Barker is teacher of year

May 11, 2011

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Deborah Barker was not expecting the prize that awaited her when she was named Henry County Schools 2011 Teacher of the Year on Tuesday night.

“I can’t believe this is real,” Barker said as she stood beside a 2011 Subaru Forester that she will have use of, compliments of Nelson Automotive. She will have use of a vehicle from Nelson for a year, officials said.

Barker, who teaches horticulture at Magna Vista High School, was among 15 teachers who were honored as school-level teachers of the year Tuesday at Chatmoss Country Club. About 100 people attended the reception and dinner.

Pat Nevins, a first-grade teacher at Collinsville Primary School, was named first runner-up for the county schools’ Teacher of the Year, and Laura Turton, a fourth-grade teacher at Mt. Olivet Elementary School, was named second runner-up.

Each school selected a Teacher of the Year based on criteria outlined by the Virginia Department of Education. Each Teacher of the Year completed an application portfolio that detailed his or her community involvement, philosophy of teaching, educational issues and trends that he or she considers most important and three letters of recommendation.

A committee made up of school system administrators and community members selected the seven finalists after reviewing the teachers’ portfolios, and a different committee made up of school system administrators and community members interviewed the seven finalists and selected the Teacher of the Year, the first runner-up and the second runner-up, school officials said.

Barker will advance to regional Teacher of the Year competition.

Magna Vista High School Principal Gracie Agnew said Barker is “just phenomenal.”

“Students learn so much from Mrs. Barker. It’s not just on fundamental levels,” Agnew said.

Barker encourages critical thinking (higher order thinking that questions assumptions); she has high expectations of students, and students rise to meet those expectations; and she teaches life skills, Agnew said.

“She makes everything relevant. Students want to know why,” and Barker explains why, and she tells students “what the jobs are of the future,” Agnew said.

The event’s program quoted Barker as saying: “In the case of agricultural education, we are training employees for Virginia’s largest industry. Agriculture generates $79 billion for our state’s economy. Those dollars represent jobs in horticulture, production agriculture, forestry, and agribusiness that find their future employees in the agriculture classroom.”

There is a waiting list for students who want to take Barker’s classes, Agnew said, adding that numerous students of Barker’s have won state and national competitions.

“I’m just overwhelmed,” Barker said in an interview, about being named the county Teacher of the Year. She said it’s “very humbling” being in the company of the other Teachers of the Year and working with other dedicated educators in the county school system. She expressed thanks to the school system and the community for supporting her programs.

Barker said she has taught 34 years, 33 of them in Henry County.

Barker said even though she’s been teaching for more than three decades, “It’s new every time you see it through the students’ eyes.”

She and her horticulture students at Magna Vista are well known for such things as their Christmas poinsettia sales, wedding shows and community landscaping projects.

One of her greatest fulfillments in teaching is what she calls the “a-ha moment,” when students “accomplish something they think they can’t,” she said.

One highlight from her career is how the Future Farmers of America has developed and grown as she has worked with agriculture teacher Darryl Holland, she said. Another is that one of her students from her first year of teaching at Laurel Park High School in 1978, Buck Davis, is now her business partner: The two of them are co-owners of Simply the Best Flowers.

First runner-up Pat Nevins, who has 36 years of experience, said in an interview, “I just love children. I just have a passion for children. I love to watch them grow.” She said she was proud Tuesday night when Kaylee Scott, a former student of hers who now attends John Redd Smith Elementary, sang Carrie Underwood’s “Whenever You Remember” to the school Teachers of the Year.

Laura Turton said being selected second runner-up was “a great honor. I work with so many ... wonderful” educators. It’s fulfilling, she said, “watching children grow and learn and to see the expressions in their eyes when they realize they have gotten the concept ... .”

The other four finalists for county Teacher of the Year were: Lisa Seay, a biology teacher at Bassett High School; Ruth Herring, a special education teacher at Campbell Court Elementary; Jenny Lester, an eighth-grade math teacher at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School; and Pamela Drews, a first-grade teacher at Rich Acres Elementary.

Herring said special education is not the field for teachers who want to see immediate improvement in their students, but after working with her special education students perhaps for months on a concept and seeing when “the light suddenly comes on for them” is very rewarding for her. She tries to help her students “fit in with the real world as closely as possible,” she said.

Seay said she likes seeing students succeed, she likes building relationships with students and through teaching students, “building our community.”

Lester said it’s fulfilling helping students understand a subject and move to the next level, and it’s fulfilling when students come back years later and tell her about their lives.

Barker and all other school Teachers of the Year received plaques or trophies and gifts, all donated by local businesses and others.

The other eight school teachers of the year are: Kimberly Draper, a second-grade teacher at Axton Elementary School; Richard “Lee” Orr Jr., a special education teacher at Carver Elementary; Florence Simpson, an English teacher at the Center for Community Learning; Carol Carter, a kindergarten teacher at Drewry Mason Elementary; Darlene McNeill, a special education teacher at John Redd Smith Elementary; Sandra Cardwell, librarian at Laurel Park Middle School; Tiffany Stovall, a fifth-grade teacher at Sanville Elementary; and Connie Frazier, a special education teacher at Stanleytown Elementary.

Among those attending the reception were officials of county government, the school system, the Henry County School Board, businesses and organizations.


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