Ponca City Public Schools Announces and Honors 2017 Teachers of the Year

Ponca City Now - February 23, 2016 4:19 pm

The Ponca City Public School District is proud to announce and honor the 2017 site Teacher of the Year nominees. The District Teacher of the Year will be announced at the annual TOY Banquet hosted by the district at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Senior High School. The theme this year is “The value of a teacher is timeless.”

“We are proud of our educators and believe they deserve this kind of honor and recognition," said Superintendent Dr. David Pennington. "We would like to thank the Ponca City School Foundation for donating $200 in Chamber Bucks to each TOY nominee. They are also giving the new TOY a $500 check. The Friends of Education are donating a basket of items to the outgoing TOY. Newkirk Dental Center will also present the winning TOY with a $500 check.

The Three Finalists Are . . .

Lindsey Burkhalter, Melinda LittleCook, and Mary Ann Kessler O’Neill are the three finalists for the district. Each elementary site has one nominee, with the secondary schools having more than one to allow a more proportional representation from each site.

After the nominees are announced, the TOY Committee has the difficult task of selecting three finalists for the esteemed District Teacher of the Year honor.

Each site TOY nominee is listed below, along with information about each of them in keeping with the theme of timeless teaching.

Finalist Lindsay Burkhalter– 4th Grade Teacher at Lincoln

“What Lindsay Burkhalter interjects into the students at Lincoln will last them a lifetime,” said Lincoln principal Liz Hargraves. “Relationship building is a big plus for Ms. Burkhalter, not only with her students, but also with staff and parents. She goes above and beyond to reach kids who really struggle, both academically and emotionally. The level of engagement and excitement in her classroom is amazing. With her high energy, bubbly personality, and shared love for her students and personal instructional ambitions, she gets kids to set goals, meet goals, and surpass their goals with great pride and confidence. Her students want to do their best because they love her, feel comfortable with her, and respect her. We are so blessed to have her at Lincoln.”

Finalist Melinda LittleCook – Art Teacher at West Middle School

West principal Curtis Layton said, “Melinda LittleCook is a true master at creating an environment that inspires students. Her free spirit invites students at West to express themselves through a vast array of art forms. Ms. LittleCook strives to design projects that, not only pique the interest of her students, but expand their knowledge of other cultures and human experience. Melinda expands the boundaries of her classroom by providing opportunities for her students to create works of art for authentic audiences. Melinda LittleCook is truly a timeless teacher . . . for many she is a permanent inspiration to the student for a lifetime.”

Finalist Mary Ann Kessler-O’Neill – Teacher at Teen Pep

“Ms. O’Neill is the lead teacher for the Teen Pep program,” stated Alternative School Coordinator Karla Streeter.“The value of Ms. O’Neill to the girls at Teen Pep is timeless. The self-worth and confidence that she instills in each of her students will carry them through life. Ms. O’Neill works tirelessly to help each girl reach their full potential by showing them the value of education and how they can excel. Their time at Teen Pep might be the first time they have experienced success in the school setting. Ms. O’Neill is a key part of that. She makes herself available to her students day and night, and she helps them in all classes where they struggle. She has even gone as far as to train herself on the subjects that the girls struggle with the most. By helping her students obtain their high school diploma, Ms. O’Neill is clearing a path for these teenage mothers to be successful in life. The girls know that she is helping them and their children prepare for the future. The parenting skills taught by her ensure the babies in the Teen Pep program are getting the best care. Ms. O’Neill works with outside agencies to inform the girls of programs available to them now and in the future. Her compassion and caring makes Ms. O’Neill an outstanding teacher and mentor.”

Darcey Austin – Kindergarten Teacher at Garfield

Garfield’s principal Lori Cox said “Darcey’s value as a teacher and to our students could not be described any better than to say her value is timeless. Her unending dedication to each and everyone one of them is evident not only in their love for learning, but also their love and admiration of her. She not only dedicates herself each day to the learning and wellbeing of her little ‘kinders’, but also tutors older students several days a week in our after school tutoring program. The impact and influence she has on Garfield students will endure for their lifetime. Darcey Austin’s role in students’ lives for the past nineteen years can definitely be described as timeless.”

Zuri Mayo – Pre-Kindergarten Teacher at Liberty

“Zuri Mayo is a timeless educator,” said Liberty principal Jennifer Martinez. “She understands the importance of building a sense of community with her Pre-kindergarten students. She strives to make each day an opportunity that challenges her students academically, developmentally, and socially. Her students blossom in their own special way to gain academic readiness skills, while gaining the developmental and social skills necessary to function in school and at home. Ms. Mayo is open to challenges, to change, to new ideas, new technology and new ways of approaching how to teach students. It is truly a privilege to work with her.”

Stefanie Soucek – 2nd Grade Teacher at Roosevelt

Roosevelt principal Ronda Merrifield said, “Timeless teaching has an everlasting effect on students. Stefanie Soucek’s enthusiasm and passion for learning is timeless. She masterfully engages students and shapes their outlook on learning, empowering them for an eternity.”

Amy Parks – 3rd Grade Teacher at Trout

T rout Principal Carla Fry said, “Most people don’t want to be part of the process, they just want to be part of the outcome. Amy Parks is the exception. She loves the process of teaching children and the process of each individual light bulb turning on. She prepares students to travel through time (life) with a tool belt of problem solving skills. She will remain a memory in her student’s travels.”

Brandie Choate – 2nd Grade Teacher at Union

Union principal Dr. Trina Resler said, “At school, it’s all about being on time, taking your time, and telling time! As educators, we all want our work to be timeless, enduring and permanent. Although Brandie’s career has been short, she has made lasting impressions on students, parents, and colleagues. I will always remember her as the eager entry year teacher ready to change to the world and she has done just that. She has made abiding imprints on those of us fortunate enough to be a part of her timeless work.”

Natalie Lively – Pre-Kindergarten Teacher at Woodlands

“What better way to add timeless value to students’ lives than by spending every school day with them during their first year of formal education,” said Woodlands principal Tim Williams. “That’s what Natalie Lively does every day in her pre-kindergarten class. On that first day of school, her contagious smile and gentle spirit can calm even the most apprehensive students as well as those reluctant, teary-eyed parents, letting them know, ‘It’s all going to be okay.’

In her classroom, her students receive a solid foundation upon which the rest of their education can be built. Throughout their lives, students will have fond memories of their year in Ms. Lively’s classroom.”

Rena Clyburn – Science Teacher at East Middle School

East Middle School principal Barbara Davis said, “Rena Clyburn is a teacher that is truly timeless. She draws on the past, present and future to create a learning experience that her students will benefit from for present and future success. Her cutting edge approach promotes an inquisitive nature that leads her students to question, investigate and problem solve, skills that will last a lifetime. Ms. Clyburn goes above and beyond to connect with all of her students and create lasting relationships that will stand the test of time. All students and staff at East Middle School are extremely proud to have Rena Clyburn represent us as our Teacher of the Year.”

Michael Webb – 7th Grade Science Teacher at West Middle School

West principal Curtis Layton said, “Mr. Webb’s ability to adapt and to do whatever it takes to reach all students has served him well as a teacher. He has a genuine passion for teaching and drive to go above and beyond as an educator. He embraces technology and new methodology to ensure that his students get the best education possible at West Middle School. Mr. Webb is well known for engaging student and setting high expectations. He communicates with parents and works with students individually to ensure that student’s individual needs are met. The lessons Mr. Webb teaches his students go beyond science. The skills and traits that he teaches will serve students long after they leave the halls of West Middle School”

Michael Grimes – Geology/General Physics/Chemistry Teacher at Ponca City Senior High School

“Every day Mr. Grimes is an example of what excellent teaching looks like,” said Po-Hi principal Thad Dilbeck. “His knowledge of science is impressive. His ability to make science come alive for students is more impressive. He encourages and motivates students in a way that enables them to reach their full potential. Mr. Grimes’ love for his profession and for Po-Hi raises the bar for his students and his peers alike. He is a leader who continually strives to do what is best for students. His effort and love for his profession is timeless. Ponca City High School is lucky to have Mr. Grimes.”

Zach Murray– Biology and Chemistry Teacher at Ponca City Senior High School

Po-Hi principal Thad Dilbeck said, “Mr. Murray has all the characteristics and attributes that make an effective teacher. He is hard working, focused, and students enjoy being in his classes. His professional demeanor creates a classroom atmosphere that is welcoming and demanding. He consistently goes above and beyond with his efforts to ensure his students are given the best chance to be successful. Mr. Murray’s abilities are earned through hard work and a continual effort to hone his craft. His efforts and desire to be the best are what give him the timeless characteristics of an effective teacher. Ponca City High School is lucky to have Mr. Murray.”

Kristin Smith – English Teacher at Ponca City Senior High School

High school principal Thad Dilbeck said, “Ms. Smith embodies the timeless characteristics of an effective teacher. She understands what it takes for students to be successful. She is demanding and compassionate. She consistently endeavors to push students to grow academically. Her students know that she maintains high expectations. They also know that Ms. Smith will go the extra mile to help them. Her classroom is welcoming, her lessons are interesting, and she genuinely cares about each student. Ponca City High School is lucky to have Ms. Smith.”

Pictured top row, from left, are Darcey Austin, Zuri Mayo, Lindsay Burkhalter, Stefanie Soucek, Amy Parks, Brandie Choate, Natalie Lively Bottom row: Rena Clyburn, Melinda LittleCook, Michael Webb, Michael Grimes, Zach Murray, Kristin Smith, Mary Ann Kessler-O”Neill


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