(The below information was provided by Alison May with DOE.)
Sandra Hall, a fourth grade teacher at North Smyrna Elementary School in the Smyrna School District, is Delaware’s 2016 State Teacher of the Year.
Acting Secretary of Education Steven Godowsky made the announcement tonight in front of about 475 invited guests at the Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center in Dover.
Education was a second career for Hall, who was 44 when she became a full-time teacher. Several factors during her adult life influenced her to pursue education as a profession. With a background in business, she became a mother at age 31 and discovered a love for fulfilling her daughter’s intellectual needs. An Army wife for more than 20 years, including 10 spent living in Germany, she also was influenced by her work as a family readiness group leader, supporting other military families. And she found a love for education through her work as a Sunday School teacher and later a substitute teacher in the Smyrna School District.
“Because I did not take the traditional route in becoming a teacher, I have an extensive background of knowledge to incorporate into the many different lessons I teach,” Hall wrote in her application.
Hall said she is successful at helping her students grow academically because she takes the time to get to know each one’s “full story,” which may include hunger, medical struggles or problems at home.
“I must take the time to be their counselor, their cheerleader, and their provider before I can tackle academic instruction,” she wrote. “Understanding, accepting, and facilitating their story must come first, then today’s lessons can be accomplished.”
Colleagues as well as students and their parents praised her ability to connect with students as well as help students make connections in their learning.
Mrs. Hall will always help even if what you need help with is easy because she wants you to learn,” former student Mia Schultz wrote in a letter of recommendation for Hall.
Hall and Mia “developed a bond that made Mia want to do her best,” wrote her mother, Kristine Schultz, who also is a math specialist at North Smyrna. “She excelled in both math and reading (last) year with Sandra’s help. I have also seen her develop a love for social studies that had never been apparent before. Mia tried hard (last) year to be the student Sandra expected her to be.”
Hall, who earned her Associate of Science in business degree from Goldey Beacom College and Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Louisville, graduated in December 2007 from Wilmington University with a Master of Education in elementary studies. She began teaching third grade at North Smyrna Elementary that same month, moving to fourth grade in the following school year. She’s remained there ever since.
Hall cited the Common Core State Standards and their aligned state test, the Smarter Assessment, as among the greatest educational issues facing teachers today. They are requiring higher order thinking of her students, who must cite evidence using multiple sources and complete text-based writing assignments using multiple sources. “Students must not only choose correct answers, they must state how they arrived at the conclusion and cite evidence to defend it,” she wrote.
“Students have a better understanding of what is expected of them and understand the what’s and the why’s of learning, providing a greater sense of purpose behind the learning. This approach to teaching does not ‘teach to the test.’ It is more about asking the right type of questions than just teaching the right answers,” she said.
While she believes this is the right approach, she said she understands the frustrations of parents who are challenged by frequently changing educational strategies. “Too often I have heard of frustrated parents who do not feel they can even help their children with homework assignments,” Hall wrote.
Teachers can help with this. Hall said teachers must “have the time, use the resources and make the effort to adopt to the new strategies. They must take every opportunity to continue to learn. Teachers cannot be stagnate in their approach to education. It truly does involve lifelong learning.”
Hall inherits from outgoing Teacher of the Year Megan Szabo the responsibility of representing all teachers in Delaware. She will address community groups, business leaders, legislators, and educational organizations to inform the public about the status of Delaware schools. She also will become Delaware’s candidate in the National Teacher of the Year Program, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with Voya Financial.
By action of the General Assembly, she will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 18 school district candidates each will receive a personal grant of $2,000.
Hall also will receive an educational technology package valued at about $18,000 from the SMART Technologies, ULC. Additionally, she will receive: a $1,000 grant for educational/classroom use from American Institutes for Research; grants from the Delaware State Education Association, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the Delaware Professional Standards Board; a State of Delaware Teacher of the Year commemorative plate from the Division of Motor Vehicles; free graduate-level courses from Delaware’s higher education institutions, including a full doctorate program from Wilmington University and University of Delaware; a gold watch from the Delaware State Teachers of the Year Association; a 10-karat gold ring from Jostens; and lunch in Washington D.C. with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper.
Other organizations that honored the newly-selected Teacher of the Year include: the Delaware Chief School Officers Association, Delaware Association of School Administrators, Delaware School Boards Association, Delaware State University, Wesley College, Educators Rising and Advantech Incorporated.
Hall’s selection as Delaware’s top educator makes her the 52nd Teacher of the Year since Delaware’s recognition program began in 1965. This year’s celebration was sponsored in part by Voya Financial and Hope Street Group.