PITTSBORO — Chatham County Schools held its Educators Awards ceremony on Thursday to honor teachers, principals and staff for their dedication to the district.
The ceremony at Seaforth High School saw Bradford Walston, principal at Northwood High School, named Principal of the Year for the district. Chatham Education Foundation also awarded 19 Creative Teaching Grants to help in classrooms across the county.
“In this season of gratitude, we think it’s important to thank you for all the work you do for our schools,” Dr. Kelly Batten, CCS assistant superintendent for human resources, told educators.
While the district honors educators every year, this was the first time recognitions were given in this award-show style. It’s part of a concerted effort by Batten and Superintendent Dr. Anthony Jackson to celebrate the people who make education possible. It also aligns with the goals Jackson set in the One Chatham strategic plan, which lists minimizing burnout and boosting the morale of faculty and staff as an important part of the district’s future.
“These are consequential times in education,” Jackson said. “We’re making our future possible by what we do every day and I don’t want anyone to take that for granted.”
Jackson said the work of teachers in today’s world is courageous and deserves to be honored at every opportunity. Batten added that celebration and recognition are “vital” parts of the culture of CCS.
The district chose a teacher and instructional assistant of the year from each of the 20 schools in CCS. They also honored last year’s teacher of the year, Cassadi Walden from Chatham Central High School, and principal of the year Sarah Estes from Virginia Cross Elementary.
Estes now passes her title off to Walston, who was chosen because of his commitment to providing opportunities for students to find success in multiple areas. Under his leadership, the girls basketball team brought home the 3A state title in the 2021-2022 school year. And Northwood showed growth in its state test scores, earning a B grade from N.C. Dept. of Public Instruction.
“This is such an honor,” Walston said. “I’m lucky to be part of Northwood and CCS. We have so much support in this district from our families and community. That has given me the ability to in turn further develop my staff and students.”
Walston joined Northwood as principal in the 2018-2019 school year. He previously served as a principal in Randolph County and an administrator in Wake County Public Schools. Walston will now represent Chatham County Schools at the regional level for Principal of the Year.
“Walston is a strong leader who has created an environment for growth for both staff and students,” Jackson said. “He is a motivator for success and provides pathways for staff and students to achieve it. We are immensely proud of the work he is doing at Northwood and the collaborative work he does in his building and with his peers throughout the district.”
The ceremony also awarded 19 recipients with Creative Teaching Grants from the Chatham Education Foundation. Jaime Detzi, executive director of CEF, said the grants are awarded to teachers or principals who seek to bring innovative ideas to their classroom, outside of their typical annual budget. She said this was the highest number of Creative Teaching Grants awarded during her nine years as executive director.
“We are extraordinarily grateful to have such a strong community partner in the Chatham Education Foundation,” Jackson said. “The Foundation’s unwavering support for our public school system has expanded opportunities for our students and educators. Through that support, we have been able to provide greater opportunities for our students throughout Chatham County.”
Jackson said these teachers are going above and beyond to bring innovative, enriching and engaging activities to their students.
“We were excited to have so many applicants and such great projects,” Detzi said. “I am so pleased that through the generosity of our donors and community support that we are able to fund these wonderful educational opportunities that will benefit our students and teachers.”
Grant recipients will use funds for a variety of projects including a Magic Makerspace for Perry Harrison Elementary — where funds will be used to purchase materials for creative design education. Other projects include microscopes for 5th graders at Chatham Grove Elementary and a family book club at Siler City Elementary — which will cover the costs to purchase books for the establishment of a book club for 40 families so they will have time and space to come together and read in an effort to increase fluency and family involvement.
“I want to thank you all for taking the time and effort to write these grants,” Detzi told the audience. “We at Chatham Education Foundation hope we can make your lives a little bit easier and your classrooms more engaging.”
The evening concluded with comments from CCS Board of Education Chairperson Gary Leonard. He said the challenges facing education at the moment are more pertinent than ever, but he was proud to be in a district facing those issues head-on.
“Every time I visit a school in our district I see special things,” Leonard said. “You all care for these kids so much, it just makes my day. You all make education a calling.”
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