2008 Virginia Teacher of the Year
Thomas R. Smigiel, Jr.
Region 2 Teacher of the Year, Thomas R. Smigiel, Jr., has taught in Norfolk Public Schools since 2000. He currently teaches Earth Science and Teen Leadership at Norview High School. He earned his B.S. at Old Dominion University and his M.Ed. at Cambridge College. Mr. Smigiel is also an active member of the Education Association of Norfolk and the Virginia Education Association. He has written and received two grants that support Norview High School's Small Learning Community and its goal of decreasing teen delinquency.
Mr. Smigiel believes that community service is part of a well-rounded education. Since his first year of teaching, Mr. Smigiel has found ways to add aspects of community service to his curriculum. In his Earth Science class, he taught his students to be good stewards of the environment by becoming involved in a neighborhood litter pick-up campaign. All students involved in his Teen Leadership class participate in volunteer service. One of his classes raised more than $1,200 for Operation Smile, a group that provides medical services to children with facial deformities; another class raised more than $1,000 to repair a degraded cemetery next to the school.
Mr. Smigiel's commitment has made real differences in the lives of his students. One student wrote, "Before I met Mr. Smigiel, I was involved in drugs and in gangs. I was one of the kids they considered a failure…the kind of kid you would see locked up. Meeting Mr. Smigiel changed the course of my life because he taught me…to bounce back when something bad happens and he showed me ways to improve my grades. Mr. Smigiel has been the one that I could go to, and he is always there for me when I need him the most. He believed in me when no one else did."
Regional Teachers of the Year
Tabitha L. Strickler
Ms. Tabitha L. Strickler is the Region 1 Teacher of the Year. Since her employment by Colonial Heights High School in 2001, Ms. Strickler has taught English 10, 11, and 12, including advanced placement courses. She is a graduate of The College of William and Mary and earned her M.Ed. in instruction at the University of Virginia.
Ms. Strickler's personal experience as the yearbook editor in high school led her to take on the very time-consuming task of sponsor of the Colonial Heights High School yearbook, Omnibus, which took first place honors from the Virginia High School League in 2006. She considers the creation, production, and business of the yearbook central to her success as an educator. She notes that "the yearbook class is run as a business," with students taking on responsibility for the sales, production, follow-up acknowledgements, and billing of all advertisements. One of her goals is to challenge students each year to move beyond the patterns of previous years in creating a new vision for their yearbook. To achieve this, every summer she takes her staff to "yearbook camp" where they receive training on trends in design, photography, and copywriting.
Ms. Strickler is also a sponsor of Students Organized for Developing Attitudes (SODA), a program in which a highly select group of high school students plans and delivers lessons to the fourth-grade classes in Colonial Heights. As a sponsor, Ms. Strickler is responsible for selecting members and training them to teach lessons related to building character and making appropriate choices. One of Ms. Strickler's former students describes her as an inspiration. "She taught me to learn from my mistakes, take risks, challenge myself, and, of course, she taught me about English, too!"
Charlotte T. "Dee" Strauss
Ms. Charlotte (Dee) Strauss, a Marketing and Business Education teacher from King George County High School, represents Region 3. Ms. Strauss began her second career when she returned to her alma mater to teach Keyboarding Applications and Computer Information Systems in 2000. She earned her B.S. from Virginia Tech and her teaching license from Shenandoah University. She is currently working on her master's degree with an emphasis in instructional technology at George Mason University.
Ms. Strauss is active in a number of professional, educational, and community organizations including the Virginia Society for Technology in Education, the Virginia Association of Career and Technical Education, and the King George Chamber of Commerce. She serves as a teacher mentor at King George High School where she was honored by the Parent-Teacher-Student Association as the 2003-2004 Outstanding Educator.
Ms. Strauss believes that "community involvement is like voting—it is our responsibility as citizens." Dr. Candace F. Brown, superintendent of King George County Public Schools, lauds her educational and civic accomplishments and notes that Ms. Strauss founded the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) organization at King George County High School. Beginning with 16 students, it has now grown to a membership of 125. Under the leadership of Ms. Strauss, the DECA students are now major participants in the annual King George Fall Festival. Students attend monthly planning meetings, make the "secret recipe" barbeque sauce, serve the thousands who attend the festival, and clean up afterward. Ms. Strauss teaches her students by "sharing with them the importance of being involved and giving to one's community to make it a better place to live, work, and visit."
Suzanne W. Lank
Representing Region 4 is Suzanne W. Lank from Alexandria City Public Schools. Ms. Lank has served as a first-grade teacher, literacy coach, Reading Recovery teacher, and reading specialist at Matthew Maury Elementary School since 2002. Ms. Lank is a graduate of James Madison University and earned her M.Ed. at the University of Virginia. She also taught K-12 English as a Second Language at the Colegio Ingles in Iquique, Chile, for one year.
Ms. Lank believes that "teachers have an ethical responsibility to be active and involved in their global and local communities." She believes that education, particularly literacy, is the best avenue to overcome the disparities of poverty. Ms. Lank carries this belief into her work with students, teachers, and parents. She has taught professional development classes for teachers in Alexandria and presented community and parent workshops on reading at home, test-taking strategies, and literacy tutoring. When visiting the homes of her students, Ms. Lank observed that many had no books. She worked with local churches, businesses, and clubs to collect books and raise funds to help get reading materials into the students' homes.
Ms. Lank chaired the leadership team at Matthew Maury Elementary School during the complete reconstitution of the school's staff, a challenging time for the entire community. One of her colleagues noted that Ms. Lank worked to build consensus, share best practices, and find ways to help the Maury community work toward the goal of accreditation. "Her tireless efforts on behalf of students and teachers inspire others to dream bigger dreams, and work hard to accomplish them. No matter what was happening, you could always count on Suzanne to be a beacon of light and hope for staff, students, and families in the community."
Susan P. Stanbery
Susan P. Stanbery, a 15-year veteran educator, represents Region 5. Ms. Stanbery is the chair of the mathematics department and coach of the girls' varsity softball team at Heritage High School in Lynchburg City Public Schools. She earned her B.S. in mathematics at Virginia Tech and her M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction from Lynchburg College. She is currently a candidate for certification with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
In addition to classroom teaching and coaching, Ms. Stanbery has distinguished herself in a variety of professional development leadership activities. She has served as a mentor to new teachers since 2000 and has been the lead mentor at Heritage High School for the past three years. She has led in-service workshops for area teachers and helped her colleagues learn to use graphing calculators, manipulatives, cooperative learning strategies, and games in mathematics classes. Ms. Stanbery was a finalist for the McGlothin Award for Teaching Excellence in 2006 and was the recipient of the Central Virginia Governor's School Award for Teaching Excellence in Math and Science in 2002.
Ms. Stanbery believes her dual role as a teacher and coach are critical to her success with students. She uses her coaching status to bring mathematical awareness to many young people; she incorporates her experiences with sports into her teaching as a way to make connections and provide examples to students who may not be interested in math. Ms. Stanbery notes that it is critical that students be engaged in meaningful tasks when learning math. She believes "that all children can learn algebra." She says, "Teaching is coaching and, with patience and humor, I strive to maximize each student's potential. Making students believe they can achieve success is a large part of my strategy."
Susanne M. Dana
Representing Region 6 is Susanne M. Dana from Blacksburg High School in Montgomery County Public Schools. Ms. Dana earned both her B.S. and M.S. from Virginia Tech. She taught at New Horizons Governor's School for Science and Technology and the Roanoke Valley Governor's School before moving to Montgomery County in 1999. Ms. Dana has taught Chemistry I, II, and Honors Chemistry, as well as Physics, Algebra, and Geometry. She also has taught chemistry courses for Virginia Tech.
Ms. Dana has served as the leader of the site-based committee at Blacksburg High School for the past three years. In that capacity, she works with teachers, parents, and administrators to develop school policies and seek grant opportunities. She is an active member of the Virginia Blue Ridge American Chemical Society; she was chosen by the society as the Outstanding High School Chemistry Teacher of the Year in 2002. She has presented workshops at local, regional, and national meetings. Ms. Dana was the first teacher in Montgomery County to attain National Board Certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She has designed an annual science safety workshop for student teachers where they discuss classroom safety, ethics, and legal issues.
Ms. Dana's colleagues noted that she has a deep and broad expertise in chemistry content knowledge as well as an exceptional understanding of how to design classroom instruction. Dr. George E. Glasson, associate professor of science education at Virginia Tech, noted, "As a teacher, Ms. Dana is a positive role model for teaching science as inquiry with high expectations for student learning. I can personally attest to her high competence and effectiveness as a teacher, since she has taught my daughter, who now is motivated to study science as a career."
Erin O. Wigginton
Erin O. Wigginton, a social studies teacher at Pulaski County High School, is the Region 7 winner. Ms. Wigginton earned her B.A. at Virginia Tech and will complete work there for her M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction in December 2007. Ms. Wigginton also has taught in Henry County and Greensville County. She became a National Board Certified Teacher in Social Studies-History in 2004.
Ms. Wigginton has been actively involved in professional development leadership activities for many years. She currently provides quarterly workshops to all new teachers in grades 4-12 in Pulaski County Public Schools. She has developed and coordinated school improvement training for the Southern Regional Education Board for more than ten years. Ms. Wigginton also is a certified "I Can Do It" trainer for the Virginia Education Association; this program helps educators develop effective classroom management programs. In 2007, Ms. Wigginton was one of twelve middle and high school teachers selected from across the nation to write curriculum for the Sandra Day O'Connor Our Courts project. Additionally, she was one of ten teachers selected as a 2007 U.S. House of Representatives Fellow. Ms. Wigginton is also the author of Catch Them Thinking in Social Studies, a collection of original cooperative problem-solving activities.
Mr. Rod C. Reedy, principal of Pulaski County High School, commented that Ms. Wigginton's teaching expertise and enthusiasm, combined with genuine care and concern for students, have resulted in a very high level of student achievement. Her U.S. History classes, both Advanced Placement and regular, routinely achieve 100% pass rates on the Virginia Standards of Learning tests. Mr. Reedy noted that the scores are even more impressive because "she achieves this success with a very diverse student population that includes at-risk, disadvantaged, and minority students."
Wanda R. Bass
Wanda R. Bass, a special education teacher at Prince Edward County High School, is the Region 8 teacher of the year. Ms. Bass earned both her B.S. and M.Ed. from East Carolina University. She taught for more than 20 years in North Carolina schools before moving to Prince Edward County in 2004. Currently, Ms. Bass is a resource tutor in science, mathematics, and social studies and serves as the transition coordinator for Prince Edward County High School.
As transition coordinator, Ms. Bass prepares students and their families for life after high school. She works with a variety of community agencies as well as students and their families to introduce them to employment, health, legal, and social services available to them after completion of high school. Ms. Bass has established a collaborative program with Longwood University to develop a community-based instructional program that develops job skills. Students who participate in this program receive training in the areas of food preparation, line service, and cooking; several of those students have now been offered paid employment in the university's cafeteria. Ms. Bass also coordinates an annual transition fair for the counties in Region 8. More than 45 vendors are invited to attend. She is a member of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and is actively involved in their Division on Career Development and Transition.
Ms. Alice E. McCormick, director of special education for Prince Edward County Public Schools, commented that Ms. Bass "is truly concerned with providing the appropriate supports, but teaches the students to be accountable for their choices and actions….The students and their parents are especially appreciative of her efforts to…provide the support her students need to address academics, behaviors, and transition."