other states,” said Hamm. “So, it becomes a really tough task to get the application completed. But one of the things that KDE has done is try to streamline our application to meet the national application standards.”

Four finalists in the National Teacher of the Year competition will be announced in Washington in December. The winner will be introduced to the nation next April.

(In photo: Kentucky Teacher of the Year Erika Webb, center, Middle School Teacher of the Year Ashley Forrest, left, and Elementary School Teacher of the Year Sarah Wilder)

By Tony McVeigh

Veteran broadcast journalist Tony McVeigh has been covering Kentucky politics since 1986, reporting for Clear Channel Communications before joining Kentucky Public Radio in 2004. His stories are aired by seven KPR affiliates, whose signals blanket the Commonwealth and parts of surrounding states. McVeigh began his broadcasting career at WRFC in Athens, Georgia, while earning a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia. He has extensive anchor/reporter experience, including stints with South Carolina Network and Georgia Radio News Service in Atlanta. In 2007 and 2008, McVeigh was named Best Radio Reporter in the Kentucky Associated Press Awards. He also picked up consecutive AP Awards for Best Political Coverage. McVeigh won four Kentucky AP Awards in 2009, six in 2010 - including Best Political Coverage and Best Hard News Feature - and three in 2011. His coverage of the 2007 Kentucky governor's race topped the Political Reporting category of the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards of 2008. In 2009, McVeigh placed second in Courts and Law Reporting in the Atlanta-based competition for journalists in 11 Southern states. McVeigh is also the proud recipient of an Individual Liberty Award from the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Brunswick, Georgia, native is a die-hard UGA football fan who enjoys photography, astronomy, live music, hiking Kentucky's Red River Gorge and exploring the state's beautiful back roads. McVeigh and his big, fat, black cat Simon, reside in Frankfort, KY.