Murray School District’s outstanding teacher, employee honored virtuallyAug 11, 2020 12:55PM ● By Julie Slama
Grant Elementary’s Jessica Porter was named Murray School District’s teacher of the year. (Photo courtesy of Murray School District)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
When Grant Elementary second-grade teacher Jessica Porter received a call from Murray School District student services director telling her she was selected as the District’s teacher of the year, she had a bunch of emotions—surprise, disbelief, pride.
“He said he was sad he couldn’t tell me in person (because of the social distancing with COVID-19 pandemic) and then gave me the specifics about the virtual (Murray) Board (of Education) meeting, including that I should be prepared to speak,” she said, adding that nervousness added to the array of emotions.
With the community’s eyes’ glued to their screens, Murray School District Superintendent Jennifer Covington publicly announced Porter as the teacher of the year. District support services director Rock Boyer announced Murray High custodian Jim Brown as the classified employee of the year.
In the nomination for Porter, it said: “Mrs. Porter has high standards for her students and never accepts anything less than their best effort. She helps them understand what they’re learning, why they’re learning it, and always provides them with the criteria that will allow them to gauge their own learning and success within a lesson.”
Her principal, Mindy Ball, said Porter is a “masterful educator” and further explains her teaching method: “At any given time, students will be making models, working in partners to solve a problem, using independent skill sets or using whiteboards. Students know that Mrs. Porter is not only cheering for them, but cheering with them, helping them grow at every opportunity available.”
Porter, who said the first class she taught was now part of this year’s graduating class, thanked the Board and District leadership for investing in teachers.
“Thank you also for investing in me,” she said. “Thank you for the professional development opportunities. I am a great teacher today because of the belief and investment this district has made in its teachers. I am lucky to be in a profession where what I do truly makes a difference. My work is purposeful.”
Porter, who has taught 13 years—11 at Grant—said as a first-generation college graduate, she didn’t want to teach at first.
“I loved learning, but it wasn’t a value shared in my family,” she said. “I learned it was in the classroom where I feel confident and shine and can help my students’ shine. I love helping kids learn.”
Her enthusiasm spread, and her mother volunteered in the classroom for about a half-dozen years, so when she called to tell her parents about the award, they were “thrilled”—as was her own family.
Now, Porter is spending some of her summer writing essays and updating her education resume as part of the teacher of the year application for the state award. The sign that was posted in her front yard announcing her award now sits in the garage.
“It was very heartwarming and validating to me, but having the support means more to me than the award,” she said. “I am incredibly humbled and honored to be recognized as one of the many teachers who are deserving of this recognition.”
Brown, who has worked for the District for 35 years before retiring in June, was known for his work ethic and professionalism, Boyer said.
As a custodian at Murray High, Brown was responsible and dedicated, often working late into the evenings to ensure high school activities were properly concluded and cleaned up, he said.
Murray High Principal Scott Wihongi said he has appreciated Brown’s dependability as a “steady fixture” at the school.
“He seldom takes sick days and he has always followed through with the duties he is assigned,” Wihongi said. “As Jim wraps up his career, I want to acknowledge the impact he has had at Murray High for so many years. Over the years, I have seen the cafeteria go from trashy, to hardly a sign of garbage, because Jim religiously roams around with the garbage can during the lunch period. He may come across as gruff, but he has a heart of gold and is willing to help anyone. Jim is old-school loyal, who shows up, gets the job done, and is absolutely dependable.”