Collinsville, Oklahoma
March 12, 2016
Teachers Of The Year
District Teacher Of The Year
Beverly Craig
It is my pleasure and honor to announce that our 2016-17 District Teacher of the Year is Beverly Craig, 3rd grade teacher at Herald Elementary! Congratulations to Mrs. Craig...she is definitely more than worthy of this honor! -- Lance West 3/11/2016

Beverly Craig -- Herald Elementary (1st - 3rd Grade) -- Teacher of the Year

Education has been a part of my life since birth. My father was either in school or teaching school from the time I was born. My mother taught pre-school and Kindergarten during my late high school years and eventually became the principal at the Christian school in Woodward. One of my earliest memories was attending a play when my father was a drama teacher and being so proud of my dad. I remember ‘playing school’ in the professors’ classrooms at the Seminary where mom was a keyboard operator and my dad was a student, passing time until we could go home for the day. I felt so official in front of the classroom and of course loved writing on the chalkboard. But these events pale in comparison to the memories of watching my parents’ students come back and express the lifelong impact they each had made as a teacher or principal in their lives, watching my parents pour themselves into the lives of each child and that child’s family; making a difference. I have fond memories of my own school years- Mrs. Downey and her polyester dresses, Mrs. Officer and her beautiful beehive hairdo, Mrs. Snyder and Mrs. Walcher for their high expectations and quirky teaching styles and many others. I look back and know that each of them were a strand in the tapestry God was weaving of my life. As I began my college career, it was with aspirations of becoming a deaf educator or a speech pathologist. I enrolled in my basics, my pre-requisite education courses and, of course, sign language. After taking two signing classes, I quickly realized that speaking with my hands wasn’t going to be my best career path but that I really enjoyed my education courses; this was my calling. And so began my journey.

My accomplishments along the way may not be shouted from mountain tops, but I would hope they are much more personal to each child, to each family. Modeling after my parents, I consider it an accomplishment when I have helped a child grow to love learning, to give their best effort, to believe they can because I believed in them. It is an accomplishment to help a student begin to love school, to gain the trust of parents who may not have had a positive view of school or teachers, to look beyond behaviors or past experiences to see the struggling child and try to mend the brokenness. When I taught in impoverished schools, it was a common event to provide the most basics of needs; clothes, shoes that fit, belts for hand me down pants that don’t quite fit yet, or organizing a small group of teachers to provide a Christmas tree and presents for a under resourced single mom. Meeting physical and emotional needs comes first; it is my first influence in each child’s life. It has been said, “People don’t care how much you know unless they know how much you care.” This is an essential goal. After these needs are met, the education can begin. The children will know you are sincere and really want to help them learn; parents trust and truly back you; and with a few, I hope I have helped change the social inertia of an entire family, setting future on a better course. I now have students coming back to me, as my parents did years ago, saying how much they loved our year together. These are my most cherished accomplishments.

Another contribution to the education field in general is to try to be a ‘go to’, one who will at least try whatever is asked of me. I had this opportunity early in my career in Yale, Oklahoma. When asked “Can you teach music?”—“ I’ll try.” “Will you teach G/T?”-- “I’ll give it a shot.” “How about cheer sponsor?” --“OK.” And now, looking at my experience list, it is obvious I’ll try about anything asked of me. At one school, I worked with the State Department to write a deregulation proposal allowing the teachers to have one Friday of professional development per month to help our fracturing staff reconnect through TRIBES training and allowing the staff time to bond and work better together. Here in Collinsville, after seeing a great need, Mrs. Cornett and I wrote a grant to develop and set up our motor lab giving children a place to develop the muscle and reflex structures in their bodies that gives their brains the opportunity for best learning. (Mrs. Cornett has rebuilt the lab after our move to Herald; complete credit to her for the revival.) My third graders will begin using it again soon. In the past 5 years, I’ve taught four different grades in three different rooms at two different schools. I move to where I’m needed. And having a working knowledge of several grades helps me know where the children are coming from and where they should be going. It helps me set my perspective for the year. In general, give me a challenge; I’ll usually take it.

Being a role model and mentor in my building is also one of my goals and accomplishments. I am jokingly called ‘the first born’ of the building, the analyzer, and often the over-thinker. But with that title of jest, I try to lead, to mentor, to pass along my years of experience to my colleagues. I take every opportunity to have college students in my room and help them as they begin their own journeys into educations. I try to work with my team to think outside the box of the standard curriculum, to incorporate science and social studies, or local and national events into the state mandates and build importance into the skill. This year we developed curriculum around the State Fair, Christmas shopping and the Super Bowl. Beginning late February through Spring Break, we will enrich learning through the great Iditarod race and I will help some on my team follow me on this adventure. This is just the beginning for me in third grade and I am so thankful for the encouragement, the advice and help that my team members have offered me as the ‘new kid’. Next year, with a year under my belt, I hope to be a bigger asset to my team, help develop more studies and branch out even more.

Again, my accomplishments and contributions are not extraordinary. They are just me; trying to weave memorable, valued strands into the tapestries of the lives that come my way.

Melissa Smith -- Early Childhood Center (ECC) -- Teacher of the Year

Coming Back to My Childhood Passion

Like most elementary-aged girls I spent many afternoons in my bedroom playing school. My dozen plus “students” ranged from the always-in-trouble Teddy (a brown, stuffed bear) to the perfectly-behaved Janice (a little doll with a cute pixie haircut). As I set them on the blocks (their “desks”) of my grandmother’s handmade quilt, this created the perfect classroom setting in my seven-year-old mind.

The thought of becoming a teacher continued with me to college. Early in my college years I took a few education courses with the intent of becoming a teacher. However, a series of events and some work experiences lead me into the field of marketing instead and eventually, the corporate world.
Years later, when I became a mother, I left the workforce in order to stay home and raise my three children. Along the way I had several opportunities to engage in some teaching experiences in the church setting. I especially enjoyed the preschool and early elementary-aged children. I found those experiences to be inspiring and rewarding.

When my children entered school I became very involved in the parent-teacher organization. My position as president was time-consuming and laborious yet I also found the job to be fun and challenging. I began to feel quite at home in the school setting. I enjoyed working with the teachers and built a rapport with the staff and administration.

When my youngest entered first grade, I decided to go back to work. My first thought was to go back into the corporate setting. However, I found myself desiring to be at the school. While trying to determine the next phase of my life, I opted to do some substitute teaching in the meantime. In doing so, I really began to feel like I had found my element. The teachers were quite encouraging, helping me to find my strengths in this area. Two months into the process I was hired as a paraprofessional at the Early Childhood Center, working with special needs children, a very rewarding experience.

I had the privilege to work under the influence of two extremely gifted teachers, Diertra Harris and Kelly Overholt. Both have been very positive role models for me. Working under their leadership gave me direction in what an exceptional teacher looks like. What I saw in them became the foundation of the way I deal with students. It became very obvious to me that I had a heart for children, a passion for teaching them and a desire to help them succeed in their education. At the urging of my co-workers, I began the procedure of becoming a teacher through the Alternative Certification Process. Eight months later I acquired my license and was offered a pre-kindergarten teaching position shortly thereafter.

I believe one of the greatest assets I bring to the teaching world is having first been a mom. I teach from the heart—a mother’s heart. When I look at my students I remember that they are, first and foremost, the daughter or son of another mom and/or dad. I treat them like I would my own children. Just as my own children have individualized and unique qualities, I realize my students do as well. I’m motivated to seek the success of every student.

Since I entered the education world through what I call the “back door”—alternative certification—I’ve worked very hard to bring my teaching skills up to speed with my colleagues. I’ve taken college classes on classroom management and educational psychology. I’ve adapted many Great Expectations principles in my classroom. As a team we’ve attended conferences and presentations on the latest thoughts concerning core objectives and the best way to teach those objectives. Our preschool staff is dedicated to giving our students the best possible experience for a child’s first introduction to the school environment.

I love working with the preschool age group and desire to provide a positive learning experience for them. I set goals to challenge them, encourage them to stretch their thinking, seek creative and fun ways of instruction and help them learn in an affirming environment. I’m extremely fair, believing every child should be seen as an individual and given treatment according to their needs.

I have encountered some very difficult situations and have persevered. I’ve been told one of the reasons I’ve had such great success is because I’m loving, yet firm; disciplined, yet flexible. I strive to be patient, consistent, and compassionate. I have high aspirations for the success of my students.

There are days that can be extremely difficult and it would be easy to say ‘forget it’ and just walk away. Sometimes I think about the salary that I could be making in the corporate world. However, I do my job because I love it, not for the salary. I do it because I want to make a difference in the lives of my students. I do it for the troublesome “Teddys” and the perfect “Janices” of the world. Only this time it’s not pretend.

Rhonda Graham -- Upper Elementary (4th & 5th Grade) -- Teacher of the Year

Everyone in my family departs for college with a plan. I had a plan. My grand plan was to become the most sought after Sports Medicine Physical Therapist, to work with elite athletes, in the state of Oklahoma. I could not wait---but it never happened. Instead, three significant factors influenced me to chart an entirely different course for my life. I would become a teacher of students with disabilities…specifically, emotional disabilities. Who knew that a brief encounter with an inspirational teacher, a summer with emotionally disturbed children, and a desire to follow Jesus above all would change my life’s purpose forever?

The most important influence in my life in determining my life plan was my relationship with Jesus Christ. In the summer of 1985, my relationship with Him led me to be a camp counselor at a Special Needs Camp in Talequah, Oklahoma. It was there that my experiences with a cabin of emotionally disturbed children challenged my thinking, my plans, and my direction in life. It was there that God changed my heart and gave me a new passion. I became convinced teaching those weaker, those hurting, those feeling lost or without hope was my calling in life.

An inspirational teacher opened my eyes to what it meant to carry an emotional disability with you each day. During training, I was required to take on the burdens, behaviors, and personality of an emotionally disabled child for 24 hours. I was a bi-polar/oppositional defiant, ten year old student. The experience left me feeling exhausted, confused, and lonely for the first time in my life. Then I met my students for the summer, because of this experience I left that Special Needs camp determined to build up the weak ones, understand the hurting, and give hope to children who have given up too young. How would I impact the children with disabilities on a daily basis? I would teach!

I believe my greatest contribution to education is equipping students with special needs, and their teachers, with the skills necessary to rebuild hearts, change destructive behaviors, and develop an environment where children will thrive and succeed. I came to the realization that I teach and live relationally in my classroom. I pursue their heart first, because eventually the mind will follow. I lead my students from the inside out, and believe in building relationships first, instilling hope, a sense of belonging, and new confidence to make room for learning in their lives. Training teachers to teach students with disabilities from the inside out, gives the students the environment that they crave and the opportunity to strengthen their mind in a positive, safe environment. My greatest contribution is that I understand my calling in life. I am a shepherd and my flock is an amazing collection of students with special needs in their life.d new confidence to make room for learning in their lives.


Mandy Burd -- Wilson Elementary (6th Grade) -- Teacher of the Year

Expecting success and encouraging my students to achieve each day are my motivators for teaching. When I enter the classroom, my expectations are to provide the school experience that I want my own children to receive. My students know I respect them, I am concerned about them and I want each and every one of them to be successful.

My Bachelor of Science Degree is in Elementary Education. I use the techniques I obtained from this training as I structure my reading and language arts class with the use of firm, loving classroom management. A large part of my teaching day includes hands-on activities that encourage student involvement. As I determine each student’s learning style, I try to provide a variety of experiences that meet the needs of each student. Motivating students to take an active part in the learning process creates a desire to learn. One thought that inspires me each day is ‘What would I want my own personal children to learn?’ On days that I feel less than one hundred percent, I only have to think of my own kids, and then I get busy striving to provide the best instruction possible. Watching students take ownership of their personal learning and experience success is the heart of my teaching.

Daily preparation allows me to focus on the students in my class. Much time is spent searching for materials needed to prepare them for the next level. While the emphasis remains on testing and test scores, my focus is on the student success and individualized curriculum instruction. I spend each day reflecting and evaluating the previous day’s instruction. This reflection drives my search for new ideas and activities to teach skills and provide challenges for my students.

I am blessed to have colleagues who have supported me throughout my teaching career. Debbie Tomblinson stands out as a true mentor during the three years I taught at Collinsville Middle School. Debbie was always available to share her thoughts, ideas and materials. She led by example as she exhibited the characteristics of a successful and caring teacher. Her motivation helped me to develop into a more knowledgeable teacher.

Teaching has its challenges. Attitude regarding challenges in education is a choice. We can focus on the negative or we can strive for solutions to these challenges by focusing toward the positive. A quote I once read stated “Losers assemble in small groups and complain …. Winners assemble a team and find ways to win.” Working together creates winners in the teaching profession. Sharing ideas, materials and time allows motivation among colleagues to do our best in the classroom. Evaluating each day, searching for new ways to reach my students, as well as the encouragement from my co-workers, allows me to enter my classroom each day ready for a challenge.

My mother’s fifth grade classroom was the influence which directed me to a career in education. She used hands-on activities, provided a positive classroom experience, whether it was inside the classroom or outside the building, challenged us each day, and used creative ideas making us want to come back to see what was happening the next day. Some of mom’s teaching techniques have carried over into my classroom.

Anne Frank said, “Our very lives are fashioned by choices. First you make choices, and then choices make you.” My choice many years ago to become an educator has made me understand the value of quality role models for students, which means having a caring attitude, and providing a safe classroom environment. It has allowed me to be a part of ‘light bulb’ moments for challenged learners, a smile or pat on the back for the student that needed just a little recognition and encouragement. My choice many years ago to become an educator has made ME. The reward from my teaching career is seeing a former student and receiving a hug, a conversation or a big smile!
Education doesn’t come from a source in front of a classroom; it is so much more than a single individual. Quality education comes in the form of the united work of students, teachers, parents, administrators and the community. The Collinsville community has made the choice to support education and the students. It demonstrates this support by passing school bonds, by attendance of sporting events, band concerts, and school auctions, and by promoting the students in the community. Yes, it is GREAT TO BE A CARDINAL!

Catherine Blevins -- High School -- Teacher of Year

As I reflect on the factors that influenced me to become a teacher, my mind is flooded with the faces and memories of many significant people in my life. From several teachers and administrators who impacted me during my school years, to family members who chose the teaching profession. Although I never considered being a teacher while in elementary or even secondary school, I did have teachers that I admired and respected for their career choice.

During my junior and senior years in high school, I realized that English was my ‘thing’. I was the strange student that actually liked diagramming sentences, correcting grammar, and perfecting punctuation. This love of English was instilled in me by my mother who barely finished high school. She was adamant that her kids would finish high school and continue their education.

After graduating from Tahlequah High School in 1984, I received my Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Master of Education in School Administration degrees from Northeastern State University. I am certified in English through twelfth grade. I began teaching for Owasso Public Schools in 1990. I taught second, fourth, and fifth grades in Owasso. I had my oldest child in 1995 and decided to take some time off. I spent time at home when my children were small, but by 2003 I decided it was time to return to the classroom. I remained in Owasso from 2003 until 2012. We moved to Collinsville and I then began teaching for Collinsville Public Schools in 2012. I have been teaching for nineteen years and cannot imagine doing anything else.

My family has always been supportive of my career choice. Teaching has been a blessing to my family because I have never felt torn between the two. My husband, Rusty, and I have been married twenty-four years. He graduated from Collinsville High School with the class of 1984. We have three fabulous children; Craig, a sophomore at West Point, Christian, a senior at Collinsville High School, and Caroline, a junior at Collinsville High School.

My contributions to education would have to include my continued pursuit of improving myself as a teacher and helping those around me by sharing what I have as far as knowledge or materials and by staying positive, even when things don’t sound like they are improving in education for our state. I am a consistent presence at our school and a reliable teacher. I have sponsored National Honor Society and am currently the high school’s yearbook sponsor. These added activities have been a joy to help with and I have been able to get to know students that I never had in my English classes. I believe all of this is a part of maintaining a sense of community and professionalism in our school.

I feel accomplished when previous students come back and tell me that what I taught them actually helped them in life beyond high school. Impacting students on a daily basis and feeling like I make a difference in the world are my main accomplishments in education.

I still remember talking to my mother after my first week of teaching in August 1990. She asked how my week went and my reply was, “I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life”. Even though there are and always will be challenging days, my answer would still be the same.

Ashley Powell -- Middle School (7th & 8th Grade) -- Teacher of Year

(Ashley requested that her biography not be published online.)

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Copyright 2016 -- Collinsville, Oklahoma
ECC -- Melissa Smith
Herald -- Beverly Craig
CUE -- Rhonda Graham
Wilson 6th -- Mandy Burd
CMS -- Ashley Powell
CHS -- Catherine Blevins
Teacher Of The Year At Each Campus