Story provided by Stillwater Public Schools
Stillwater Public Schools have announced three teachers as finalists for the district Teacher of the Year – Chloe Andrews, Mechelle Helmberger, and Rayna Zimmerman
An Oklahoma State University graduate, English Language Arts Teacher Chloe Andrews first started working with SPS students during her sophomore year of college. While working with a Lincoln Academy student on a writing initiative for a class, she decided she wanted to be a part of SPS and changed her career from Family and Consumer Science to English. She student taught at Stillwater Junior High with Shaila West in the Fall of 2017, and, following graduation, Andrews accepted her current teaching position at Stillwater Middle School.
“My educational philosophy stems from my personal experiences,” says Andrews. “It’s short and sweet; I come as I am everyday with my heart on my sleeve ready to meet my students where they are at. If I take down my walls, many of my kids will do the same. It is only once our walls come down that our minds, and our hearts, can be open to learning. These are the moments that ignite my passion for teaching. There is nothing like seeing a group of students find their stride and embark on their own educational journey.”
Richmond Kindergarten Teacher Mechelle Helmberger is a Texas Tech University graduate, former Skyline Cub, and Stillwater Pioneer through Junior High. Helmberger began teaching in Texas sixteen years ago. She has taught English as a Second Language, preschool, kindergarten, first, second, and third grades throughout her career. She says she alway felt like Stillwater was home and wanted to raise a family in the community and to give back to the community by teaching in the district that inspired her as a child. She joined SPS at Richmond five years ago; this is her third year teaching kindergarten.
“I think to say that I am honored to be named a Teacher of the Year finalist is an understatement,” says Helmberger. “Overjoyed is more the feeling I have to represent Richmond and all of the amazing teachers that all work hard together to cultivate a school culture that is grounded by a mutual respect not only between student and teachers, but also as a school team that encourages and supports each other. l know I would not be half the teacher I am without them! As Mr. Gordon says, ‘I love Stillwater!’”
In her ninth year of teaching, Instructional Coach Rayna Zimmerman is also an OSU graduate. Zimmerman spent her student teaching internship in the Chisholm and Edmond school districts and taught for five years in Harrah Public Schools, before returning to Stillwater. “We moved back after college, specifically for the diversity Stillwater offers,” she says. “This community just feels like home.”
“I am genuinely surprised and humbled by this recognition, says Zimmerman. “I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for the people of my school community. They’ve challenged me to grow, helped me when I’ve stumbled, and celebrated every success along the way. I certainly don’t feel the most worthy of this recognition as I work among the absolute best, but I’m honored that I’ve been chosen to represent the profession, and my school, in such a meaningful way.”
Following the selection of the eleven SPS site Teachers of the Year by each school, these three finalists were identified by a selection committee. The finalists will now submit a detailed portfolio and the district Teacher of the Year will be determined by a vote of their peers.
Other SPS school site Teachers of the Year are:
- Highland Park Elementary- Abby Varnum – Special Services
- Sangre Ridge Elementary – Rachel Wilson – Second Grade
- Skyline Elementary – Jacob Culpepper – Physical Education
- Westwood Elementary – Marie Sanders – Music
- Junior High – Aleshia Graham – English Language Arts
- High School – Larry Hesler – Mathematics
- Stillwater Pioneer Virtual Academy – Clarence Holley – Virtual Secondary
- Lincoln Academy – Carla Harnly – Family and Consumer Sciences
“Stillwater is an amazing place with hundreds of stellar teachers,” says Superintendent Uwe Gordon, “and these three are shining examples of what it means to be an excellent educator. While visiting their classes to surprise them, it was easy to see the genuine enthusiasm and pride their students have for their teachers. I wish them all the best on the next step, and I do not envy those voting in the process, because choosing a district Teacher of the Year from this group is going to be a very hard thing to do.”
The district winner will be announced this April and then participate in the competition to become the Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.