Honoring an A-plus teacher

Award: Burleigh Manor instructor is chosen as the county's top educator.

May 22, 2002|By Donna W. Payne | Donna W. Payne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The hat that looks like a crab and the "I am crabby" T-shirt delight the youths who attend Burleigh Manor Middle School's outdoor education field trips, Principal Barbara Hoffmann said. The accouterments that sixth-grade math teacher Michele Zurad wears to teach crabbing are just one of the many examples of her enthusiastic teaching style, Hoffmann said.

Zurad, a 20-year veteran teacher, is this year's Howard County Maryland Teacher of the Year. "Michele is the most positive teacher I know," Hoffmann said. "Her joy at passing her experience to new teachers ... is overwhelming and contagious."

Zurad and 123 others were honored last week at the school system's "In Honor of Excellence" ceremony.

"You recognize what you want to continue and what we're looking for in Howard County in excellence," said Barbara Allen, coordinator of staff development for county schools.

Thirteen individuals received awards in eight categories that spanned a range of education-related professions. The annual ceremony recognizes outstanding teachers, administrators, office professionals and custodial and grounds staff. Nominees for the awards are also honored.

"The thing that is very distinctive [about our celebration is] ... we recognize all of the nominees and the recipients," Allen said.

The top awardees in each category learned about the honors from Superintendent John R. O'Rourke during surprise visits to their schools. The announcement celebration that her colleagues and students arranged in the school cafeteria, Zurad recalled, left her "speechless."

Zurad will represent the county for the statewide award for teacher of the year. The state winner will go to the national competition. "There are many, many teachers in Howard County that deserve this," Zurad said. "I'm humbled and proud to represent them."

Novice teachers Todd Garner, who teaches third grade at Atholton Elementary School, and Nucleo Vega, a band teacher at Wilde Lake Middle School, shared this year's First Year Educator Award.

Vega credits his mother, who "taught me since I was little," his father, who taught him math, and several encouraging teachers for sparking his interest in the teaching profession. Vega, who was born and raised in Columbia, said he relied on colleagues and his wife for support when things got tough. "There are some days where I go home and just lay down on my floor and go, `Oh, my gosh, what am I doing?'" he said.

But with his first year as a teacher drawing to a close, Vega knows he is in the right profession. "It's a very fun job," he said.

Garner switched careers, leaving the computer field. "I wanted to do something I would feel good about," he said. "I just wanted to do something I could give back to other people. I didn't feel like I was doing that before."

Garner said he believes it is important to create an environment of respect and open communication in his classroom to successfully teach his pupils.

George Boteler won the Shirley R. Mullinix Award for Excellence for home and hospital teachers. Boteler tutors county youths who are unable to attend school. He recalled the satisfaction of being able to help a student with leukemia who eventually recovered and was academically successful. "When that happens," Boteler said, "you know you're in the right profession and what your profession is, is very meaningful."

Last week, the county honored its educators with more than flowers, certificates and plaques. Community members, family and friends gathered to say thank you.

"This is a glorious day at which we recognize the best of the best," O'Rourke said.

Other awards were: the Office Professionals Recognition Award, Roberta Gemmell, fine arts and social studies office, and Gail Brown, Manor Woods Elementary; the Distinguished Assistant Award, Carol Knox, Fulton Elementary, and Richard Dopp, Lime Kiln Middle; the Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award, Mary Jo Messenger, River Hill High; the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award, Susan Goglia, Dasher Green Elementary; the Excellence Award for Custodial and Grounds Services, Estelle Brooks, Faulkner Ridge Center, Bob Naecker, grounds services, and Jerry Young, Running Brook Elementary.

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