Pelham recognizes teachers and support persons of the year with night of honors

Published 1:38 pm Thursday, February 1, 2024

By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer 

PELHAM – Pelham City School officials and members of numerous other city organizations gathered at Pelham Park Middle School for a night of recognition to honor PCS’ teachers and support persons of the year on Tuesday, Jan. 30.

Immediately following the conclusion of the Superintendent’s Art Show that featured art from each of Pelham’s city schools, attendees, honorees and guests all gathered at the school’s second floor atrium for a reception catered by Pelham High School students involved with the school’s Culinary Arts Program.

Mentored and guided by chef Douglas Allen, who serves as culinary arts instructor for the program, the students operated a buffet style service that offered a variety of food items for attendees that included sandwiches, sectioned waffle-corn-dogs, shrimp tartlets, skewered tortellini shells with olives and more that was all topped with a table of assorted deserts.

“We are extremely excited about having you here this year and we are blessed to have great educators in this school system and great families that bring their kids here, it makes for a great school system from top to bottom,” Superintendent Dr. Chuck Ledbetter said. “I also want to thank the Pelham City Schools foundation that has sponsored our honoring of our teachers. Their help makes a big difference with the work that the foundation does for us every day. They are another one of things that make Pelham special and we appreciate them very much.”

Following the hour-long reception, attendees then took their places in the school’s media center for the presentation of the night’s awards and recognitions held during the PCS Board of Education meeting, which held their regularly scheduled session at the middle school as part of the night’s events.

In presentation of the night’s honors, Dr. Ledbetter and Shannon Bogert, chief academic officer for PCS, introduced and personally congratulated each honoree for the 2023-2024 academic year and posed for pictures with each winner upon the receipt of their award.

One individual from each of the district’s four schools was selected and honored as part of the roster of Pelham City Schools’ Support Persons of the Year.

For Pelham Oaks Elementary, Hope White was recognized for her role as an instructional aide in the school’s special education department and for eight years of service so far with the school system.

“Ms. White says Pelham Oaks has become like family to her,” Ledbetter said. “She says her favorite moments are always when a student feels a sense of accomplishment. For some, it may be a grasp of a math problem, others sounding out a word and still others may be learning how to better interact with peers. She says it is so rewarding to see the moments when students achieve an accomplishment unique to their situation that makes them smile and feel a sense of self-worth.”

From Pelham Ridge Elementary School, Judy Leipert was honored for her role as a custodian, a position she has held since 2021. Among her favorite things described were the daily interactions with not only the students, but the faculty of her school, both of which she described as always expressing genuine kindness and exhibiting a supportive nature.

Pelham Park Middle School’s Support Person of the Year was Wali Zaa, who serves the school as a paraprofessional that supports ESL (English as a Second Language) students in their core classes. Zaa, who has worked within Pelham’s schools since 2013 and prior to the founding of PCS, described working with her students in the community as among the most rewarding job experiences in her entire career.

“She says witnessing their growth and seeing them become active members of our community brings her joy,” Ledbetter said. “Mrs. Zaa says some of her ESL students face challenges making it to graduation or (that they) might be the first ones in their family to graduate from high school, so seeing her students receive their diplomas on graduation day is one of her favorite moments and biggest accomplishments as an educator.”

The title of Support Person of the Year for Pelham High School was awarded to Geoff Gowin, who provides his services as an IT technician within the school’s technology department. Gowin’s service to the school system dates back to the summer of 2014. Gowin has also been with PCS since its inception.

Gowin was specifically recognized for his work in fostering positive staff interactions with the students, for his role in managing technology rollouts during Pelham’s initial transition to its own school system and for his role in overcoming the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic with the rapid onset of one-to-one student devices.

In addition to those named Support Persons of the Year, four individuals were also selected and identified as Teachers of the Year.

Amanda Toxey, who is currently in her 20th year of teaching and has taught first grade in Pelham for the past four years, was awarded the title for Pelham Ridge Elementary School.

“She says Pelham Ridge is a fun place to work and learn,” Ledbetter said. “Her students love surprise hallway dance parties, dress-up days, award celebrations, WIG runs with the principal, parades and many other activities that make ‘The Ridge’ a community of learners.”

Pelham High School’s Teacher of the Year was Jason Harchuck, who was selected in recognition of his role in teaching 12th-grade inclusion special education at the high school. In addition to that role in serving as the school’s lead special education teacher, Harchuck also coaches the girls golf team and has taught at PHS for the last five of his six total years in education.

“Mr. Harchuck says being voted by peers at PHS to become Teacher of the Year means the world to him since he works alongside some of the very best teachers, many of whom are deserving of this award,” Ledbetter said. “Mr. Harchuck’s favorite thing about teaching at PHS is the students and the collaboration between the teachers.”

Amy Moore, of Pelham Park Middle School, was not only named Teacher of the Year for her school, but was also named as the district’s secondary Teacher of the Year.

In her 31st year of teaching, Moore has walked the halls of Pelham’s schools since 2000 and serves as the director of bands for the school, a role that she said she knew she was made for since the ninth grade.

“For her, it is a calling where she can show students kindness, support and respect and help them become the best versions of themselves,” Ledbetter said. “Her favorite moments are when she sees the progress her students make and shares in their joy and success.”

In closing the recognitions for support persons and teachers, Ledbetter then announced the Teacher of the Year for Pelham Oaks Elementary School, Leah Gott, who was also identified as the PCS District Teacher of the Year.

Gott, who is a fourth-grade math and science teacher, marked her 10th year in education at the start of the 2023-2024 academic year and also assists with the Engaging Elementary Engineers (E3) club at Pelham Oaks.

Those wishing to learn more about PCS, its schools and the teachers honored at the night’s event are encouraged to visit the district’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/PelhamCitySchoolsAL or their official website at Pelhamcityschools.org for more information.