Jackson County School System employees’ responses to unusual circumstances, inclusive plans for special events and ongoing support were highlighted with Excellence in Service awards during the first half of the school year.

The recognitions were made at the monthly meetings of the Jackson County Board of Education.

Stephanie Harrison and Taylor Hardy, softball coaches at East Jackson Middle School, were honored for rendering emergency assistance when an umpire collapsed during a game early in the season.

All 10 Jackson County Schools are Project Safe-certified and equipped with at least one AED machine, and all schools have staff trained in its use and in CPR, but “you hope you never have to put that training into place,” Selena Blankenship, JCSS human resources director, said as she presented the award. “Unfortunately we did have to do that this year.”

Blankenship read from a message from Kim Johnson, EJMS principal, who described the unresponsive umpire and the steps taken by the two coaches and a nurse and a fireman who were attending the game. After they got the umpire’s pacemaker rebooted, he was transported to the hospital and is doing well, Blankenship said during the Sept. 9 BOE meeting at Gum Springs Elementary School.

“Having faculty and staff members trained in CPR and having a school system that provides training and guidance for our response teams, makes a difference,” Johnson wrote. “It made a difference that night to the softball umpire.”

Parent Nominations

Angela Fitch nominated Laurrie Wilber, a teacher at Maysville Elementary School, after a “very big scare.”

“My husband was in a severe car accident and totaled our brand new SUV in Buford,” Fitch explained in her nomination. “My son, Justice, was new and just started kindergarten with Ms. Wilber.”

Fitch said Wilber “was beyond sensitive and was in contact with me to make sure my husband was OK. She cares so much for a family that she just met, that was really telling to me of where her heart is.”

Amber Rowe nominated GSES’s “purple bus driver,” Hal Kidwell, citing his patience and kindness with one of her sons who “has high functioning autism so some things are a little difficult for him.”

“Mr. Hal is always patient and kind to him,” Rowe noted in her nomination. “My son looks forward to school because of him. All of my kids love him. “

Wilber and Kidwell also were honored at the Sept. 9 BOE meeting at GSES.

Jan Lee of South Jackson Elementary School and Ashley Childress of MES were honored at the Oct. 14 BOE meeting at East Jackson Elementary School.

Lee’s nominator, who chose to remain anonymous, described her child as suffering from extreme anxiety and depression that has impacted her academic performance.

“Mrs. Lee has invested not only time with my daughter in her academics, but more importantly, in confidence and love,” she wrote. “She was the perfect amount of tough love and support my daughter needed … helping her thrive and achieve new academic heights we were unsure she would ever reach.”

Childress was nominated by Chrystina Garrish, who wanted to thank the teacher for “giving us our son back.”

“He went from an F student who got into fights to a straight A student who values school and has more confidence in himself because of her,” Garrish wrote. “She showed him how to believe in himself and others.”

At the Nov. 11 BOE meeting at West Jackson Middle School, honorees were Jenna Banks of East Jackson Comprehensive High School and Natalie Jackson and Tina Johnston of West Jackson Elementary School.

The nominator chose to remain anonymous but wrote that Banks, a special education teacher, had worked with her son for several years.

Describing her as “the best teacher” her son ever had, helping him grow mentally and emotionally, she praised Banks’ willingness to take on his speech therapy, even when her son wasn’t cooperating.

“She treats every child as her own, not just a job,” she wrote. “You can tell she loves her students and wants the best for them all.”

Shantwon Astin nominated Jackson and Johnston, following a parent/teacher conference at WJES, noting that their work “should be a standard that’s embodied not only across West Jackson Elementary, but the Jackson County School System as a whole.”

“These two exceptional educators have taken the young minds they are responsible for and ignited a wildfire of passion for learning in those they serve, especially my kid,” he wrote in his nomination.

WJMS Healthcare Sciences teacher Brenton Ruark and JCCHS teachers Emily Taylor and Tiffany Jones were recognized at the Dec. 9 BOE meeting at EJMS for somewhat unusual interactions with students.

Ruark was credited with helping teach one of his eighth-grade students, Mason Saldana, the skills that medical professionals and his mother, Leah, believe helped save her life after an unexpected seizure she suffered in October.

In nominating Mr. Ruark, she wrote, “Had it not been for the Healthcare Science class and the detailed teaching provided by Mr. Ruark, Mason would not have known how to react or what to do in this situation. The content that is being taught and to the extent and detail it is being taught, is nothing short of amazing.”

Lori Reinhardt, a JCCHS parent, complimented the “vision and hard work” Taylor and Jones brought to their collaboration in leading in-school and public performances of the musical, “A Year with Frog & Toad.”

Pointing out that the production was “sensory-friendly” to accommodate even those anxious about loud noises or bright lights, Reinhardt noted “they also had special needs students as part of the production.”

“I feel they worked hard to showcase the talents of all the students and make this a positive experience,” she wrote. “It’s amazing to see our special needs kids happy and flourishing! It’s also a special sight to watch the ‘typical’ kids being so accepting and patient.”

Awards presented, nominations sought

Blankenship presented the staff members with gold stars lapel pins and certificates at the BOE meetings in recognition of the Excellence in Service award, which is in its third year in the school system.

"Honorees are those who go above and beyond to further our district vision, mission and guiding principles," she said.

"The award highlights the unsung heroes who serve the students and staff of the school system,” often without recognition of any kind, she explained.

School system employees, volunteers, or community partners will be considered and two individuals and/or groups are selected monthly.

The nomination form is available online at bit.ly/JCSS_19Excellence. For verification purposes, nominators must provide their names and email addresses, but they may choose to remain anonymous when the honorees are announced.

Nominations should range from 150-300 words and should be submitted by the 25th of each month. Honorees are chosen by a committee of personnel from across the district, including representatives from human resources, district services and the teaching and learning office.

Nominations will remain active for the 2019-20 school year; winners from one school year are not eligible for the honor the following year.


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