Dorchester Teacher of the Year finalists await Wednesday announcement

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Posted 3/27/23

It’s Teacher of the Year time, when Dorchester County Public Schools and the community join to celebrate the best of the best.This year, the county schools will honor a Teacher of the Year …

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Dorchester Teacher of the Year finalists await Wednesday announcement


It’s Teacher of the Year time, when Dorchester County Public Schools and the community join to celebrate the best of the best.
This year, the county schools will honor a Teacher of the Year 2023-2024 from among 11 finalists, as well as First Class Teacher of the Year – a special recognition for first-year teachers
The winners will be announced this evening at the Teacher of the Year gala at the East New Market Fire House.
Following are snapshots of the TOY nominees:

Jennifer McGlaughlin

We love all our teachers, but there is always something particularly special about a homegrown teacher such as Jennifer McGlaughlin.
Growing up in Cambridge, she graduated from Cambridge-South Dorchester High School. After earning her degree in Elementary Education from Salisbury University, she returned to teach in Dorchester County.
She has now been with us for almost 21 years, all of it at Hurlock Elementary, where she now teaches kindergarten.
McGlaughlin says she became a teacher because of her own Dorchester County Public School teachers.
“They all inspired me to be my best and helped me to love learning and school,” McGlaughlin said.
Her teaching philosophy?
“Be there. Be the safe place where your students can learn confidence and grace, where they know that you love not only their successes, but their mistakes also.”

Jennifer Powell

The Teacher of the Year finalist from North Dorchester High School has a “Burning Love” for her subject.
A huge Elvis Presley fan and NDHS art teacher Jennifer Powell says “art has always been therapeutic for me.”
“When words fail, art becomes the words… . I want to share my passion for the arts and encourage students to express themselves.”
Originally from Hackettstown, N.J., Powell has a degree from Salisbury University and has been at NDHS for nine of her 12-year teaching career.
She said she was inspired by two of her own high school art teachers.
“I try to channel their passion and excitement in teaching,” she said. “I want to be what I remember about them and how I felt in their classrooms.”
She considers the time spent in forming relationships with her students time well invested.
“These important relationships that are developed early build the foundation and allow for students to feel safe and at ease in the classroom.”

Brian Burris

Brian Burris, music teacher and Teacher of the Year finalist from Vienna Elementary School, sees his job as broader than notes and scales.
“It is our job to get these students ready for adulthood, so treating them with respect and making a connection with them shows how to treat others the same way,” he said.
“He points to his mom, also a teacher, as his inspiration. “She instilled hard work and dedication in me from the start.”
Originally from Delaware, Burris came to Dorchester County Public Schools eight years ago, spending his first five years at Choptank Elementary, before moving to Vienna.
When he’s not with his students, Burris loves to cook, especially on the grill – the spicier the better, using ingredients with such ominous names as Carolina reaper and scorpion sauces.
It appears his cooking is equally as creative as his lessons.

Briana Beulah

Sandy Hill Elementary Teacher of the Year finalist Briana Beulah is a teacher whose craft has been shaped by her own life experiences.
Knowing the importance of strong teacher-student relationships, she became a teacher because, as she say: “I didn’t have that growing up because I moved so much but when I got to high school, before graduation, I realized how I never wanted another child to experience the lack of relationships while in school.”
Originally from Cambridge, Beulah attended Sandy Hill herself until she was in 3rd grade, when she began moving around different counties until she was in high school, coming back to Dorchester to graduate from NDHS.
She said she feels fortunate that in her senior year she connected with Terri Wright and Laurie Barnes, her field hockey coaches.
“They saw something in me that I felt most people didn’t,”Beulah said. Not just in athletics, but they made me feel like I mattered.”
Beulah earned her bachelor’s degree and expects to complete her master’s this year. A DCPS teacher for eight years, she currently teaches 5th grade, continuing to establish those strong relationships that she learned firsthand are so important.

Mary Falduto

The die was cast early for Mary Falduto in her ambition to be a Special Education teacher.
“Mrs. Susie Bartley was a special educator at Vienna Elementary when I was a student there,” Falduto said. “I helped in her classroom with students during my recess time. This sparked a desire in me for working with students who need new techniques for learning.”
Falduto graduated from North Dorchester High School and went on to earn degrees in Special Education and School Counseling, along with a Certificate in Assistive Technology.
Now in her 13th year teaching in Dorchester County, she has served at Choptank Elementary, Sandy Hill Elementary, and now represents Mace’s Lane Middle School as their Teacher of the Year.
Experience has shown her that relationships with students are all-important.
“There is no cookie-cutter way to teach; each child is unique and as an educator, we need to meet them where they are and find what works for each student to succeed,” she said.

Jennifer Parrigin

“I think I have one of the best jobs since I get to do what I am passionate about all day, every day,” said art teacher and South Dorchester School Teacher of the Year Jennifer Parrigin. Originally from Ohio, Parrigin earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, then discovered that children were very receptive to her own excitement and passion for art.
This inspired her to become a teacher, so she returned to college for a master’s in art education to provide herself a solid foundation for understanding curriculum and classroom management and began what has so far been a 19-year teaching career, first in North Carolina, and for the last nine years at South Dorchester.
“Art is a personal journey that allows me to teach to the individual rather than the group and this is significant when building relationships with students,” said Parrigin.

Natalie Drake

Natalie Drake, Teacher of the Year finalist from Maple Elementary, is clear-eyed about her role as a teacher.
“I believe it is my duty to hold all students to high expectations, help students reach their goals by engaging them in a variety of ways, and ensure that students see that learning goes beyond the classroom,” she said.
A western shore native, Drake brings a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Mathematics from Millersville University, a master’s of Education from LaSalle University, and seven years of Maple experience to her classroom.
In her spare time, Drake plays Ultimate Frisbee to a high level, which means she follows the “Spirit of the Game,” an important part of the sport that encourages competition, but never at the expense of respect, adherence to rules, fair play and the basic joy of the activity.

Melissa Wise

Teacher of the Year finalist from Cambridge-South Dorchester High School Melissa Wise has taken the long way “home.”
A 1988 graduate of C-SD, Wise said she “came to education later in life.”
“My life experiences in other professions – and being a mom – have all contributed to helping me see that this is exactly where I belong,” she said.
Wise has been a teacher for seven years, first at Sandy Hill and now at C-SD, this year teaching Music-Chorus, General Music, Piano, Introduction to Dance, and 11th grade AVID.
Her philosophy on teaching?
“Focus first on connecting with your students. You can’t teach what you can’t reach,” she said.
Teachers who have inspired her reads like a Who’s Who of Dorchester County teachers: Art Renkwitz, Bill Busick, Cheryl Bramble, Robert Batson, Cookie Brohawn and Betsy Krewson all made the list.
Wise credited all of them with “helping me see my potential and to really think for myself.”

Genna Hatfield

“I make it a point to ensure that all students see themselves as competent, capable, and above all have the belief that even when they face academic struggles,” said Genna Hatfield, 6th grade mathematics teacher at North Dorchester Middle School.
“They are able to see themselves as learners,” said the finalist for Teacher of the Year.
An 11-year teaching veteran, Hatfield has been with Dorchester County Public Schools for seven of them, all at NDMS.
How does Hatfield spend her time when not in the classroom? As you might guess of someone who spends all day with 11- and 12-year olds, Hatfield says she has a flair for adventure.
“I’ve never seen a scary movie, zip lining trail, or been presented with an adventure that I would turn down,” she said. “I am currently on my greatest adventure as a mom and wife.”

Kristin Guesfeird

When you wish upon a star … if you’re lucky you’ll get a teacher like Warwick Elementary’s finalist for Teacher of the Year, Kristin Guesfeird. A Dorchester County native, Ms. Guesfeird grew up in Vienna, graduated from North Dorchester High School, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Salisbury University, and has taught for Dorchester County Public Schools for 19 years.
Her inspiration to become a teacher was her 5th grade teacher, Jeff Webb (himself a former DCPS Teacher of the Year) because his hands-on approach, she said, made him “such a fun teacher.”
Guesfeird’s philosophy of teaching is holistic.
“Teaching to me is not only helping your students with academics, it is helping them grow socially, emotionally, academically, and behaviorally,” she said. “If you make a strong connection with your students, you can definitely help them move mountains.”
When she’s not in the classroom helping students move mountains, you might find Guesfeird at Disney World with her husband, four children, and extended family.
“I have always been a Disney fanatic!” she said.

Jesse Morris

Jesse Morris, Teacher of the Year finalist and Collision Repair and Refinishing instructor at Dorchester Career and Technology Center, is another of our staff who feels he owes his successful professional life to a teacher.
Morris, a graduate of North Dorchester High School and the Dorchester School of Technology, credits his own Collision Repair teacher, Rex Marshall.
“He showed patience when working with me on new things, while reinforcing the basics to keep improving my skills,” Morris said. “Without him and my introduction into the Collision Repair field, I would not have accomplished what I have.”
And what has Morris accomplished?
He began working in the industry in 10th grade, working up through the ranks at Preston Ford from helper to entry tech to lead tech.
When he learned Marshall was retiring, he decided it was time to expand his skills to teaching, with the hopes of adding to the industry as Mr. Marshall did.
“Since teaching, I have sent many students into the industry where I started,” he said.
What’s next? “Teaching trades is a hard task, but so are the trades,” he said. “Hopefully, one (student) will follow down a path like mine.”

First Class Teacher finalists

Dorchester schools has a special honor for teachers marking their first year in the profession.
For many, teaching is a calling, but it is no doubt a challenging career. These four nominees are certainly off to an excellent start.

Sam Lupean

The thing about being a teacher is you know how it feels to be on the other side of the desk; after all, you’ve spent many years there yourself.
First Class Teacher of the Year finalist Sam Lupean says he was motivated to become a teacher because, as he said, “I know what it is like to struggle as a student and fear the potential learned helplessness.”
What has Lupean learned during his first year teaching U.S. History and Contemporary Issues at North Dorchester High School?
“I have learned the hard way that I will not be able to ‘save’ or reach every student. I try my best, as I am an understanding guy before a history buff or a teacher. Be quick to forgive, yet provide proper feedback and give second chances when it matters most.”
How does this new teacher spend his time when not in the classroom?
“I am a very adventurous individual,” he said, working in restaurants in the Outer Banks during the summers, making money to visit friends and family while backpacking through Europe.

Raven Mills

First Class Teacher of the Year finalist Raven Mills is clear about her reason for becoming a teacher.
Now a 2nd grade teacher at Maple Elementary, she said she was fortunate enough to have a particularly inspirational teacher during middle school in her native Talbot County.
“She created a safe space for me in her classroom and gave me an adult role model I could trust in. She inspired me to do this for others.”
A graduate of Chesapeake College and Salisbury University, what has Mills learned this first year of teaching?
“I must give myself grace,” she said. “I have tried so hard to become the perfect teacher, but I’ve realized that this job comes with a never-ending to-do list. … As long as a teacher comes to work with an open mind, the intention to give their all, and is always willing to learn to become more effective, then they are doing their job right.”

Najee Griffin

North Dorchester Middle School’s nominee for First Class Teacher of the Year has wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl.
Najee Griffin grew up in Oxford, Maryland, moved to East New Market as a teenager, and was fortunate enough to attend North Dorchester High School where she met an inspirational teacher, Mike Hughes.
“He was kind, caring, and funny at the same time,” Griffin said. “He believed in students especially when they didn’t believe in themselves and that is something I have carried with me since high school.”
Bridgewater College was Ms. Griffin’s next stop, where she studied to become a teacher (this won’t surprise you, considering her source of inspiration) of Choir and General Music.
What has she learned during this first year in the classroom?
“The important thing … is to have fun with it,” she said. “Don’t make everything so serious. Students tend to be tense when every class is serious and I want my students to be able to enjoy my class while also enjoying the work.”

Wendi Bleyer

First Class Teacher of the Year finalist Wendi Bleyer would be the first to agree that life is not a race.
When she graduated high school her ambition was to be a teacher but, as she said, “life had a different plan.”
So she went in another direction.
After 20 years in a different career, she decided to become a substitute teacher, leading her to become an Instructional Assistant, re-igniting her passion for teaching.
Returning to college to earn her teaching degree, Bleyer is now a certificated 2nd grade teacher at Sandy Hill Elementary School.
Although Bleyer had school experience before her present classroom post, there is always room for growth.
What’s one thing she has learned this year?
“Things will not always be perfect and go as planned, and that’s OK. Each day is a new adventure and it is important to be flexible and adapt to the ever-changing needs of your students,” she said.

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