EASTON — Two respected members of the Talbot County Public Schools community were honored at an annual gala that celebrates the district’s finest teachers and support staff.

Renee Warfield, an ESOL/Spanish teacher at Easton High School, is the 2018 Teacher of the Year. Oliver McKinney, the school security officer at St. Michaels Middle High School, was named Support Staff of the Year.

The celebration, which featured dinner and entertainment by the Easton High School Warrior Chorale, was held Thursday, April 12, at The Milestone in Easton.

“Great energy, lots of fun, everybody’s having a good time,” said Charlene Gould, an executive assistant at the Talbot County Education Center.

“Tonight is about excellence. That’s what we’re celebrating here this evening — excellence achieved in a vital and demanding profession,” Talbot Board of Education President Michael Garman said.

“Every year, it’s hard to choose the teacher of the year and support staff of the year, but this year it was incredibly difficult,” said James Redman, a TCPS curriculum staff supervisor. “This year’s nominees were fantastic.”

Warfield thanked her “bosses who say yes when sometimes their good judgment thinks they should say no,” she said. “They have open minds, and they try things when I want to think outside the box, and they’re willing to go along with me sometimes when it’s scary.”

TCPS Superintendent Kelly Griffith congratulated Warfield and quoted a colleague who had nominated her: “She is someone who always puts the needs of others before her own.”

Redman introduced McKinney as “a young man who’s not only an asset to St. Michaels Middle High School, but a real hero to so many of us here in Talbot County. He’s a role model, mentor and magician.”

“One of his colleagues wrote that if it (were) possible to assign service learning hours to a staff member, Oliver McKinney would certainly exceed graduation requirements,” Griffith said.

McKinney tutors students in the St. Michaels Library after school each day, Griffith said.

McKinney did not attend the celebration because of a death in his family. However, as the audience cheered and jumped to its feet to give him a standing ovation, Redman videotaped the reaction, panning the room with his cellphone.

“That’s really going to lift his spirits,” Griffith said. “That’s just awesome. Thank you for being his family today.”

“Both of these individuals foster positive and trusting relationships with students,” Griffith said.

There were 17 nominees for the two awards, “a record number,” Redman said. As each nominee was announced, cheers went up from various tables in the dining room.

The four finalists for 2018 Teacher of the Year were Warfield, Lenore Burkhardt, Easton High School; Jennifer McGuckin, Chapel District Elementary School; and Kristen Stovall, St. Michaels Elementary School.

Other Teacher of the Year nominees were Lyndsey Basham and Kathy Regan of St. Michaels Elementary; Tish Blessing, White Marsh Elementary; Andrea Davis, Easton High; Lesa Hughey, Terri Kearns and Woody Lambert of Easton Elementary–Moton; Kimberly Keech, Easton Middle; and Ann Miller, Easton Elementary-Dobson.

The nominees and finalists for 2018 Support Staff of the Year were McKinney, Tasha Aikens, Debbie Phipps and Tiffany Sweeney.

“You are all elite in your chosen field here in Talbot County,” Garman said. “I know that (the word) ‘elite’ has gotten a bad rap lately, but we want people who are the elite in their field, ‘the choice or the best of anything in a group.’”

“You all didn’t arrive here this evening by doing what you needed to do just to get by,” Garman said. “You all put in the extra time, the extra effort and the additional work requirements to be the best because it takes time to get to the elite level.”

Warfield expressed her gratitude for her colleagues. “I want to thank the incredible faculty I work with every day,” Warfield said as she was overcome with emotion. “Half of the great ideas I have are inspired by other people’s.

“I hope I represent the county well, because the people who were nominated along with me are wonderful professionals, and they deserved it as much as I did.”

Among the attendees were Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot, and Del. Chris Adams, R-37B-Wicomico, who presented citations from the Maryland House of Delegates to each of the eight finalists on behalf of the Talbot County delegation, which includes State Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, who could not attend.

“I can’t remember my textbooks, but I remember my teachers,” Mautz, a graduate of St. Michaels Middle High School, said. “And, unfortunately, they all remember me.”

Also on hand was Dr. Darla Strouse, who supervises the state Teacher of the Year awards as the Maryland State Department of Education’s executive director of the Office of Partnership Development & Recognition, and Pat Papineau, general manager of the Hertrich Family of Automotive Dealerships, which sponsors the Talbot County Teacher of the Year and Staff of the Year program, and has provided new cars for the winners to drive during the school year.

2017 Teacher of the Year Katie Fox of Tilghman Elementary School and Support Staff of the Year Tonya Hayman of Easton Middle School each gave one last speech, although Hayman reminded the audience, “I still have four months to go.” She was the first to receive the now-annual award for support staff.

“You have fostered a positive and trusting relationship with students and staff,” Hayman told the nominees. “So I say to you, don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you have planted. Support staff, you rock.”

Katie Fox, who was a state finalist, served the community with “grace and grit,” Redman said. “She reminded us all that every child needs a champion.”

“When I think back to a year ago when I was standing here, and then I fast forward to this (evening), I have to tell you, if I thought I was dedicated to children before, it pales in comparison to my passion now,” Fox said.

“Tonight, I can see I’m not alone in this fight,” Fox said.

Quoting Winston Churchill, Fox said, “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. I’m confident our students are in the hands of those that will seize every opportunity for them.”

“Relationships is what it’s all about,” Griffith said. “People want to talk about school safety every day. School safety is relationships. Building those relationships and knowing our kids and knowing what we need to do help them in every aspect of their life — that’s what school safety is all about, and that’s what we do.”

“It takes a big heart to shape the little minds and souls of our children,” Griffith said. “Our best teachers are those who show where to look but do not tell you what to see.”

Follow me on Twitter @connie_stardem.

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