(March 29, 2019) Four finalists will be announced for the Worcester County Teacher of the Year, tonight, Friday, during the 32nd annual banquet at the Clarion Resort Hotel on 101st Street in Ocean City.
“We’ve changed the entire format this year, which includes how we are announcing the winner,” said Carrie Sterrs, coordinator of the event and spokesperson for Worcester County schools.
“At this Friday’s gala, we will be announcing the four finalists for the Worcester County Teacher of the Year, with the winner being surprised at his or her school the following week.”
In past years, the overall winner was announced during the banquet.
Teachers are nominated each year through a ballot process by a student, parent, colleague, administrator or community member.
“There is a selection committee comprised of our former Teacher of the Year, representation from our higher education partners and the county government,” Sterrs said. “They score the candidates’ portfolios blindly, and then all 14 candidates are interviewed by the panel. Those two components make up the criteria by which the Teacher of the Year is chosen.”
The educator who receives the highest combined score on their portfolios and interviews wins the Worcester County Teacher of the Year title and advances to the state competition.
After county awards are presented, the 24 teachers, representing each of the school systems in Maryland, will have their portfolios judged by the Maryland State Department of Education and the field is narrowed down to seven finalists.
“Typically, MSDE announces the seven finalists for Maryland Teacher of the Year in early September, with the winner being named at its gala in October,” Sterrs said.
Worcester County earned the state title once, in 2007, when seventh grade English Language Arts teacher, Michelle Hammond, of Stephen Decatur Middle School, took home the honor.
Last year, Karen Holland, a special education teacher at Cedar Chapel Special School, was named Worcester County Teacher of the Year. Holland will be the keynote speaker for the gala, following a 32-year long tradition.
“This year is a celebration like no other, as we are also celebrating 150 years of excellence in education for Worcester County Public Schools,” Sterrs said. “Our program has been completely changed, and we look forward to sharing in this celebration with those attending.”
The banquet honors current teachers while also providing a reunion for retired teachers, who return each year to the ceremony, which began in 1988.
“This is a big departure from what we have traditionally done. We’re very excited,” Sterrs said.
The 2019 Worcester County Teacher of the Year candidates are:
Caitlin Bunting, Buckingham Elem. School
Caitlin Bunting graduated from Stephen Decatur, attended Loyola University earning a B.A. in Public Relations, and later received her Masters of Education in Elementary Education from Wilmington University in 2009.
She is currently in her ninth year at Buckingham Elementary School where she teaches fourth grade. Bunting believes that students learn best when they are having fun.
She incorporates music, movement, technology and hands-on experiments in her lessons to engage her students.
Bunting is a mentor teacher to Salisbury University interns, a member of the Parent Advisory Committee, and part of the Reading School Improvement Team.
Michael Anne Bunting, Berlin Intermediate School
Michael Anne Bunting graduated from Stephen Decatur, and attended Salisbury University, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education with a Psychology minor, Reading Specialist Master’s degree, and certification in Special Education and Math 4-9.
Currently in her 15th year, Bunting teaches sixth grade math at Berlin Intermediate School, building a community of learners where everyone enters her class knowing that they are loved and respected and that they have value is her passion.
Bunting is on the PBIS team, the One School One Book Committee, PLC Leadership, After School Academy teacher, and coaches and assists with youth sports.
Brandi Castaneda, Pocomoke High School
Brandi Castaneda believes in a world driven by digital influence, stating ‘It is imperative that we encourage and teach students to become creators rather than consumers of technology.’
With a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design from Salisbury University and Masters of Education from the University of Phoenix, Castaneda teaches computer science, digital arts & photography, yearbook and publications at Pocomoke High School.
As field hockey coach, she has established a mentoring program for student athletes to guide and motivate younger students because she believes students should remain connected with youth to encourage perseverance and success while inspiring community connections.
Anne Cook, Stephen Decatur Middle School
Anne Cook earned her BA from Salisbury University and holds a Master’s Equivalency. In her 11th year of teaching, she currently instructs seventh grade World Geography.
Her passion for community engagement drives her instruction in and outside of the classroom.
She is an advisor for Builders Club and recently launched an equine program. She is a Service-Learning Fellow and member of the Ed Camp Delmarva Organizing Committee.
Cook was Maryland History Day Teacher of the Year in 2017 and received the Celebrating Innovation Award in 2018. An active member of the community, Cook serves on the board for the Ocean City Surf Club.
Jessica Custis, Pocomoke Middle School
Jessica Custis earned her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Virginia and her Master of Teaching degree in Elementary Education from UVA’s Curry School of Education.
Custis has taught for 20 years and is currently in her 10th year at Pocomoke Middle School. She serves as the fourth-grade team leader, teaches in the after-school program, and serves as a mentor teacher.
Custis strives to help her students build a conceptual understanding of mathematics through movement and hands-on learning. She holds high expectations for her students, while building positive relationships and fostering a love of learning.
Lavonya Dashiell, Pocomoke Elementary School
Lavonya Dashiell earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from Salisbury University and a Masters of Education in School Leadership from Wilmington University.
Dashiell is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Wilmington University.
This is her 18th year at Pocomoke Elementary School, currently as a first-grade teacher. She believes that in a nurturing and caring environment all students can grow and become successful.
Dashiell has also served as a mentor teacher to university interns and co-advisor to the Kiwanis Kids After-School Academy.
Zachary Johnson, Cedar Chapel Special School
New Jersey native, Zachary Johnson spent his undergraduate education studying theater, music, professional and creative writing.
After migrating to the oasis of Ocean City, he substitute taught in Wicomico and Worcester counties, served as an educational assistant, classroom teacher, and he is now lucky enough to educate students through Adapted Physical Education in his 10th year at Cedar Chapel Special School.
He coaches the school’s basketball and soccer clubs, helps choreograph music performances, and practices sound therapy.
Johnson’s most treasured moments are with his family, but he also enjoys playing music, skateboarding and surfing. He takes having fun very seriously.
Angela Rankin, Showell Elementary School
Angela Rankin graduated from Salisbury University earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, also through Salisbury University.
Rankin is in her sixth year of teaching first grade at Showell Elementary and has three children in Worcester County schools.
She believes in providing a quality classroom where all students feel safe, valued and free to make mistakes from with they learn and grow academically, emotionally and socially.
Rankin is Showell’s teacher champion, yearbook coordinator and mentor to new teachers. She is a warm, accessible, loving and enthusiastic teacher.
Gina Russell, Snow Hill Elementary School
Gina Russell, earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Salisbury University and a Masters of Special Education from Wilmington University.
In her eighth year at Snow Hill Elementary School, Russell currently teaches the new Pre-K Three inclusion classroom and services Pre-K Four students in the afternoon.
She believes every student has the right to an appropriate education; one that inspires all students to communicate, grow, feel safe and have a voice.
Russell serves as the team leader for Special Education, a mentor teacher for Salisbury University interns, and evaluates for the Infants and Toddlers team in the summer.
Heather Shockley, Snow Hill Middle School
Heather Shockley earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Salisbury University, and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
In her 11th year of teaching visual art, she inspires students, grades four through eight, at Snow Hill Middle.
Art is a universal platform for all to learn and Shockley works tirelessly to build positive relationships that fosters rich discussion and creativity.
She is a team leader, a member of the School Improvement team, a yearbook advisor, advisor for the National Junior Arts honor Society, and an artist.
Sharon Smith, Stephen Decatur High School
Sharon Smith graduated from Penn State University with a Bachelor of Science degree. After two years gaining experience in industry, she began a career in education in a charter school in Florida.
Upon returning to Worcester County in 2003, she enrolled and graduated with a Masters in the Art of Teaching degree.
She has been in the science department at Stephen Decatur High School since 2004. She strives to reach every student’s passion and is invested in building trust to motivate them to excel.
Her efforts continue with curriculum planning, Star Student Committee, and Adult Education Program in the community.
Jennifer Spicer, Ocean City Elementary School
Jennifer Spicer is committed to providing all students with a strong educational foundation for a lifetime of learning.
With a great passion for teaching, Spicer works hard to ensure that all students feel cared for and understand their full potential which will help guide their future.
She received her teaching licensure from Salisbury University, as well as a Master’s degree in Applied Technology from Wilmington University.
After three years as a Kindergarten teacher at Ocean City Elementary School, she has now transitioned to third grade, where she works with a group of amazing and creative teachers.
Richard Stephens, Worcester Technical High School
Richard Stephens graduated from Snow Hill High School. This is his 35th year teaching welding along with computer-integrated manufacturing at Worcester Technical High School.
Stephens believes in focusing on individual needs, and involving students in the process of their learning. As a teacher, he strives to adapt to the learning styles of each student.
In his 18th year as the SkillsUSA lead advisor at Worcester Tech, he has increased the student membership from 80 members to over 350 members. For the past nine years, Stephens has served on the SkillsUSA Maryland Board of Directors and is the current chair.
Ashley Streebig, Snow Hill High School
Ashley Streebig earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Masters in teaching secondary science education from Salisbury University.
She is currently in her 10th year of teaching at Snow Hill High School, where she teaches biology, Environmental Science and AP Environmental Science.
She prides herself in fostering ownership of learning as well as challenging her students to make real world connections to science.
She has served a vital role in her department planning PLC; founder of the GREEN Eagles club and is a Science Teacher Leader at the county level.
“I think we have an outstanding group of teachers this year to represent each school,” Superintendent Lou Taylor said during a January Board of Education meeting. “These teachers are truly shining examples of the high-quality teaching occurring in classrooms across this county.”