Denton’s top educators in elementary and secondary schools were recognized at a reception this week at the LaGrone Advanced Technology Complex.
At the district’s annual Jostens Teacher of the Year program on Tuesday, Kelli Whisenhunt of Ginnings Elementary School and Jeannene Abney of Ryan High School were named the district’s top educators in Denton’s elementary and secondary schools, respectively.
As the 2013 top educators in the district, Whisenhunt and Abney each received a trip to the Jostens Renaissance National Conference this July in Scottsdale, Ariz., from the award’s title sponsor. They also received their choice from six vehicles to drive through the first week of August, courtesy of James Wood Autopark. Whisenhunt selected the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro coupe and Abney selected a 2013 Cadillac ATS sedan.
The two will now represent the district in the region’s teacher of the year competition, coordinated by the Region XI Service Center in Fort Worth.
Upon completing an application for the region and state teacher of the year contests, the two educators will receive $500 from the district.
Tuesday’s program recognized Teacher of the Year honorees at 32 Denton schools. Each received a gold ring from Jostens, a signature T-shirt designed by San Bay Studio and special insulated tumbler from DATCU.
Seven members from the district’s Teachers Communications Committee, which serves as a liaison between the various campuses and the administration, reviewed applications and resumes of teacher of the year nominees a day before selecting the district’s top elementary and secondary educators, said Vicki Storrie, the committee’s chairwoman, who was excluded from this year’s selection because she herself was a nominee.
The selection committee, she said, decides “who they feel are the most worthy candidates based on experience, philosophy, accomplishments.”
She said the winners are those who talk about students and the impact they want to make on their lives — those who participate in continuing education and are active in the community.
Whisenhunt has been an EXPO teacher at Ginnings Elementary since 2006. Her career as an educator spans nearly 30 years.
Whisenhunt said she was honored by the award.
“My stomach was just doing flip-flops, and I couldn’t believe that I was being honored this way,” she said. “I mean, this is my 28th year to teach, and it’s just an incredible experience.”
Missey Chavez, principal at Ginnings Elementary, calls Whisenhunt the backbone of the school and a true inspiration. Whisenhunt was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and never missed a day of school while battling the disease, Chavez said.
Whisenhunt becomes the second consecutive teacher from Ginnings Elementary to be the district’s Elementary Teacher of the Year. Last year, Ginnings art teacher Kay Adamson received the award.
“We have exceptional teachers,” Chavez said. “We just do. The heart, the compass and dedication to the education of our students is profound with our staff.”
Abney’s career as an educator spans more than 30 years, and she’s been a theater arts teacher at Ryan High since 1992. She was recognized last year by the University Interscholastic League with the Sponsor Excellence Award, and she was also one of the first inductees into the Texas State Thespians Hall of Fame.
Abney said the honor was humbling.
“Just to be honored by teachers was incredible. I mean it was wonderful. I am so honored and so thrilled to represent Ryan High School,” Abney said. “[It’s] one of the highlights of my educational career.”
When asked what it takes to become a teacher of the year, she said it’s “not ever thinking that’s what’s going to happen.”
“I think that when you just do your job because you’re very passionate about what you do and you really do want to make a difference ... that one moment when you walk in and there’s success ... it’s all worth it,” Abney said. “It really is a calling. It isn’t anything about summers off or, of course, money, but it really is about [the] calling and that you want to make a difference.”
Principal Vernon Reeves said Abney is “a big part of making Ryan High School a community of students that works together.” He said she’s someone who’s given students multiple options at experiencing success through the programs she teaches. Reeves said Abney gets students involved and helps them gain an appreciation for the arts.
“I can’t think of a better person that represents the energy and heart that’s needed to reach students and make a difference in their lives,” Reeves said. “If I had one word to describe her, it’s ‘passion’ — for kids and passion for theater. Everything she does revolves around that word.”
BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.