OCEAN CITY — Embodying this year’s theme of “soaring against the wind,” the 2014 Worcester County Teacher of the Year (TOY) is Brenna Johnson, a music education teacher at Stephen Decatur Middle School (SDMS).
A 10-year teaching veteran, seven of which having been spent at SDMS, Johnson likened the experience of winning to another award show in her chosen field of music.
“I just first want to say that I’m so honored and humbled to have been chosen. I feel like I’m at the Grammys,” she said.
Johnson was chosen from a field of 14 educators representing all of the public schools in Worcester. According to the county’s profile on Johnson, she “facilitates cooperative learning to foster the unity and cohesiveness of each group of performers.” A certified music and theatre teacher for grades K-12, Johnson coaches All Shore Chorus and chairs the District Choral Festival. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts degree and is currently working on a graduate degree in vocal music and theatre.
Now that she has won Teacher of the Year for Worcester, Johnson will join the top educators from each of Maryland’s other counties in competing for the statewide award.
“I just hope that when I move on now to the next level I can share Worcester County teacher’s passion for our students and our love for teaching with all of the other teachers that get to meet and take the best county to represent us in the best way,” she said. “And I hope that I bring you pride over the next year. And I just thank you so much for your support and I hope that I can shine for you all. So thank you.”
Johnson’s win was recognized not only by the Worcester County Public School (WCPS) system during the celebratory banquet last Friday in Ocean City but also by county leadership and state representatives. County Commission President Bud Church told Johnson that she represents the strength of Worcester’s schools, which he added are a huge selling point for the county.
“I can tell you, from my perspective as a realtor, many, many people are moving into our county because of our school system,” he said. “It’s one of the top-rated school systems in the country and it’s because of young ladies like this, our school board, the staff, the principals, the teachers and even the students.”
State Senator Jim Mathias referenced the symbol of this year’s teacher competition, a soaring kite, in his remarks to Johnson.
“You too are going to provide a great flight and a great life to many, many children,” he said.
Teachers aren’t always given the proper credit, Mathias continued, as some people don’t realize that their job extends well beyond the hours they spend in school. As the father-in-law of a Worcester teacher, Mathias knows firsthand that the eight hours the teachers spend in school is just the beginning.
“When I came home at 6 or 7 o’clock at night, he had his papers all out on the kitchen table and he continued to work until 9:30, 10, 10:30 at night,” said Mathias of his son-in-law. “And that was the dedication and commitment that you, Brenna, and each and every one of the teachers have for the most important asset and that’s our children. And you endow them with the best thing in their lives and that’s their education.”
Like Mathias, many other speakers referenced the soaring kite in their remarks. The symbol for last year’s awards was a butterfly, which represented WCPS’s growth from a top school system in Maryland to one that prepared students to compete in a global market. This year’s kite evokes some of the same feelings but was also chosen as the best symbol of how Worcester teachers are always prepared to deal with the winds of change and to guide their students ever higher.
“Tonight we gather to celebrate our very own kite flyers, those who are willing to embrace change in order to soar to greater heights,” said Alison Giska, the 2009 Teacher of the Year. “Those who are relentless in their commitment to better prepare our next generation.”
Karen Eure, last year’s award winner, had some words of wisdom for all of the candidates, but especially for Johnson who will be the face of Worcester County teachers for the next year. Eure’s advice came in the form of poetry encouraging the teachers to act proudly as ambassadors for their schools.
“Congratulations to one and to all. Because of the work you do, we all stand tall,” she said. “Three cheers for you, you are the best. Proudly you represent all of the rest.”
In her year as Teacher of the Year, Eure has traveled across the state and said that she has been granted a new perspective on why Worcester is consistently ranked as one of the top performing school systems in the Maryland.
“Our schools are full of people that care, who take personal interest in students and push students to do their best,” she told the gathered teachers. “You helped me understand that representing Worcester County is special because you are special.”
Being a top school in Maryland is worth extra regard, added Eure, since Maryland is one of the best states for education in the country.
“As Worcester County Teacher of the Year, I have had the opportunity to see that across Maryland we are all pulling with both of our muscles. We’re soaring against the wind,” she said.