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02/23/2018

Best and Brightest Mentors Honored at Winthrop for their Dedication

Quick Facts

 At the Feb. 15 dinner in the DiGiorgio Campus Center, eight teachers were cited for their work and given a financial reward.
 The 2018 Jessie Williams Little “Leading the Way” Award recipient is Shawna Simmons, who works at Jessie Bobo Elementary in Spartanburg School District 6.The second-grade teacher will receive $2,500 and took home a banner to display at her school.

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Jessie Little, from left, Shawna Simmons
and Dawn Mitchell
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Jessie Little Award nominees
ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA – Educators gathered Feb. 15 at Winthrop University to celebrate the first class of teachers nominated for the Jessie Williams Little “Leading the Way” Award. The award recognizes a South Carolina educator who has made a significant impact as a mentor to future or beginning teachers.

Nominations poured in from across South Carolina for public school teachers who stand out for their guidance. At the Feb. 15 dinner in the DiGiorgio Campus Center, eight teachers were cited for their work and given a financial reward.

Lisa Johnson, director of the James and Susan Rex Institute for Educational Renewal and Partnership in Winthrop’s Richard W. Riley College of Education, said that those in the field know that teaching is not an isolated event.

“It takes someone to spark the fire, someone to kindle the flame, and someone to keep it lit,” Johnson said. “Whether a Teacher Cadet instructor, a mentor to college students learning to teach for the first time or beginning teacher mentors, these are the positive role models on which we hang the hope of recruiting and keeping the best and the brightest in education.”

The 2018 Jessie Williams Little “Leading the Way” Award recipient is Shawna Simmons, who works at Jessie Bobo Elementary in Spartanburg School District 6.The second-grade teacher will receive $2,500 and took home a banner to display at her school.

Simmons has mentored 10 new teachers in her 14-year career who cover a wide range of subject areas. All but one is still teaching.

“Shawna speaks fluent Spanish, and in addition to her mentoring duties, she also serves as the school’s unofficial translator. She has interpreted for all grade levels, special areas, secretary, resource, speech, nurse and administration,” said Dawn Mitchell, who nominated Simmons. “She translates conferences, calls and written documents for her own class, for her mentees, and for anyone in the school. This is a huge impact Shawna has in influencing the local community through bridging a language barrier gap.”

Those selected as finalists and awarded $1,000 were:

Jerry Honeycutt, physical education teacher, Indian Land High School in Lancaster County School District who has more than 20 years in the field. “He has worked with various socioeconomic groups during his career and as a former intern, I was able to see first-hand what it takes to be a great educator,” said nominator Allyse Boone.
Kevin Sorenson, social studies teacher, St. George Middle School in Dorchester School District 4. “I learned a lot from my mentor teacher because his teaching does not end in the classroom. He involves parents in his work thereby involving the entire community in educating the students and also educating the community,” said nominator Jude Chea.
Kimberly Pyles, special education teacher, Indian Land High School in Lancaster County School District. “From ensuring that I understood the correct way to write, submit, and implement IEPs, to making sure that I maintained a positive work-life balance, Kimberly has sacrificed her own time, both in and out of school, to ensure that I was successful in all of my endeavors,” said nominator Gina Bennett-Roche “Kimberly is the reason that I have succeeded and remained in the profession.”

Chosen as semifinalists and given $500 were:

Mary Lou Pundt ‘89, third-grade teacher, Ebinport Elementary School in Rock Hill School District 3. “Educational policies will come and go, but Ms. Pundt taught me that my heart for teaching and my heart for making a difference in the lives of children is what must be the foundation of my career as an educator,” said nominator Jenna Guthrie.
Marc Camp, physical education teacher, Limestone Central Elementary School in Gaffney County School District. “Mr. Camp is the person with whom I want to place my practicum and clinical students,” said nominator Cindy Cavanaugh.
Nicole Bishop, first-grade teacher at Irmo Elementary, Richland and Lexington counties. “Nicole truly has no end to her giving nature and desire to grow learners of all ages,” said her nominator Tina McCaskill. “She is an award-winning educator who endlessly serves others.”
Carol Weaver ’92, ‘97, English teacher and Teacher Cadet Instructor at Rock Hill High School in Rock Hill School District 3. “As one of the first teachers herself to go through the Teacher Cadet program, Ms. Weaver knows the importance of sparking that interest early and giving much needed ‘direction to many aspiring teachers,’” said her principal and nominator Ozzie Ahl.

Also attending the Feb. 15 event were Jessie ’73 and John Little ’02.

Jessie Little, who grew up around the Winthrop campus and was one of five family members to attend, retired from the university in 2005 after many years. Others in attendance were donors who gave money to help fund the gifts to the teachers.

Sue Smith-Rex, a retired faculty member, former member of the Winthrop Board of Trustees and a namesake for the Institute along with her husband, Jim, urged other education supporters to donate to the award.

For more information including how to provide financial support to the “Leading the Way” initiative, contact Lisa Johnson, director of the Rex Institute, at johnsonle@winthrop.edu.

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