In A Class of Their Own

At a time when Oklahoma schools are suffering from low rankings and bad publicity, it’s refreshing to hear positive news from teachers in the Edmond Public School District.

“We are an unusually happy group of teachers and unusually loyal to each other,” said Trish Kuykendall, a teacher at Summit Middle School. 

Edmond Teacher of the Year Finalists, Rexi Phillips, Darin Williams, Teri Walls, Elanna Killackey, Tiffany Holden, Chelsea AgeePart of that loyalty is demonstrated each October when teachers nominate each other for the Teacher of the Year award. It might seem early in the school year, but according to Kuykendall, who coordinates the scoring, “The first few months of school are the most precious and the most intense. The first 90 days set the tone for the entire school year. People often think that teachers are off for the summer, but the truth behind the scenes is that most of us work together year-round, spending much of the summer at the school.”

One nominee is selected from each of the 25 schools in the district. Next, each nominee submits a video of his or her teaching. The scoring committee, made up of school employees and parents, looks at factors such as teachers who…

            1. Communicate effectively with students of all backgrounds,

            2. Inspire through daily creative and imaginative teaching, and

            3. Go above and beyond in their efforts.

Following the video scoring, the nominations are narrowed to the top six candidates, who, according to Kuykendall, “exemplify the finest in the profession.” Those six individuals create a teaching portfolio, which includes a professional biography and response to questions about teaching contributions and student-learning results. “I’ve been in the district for 15 years, and I’ve met so many amazing teachers,” said Kuykendall. “We enjoy each other and like to see each other succeed.”

When this year’s finalists were announced, all six reacted with surprise. Without exception, each expressed that they were humbled to be nominated by their peers. “Edmond Public Schools is a strong district with thousands of deserving teachers who do the same thing I do each and every day,” said Chelsea Agee, one of this year’s candidates. “My school family was so genuinely excited for me—it gave me a sense of pride to do my very best for them.”

The Teacher of the Year winner will be announced in early April. For the next year, that person will continue to teach, while also conducting speaking engagements and representing the district in the statewide competition.

“As educators, we get the opportunity to often witness unbelievable transformations in our students, as they are challenged to grow and develop a sense of self-worth,” said Tiffany Holden, Special Education Teacher. “Students have at least fifty teachers along their school journey, and I consider it an honor to get to be part of that number for them.”

6 top teachers were asked: What legacy do you hope to leave as a teacher?

“My hopes and aspirations for my students are endless. At the end of the day, however, I hope they know that they are capable of achieving anything through hard work and respect. I want them to embrace adversity and learn to accept challenges with an open mind. I wish for them to develop skills that will help them reflect upon their growth and know that learning is a perpetual adventure.”

—Rexi Phillips, Social Studies Teacher at Boulevard Academy of Alternative Education

“I want each student to know as they enter and exit my classroom, that they are loved wholeheartedly. Learned helplessness and hesitation has found its home in the minds of young learners today. I know each student is extraordinary and it’s up to me to strengthen their desire to learn. Facts only get you so far, but the willingness and ability to seek out knowledge can exponentially affect the life of a learner.”

—Darin K. Williams, 5th Grade Teacher at Haskell Elementary

“The legacy that I hope to leave as a teacher is one of love. That may sound strange, but I mean a love of reading great literature, writing, critical thinking and love of our fellow man. I hope that the multitudes of students who have sat in my classrooms over the years remember that about me.”

—Teri Walls, Pre-AP English II, ACT Review and AP Literature Teacher at Edmond North High School

“Every day, I shake the hands of my students when they enter the door and let them know how excited I am to teach them. When these same students graduate, I want them to remember that someone believed in their future success. Aristotle once said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’ I seek to create habits that will reflect a willingness to practice and fail, to struggle and lose, and eventually a willingness to battle and succeed.”

—Elanna Killackey, English Teacher, Student Council Sponsor and Yearbook Advisor at Memorial High School

“I work to push my special education students to reach new heights and to have them know I value them for who they are, what they are capable of accomplishing and what they can become. My students are my driving force, and I am constantly finding myself exploring, restructuring and re-inventing my classroom so they can be bold and creative with their learning process.”

—Tiffany Holden, Special Education Teacher at West Field Elementary

“The good I hope to do cannot be measured with a standard, but measured with a memory. I hope that my students look back at their time spent in my classroom with fond memories—learning taking place, constant engagement and fun. I acknowledge that students might not remember a particular math lesson that I stayed up late working on or an integrated unit that took weeks to plan, but I hope they never forget how I made them feel while they were in my class.”

—Chelsea Agee, 4th Grade Teacher and Before & After Care Director at Washington Irving Elementary

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