Educators in York County kicked off the school year that begins next week with back-to-school fanfare, including events that honored top teachers.
Kay McSpadden, an English teacher for more than 30 years at York Comprehensive High School, received the state Order of the Silver Crescent during an opening celebration at the school Friday morning.
The award, an auxiliary to South Carolina’s Order of the Palmetto award, is given to honor outstanding achievements and community contributions.
Diane Merrell, a teacher for gifted and talented students at Cotton Belt Elementary, was named the York school district’s teacher of the year Friday. She also teaches gifted and talented students at Jefferson Elementary.
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In Rock Hill, Saluda Trail Middle School math and engineering teacher Clayton Denio was named district teacher of the year in a back-to-school pep rally at Northwestern High School.
Rock Hill also honored two beginning teachers of the year, who finished their first teaching year last year. They are Ebinport Elementary fifth-grade teacher Emma Wilson and South Pointe High English teacher Andra Mack.
In Clover, Jennifer Dundr, an English teacher at Oakridge Middle School in Lake Wylie, was named the Clover school district teacher of the year in a district ceremony on Monday.
The Fort Mill school district does not name its district teacher of the year until September.
McSpadden, who chairs the YCHS English department, has led teacher training on how to reach students of poverty. She has been an advocate for public education through an opinion column in The Charlotte Observer. Her column also appears on occasion in The Herald.
“It’s important that we see them as an investment,” McSpadden said Friday about students. “And I don’t think we always do that in this country.”
McSpadden began her teaching career in Lancaster County after graduating from Winthrop College, now Winthrop University. She was assigned to a class of several severely emotionally handicapped students from poor backgrounds.
“It was a real test of my commitment to teaching,” said McSpadden, who said she researched and began to use behavior management practices “that worked.”
McSpadden said that experience has influenced the rest of her career. “It’s never enough to say, ‘I’ve got a file cabinet full of stuff, I’m set,’” she said.
“Every year, you are always looking for new and different and better ways to present the material, and new and different material that is relevant to the kids,” she said.
Merrell, the York school district honoree, has taught in the York district for 37 years, including previous stints teaching fourth and fifth grades.
She is a member of the Palmetto Reading Council, which works to instill a love of reading in students through community events such as Earth Day Birthday and ChristmasVille in Rock Hill. She also is active in the York County Clemson Club, which helps provide scholarship money for Clemson students from York County.
Denio, a teacher cadet and valedictorian at Lewisville High School who is beginning his ninth year as a classroom teacher, said he experienced the challenges that many of his students face.
He said he a grew up in a home with divorced parents and came home from school as a teen to take care of a younger brother.
“I understand what a lot of kids come home to,” he said.
Denio receives a 2016 Honda Civic for use during the upcoming school year courtesy of Honda Cars of Rock Hill, $1,500 from the district, and a $500 classroom grant from the Rock Hill Schools Education Foundation.
Also recognized at the Rock Hill rally were district teacher of the year finalists Sondra Campbell, who teaches fifth grade at Mount Holly Elementary, and Andrea Allen, a reading recovery teacher at Finley Road Elementary. Campbell and Allen each received $250 from the district.
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077