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El Dorado Teachers Honored for Excellence

Posted on May 28, 2014

Originally published in the El Dorado News-Times on May 29, 2014.

By Janice McIntyre

After three El Dorado School District teachers were chosen to receive awards on Wednesday, Bob Watson, who announced in January that he is retiring after serving as superintendent since 1985, received a standing ovation as he rose to speak during the 17th annual Teacher Excellence Awards ceremony. Watson also received a standing ovation as he was presented with a sharp shooter shovel signed by school officials, administrators and members of the board.

“He (Watson) can dig a mean ditch,? laughed Jim Tucker, as he presented the shovel to Watson at the conclusion of the awards ceremony, which was presented by the El Dorado Education Foundation and sponsored by Murphy Oil Corp. Tucker will assume the responsibilities as superintendent on July 1; Watson is scheduled to retire June 30. A brief reception for Watson was held following the ceremony in the Wildcat arena at El Dorado High School.

Excellence Awards

“She has a heart of gold. She not only excels as an excellent teacher, but she also cares for each student as an individual, and it shows every day when my child comes home. I trust her with all that is in me,? one parent wrote about Kathy Sixbey, a third-grade teacher at Hugh Goodwin Elementary who received the excellence award in the elementary division.

Judges from Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, who this year read the 600 nominations received from students, parents and teachers and then selected semifinalists and nine finalists, said Sixbey and her students all work together ? “through nods, smiles and polite words.?

“A structured environment, her classroom is blended with firmness, warmth and respect,? said Walter Compton, a member of the EDEF, who presented the award to Sixbey. “She implements research-based instructional strategies to engage students in meaningful and significant work.?

Alice Mahony, vice president of the EDEF, welcomed those in attendance at the ceremony and said she first wanted to remember Theodosia Nolan, who died Saturday at the age of 96. She was one of the founding investors of Murphy Oil Corp. and one of the founding members of the EDEF. In January 2007, Murphy Oil announced its $50 million scholarship gift to graduates of El Dorado High School ? the El Dorado Promise.

Mahony read the names of the semifinalists, and El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash presented the teachers with their awards and checks for $100.

“What are teachers without students?? Mahony then asked Charley Hankins, who answered, “Happy,? as Hankins, LeBryant Crew and members of the band, “Sonic Groove,? performed the Pharrell Williams song,?Happy,? from the movie, “Despicable Me II.?

Described as “skilled, energetic and compassionate,? Alissa Rynders was honored with the middle school/junior high Teacher Excellence of the Year Award. Naming Rynders as the award recipient, Carol Felton, another member of the EDEF, said, “She makes math meaningful by engaging students with real-life connections. This teacher recognizes the importance of establishing a caring environment where students feel free to express opinions and ask questions.?

“She has made a huge impression on me. Her techniques and love for the subject really push students to do their best. She goes above and beyond to make sure each and every one of her students learn. Her encouragement has made the fifth grade wonderful,? a parent wrote.

Rynders also offers tutoring before and after school and “makes the subject matter come alive while helping pupils feel accepted and valued. She meets students where they are, teaching them with kindness, while maintaining classroom control. She is hands down the best,? another parent wrote.

Lila Phillips, executive director of the EDEF, introduced the nine semifinalists, and Charlie Thomas, a member of the EDEF board, presented trophies and checks for $250 to those teachers. Phillips then asked her brother, Hankins, “What do teachers do on the last day of exams?? He answered, “Hold On,? and the band then performed the Sam and Dave song, “Hold On I?m Coming.?

As Sherrel Johnson began to read compliments about the high school teacher of the year ? the crowd began to cheer ? as they recognized that the winner was Delaine Gates, who has served as drama instructor at EHS for the past 22 years.

She started in 1988 with the district teaching English, and since 2004, she has served the district as fine arts coordinator. Gates has participated in 51 different activities, including the SHARE Foundation and EDEF grants, Reading Council programs and projects with the South Arkansas Arts Center and South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Most recently, she helped bring to the stage the community-wide production of “Les Miserables.?

Gates? students have won many theater competitions, performing in such places as New York City and Edinburgh, Scotland on four occasions. Each year, she facilitates two major productions and as many as 11 one-act plays, equaling 32 weeks of nights in play production. She is an active member in local, state and national organizations and has presented conferences throughout the United States.

The EHS Thespian Troupe 42 is one of the oldest active troupes in the world. Gates? students learn all aspects of theatre production, and one student wrote, “She has made an impact on me and truly wants to see students succeed in everything they do.?

Another student said he recognizes when Gates sees beauty performed by her students, because she “tilts her head, her eyes widen and her cheeks rise in a smile.?

“And the Tony Award goes to Delaine Gates,? Johnson laughed, before embracing her friend and presenting the 2014 high school Teacher of Excellence Award.

Each of the three winning teachers received trophies and cumulative cash awards totaling $1,350.

Congratulations and appreciation

Watson congratulated teachers and told them their jobs are very significant and important.

“You are in a business that demands respect, and we want to take every effort to celebrate your achievements. We appreciate what you do. Teachers play a heart-warming role in the lives of their students,? he said.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, “Sonic Groove? played “Mr. Watson?s favorite song? ? “School?s Out,? by Alice Cooper.

The nine finalists were: elementary school level ? Sixbey, Caitlin Lowery and Danielle King; middle/junior high ? Rynders, Lila Levingston and Helene Lambert; and high school ? Jeremy Gray, Delaine and Vivi Bradshaw.

The semifinalists were: elementary ? Sixbey, Elizabeth Faulkner, Lowery, King and Kathay Walter; middle/junior high ? Rynders, Glenda Moore, Levingston, Scott Bounds, Wendy Brown and Lambert; and high school ? Gray, Gates, Clair Barnhouse, Aimee Harter, Bradshaw and Carolyn Albritton.”