Prince Street Elementary’s Christen Tacka Named 2017-2018 Wicomico Teacher of the Year
Christen Tacka, an intervention teacher at Prince Street Elementary School who works every day to help students in her reading groups and throughout the school become more confident and successful, was honored as the 2017-2018 Wicomico Teacher of the Year March 23, 2017 at the annual Wicomico Teacher of the Year Banquet at the Commons at Salisbury University.
“I tell people that I love my job. I know it sounds corny but I love getting up every day and going into my school and being able to positively interact with students,” Ms. Tacka said. “Some students are not currently in my reading groups, but they are students I interact with on the bus ramp or in the hallway. I love all students who are at our school and I do everything I can to help the students believe in themselves and to let them know that they are valued. I think that’s something that is very important, to let them know that they are very important to us and that they should believe in themselves. I hope by showing them that I believe in them that hopefully they’ll be able to believe in themselves and know that they can do anything they want to do as long as they persevere.”
Asked for a memory that truly defines why she teaches, Ms. Tacka said many memories come to mind from the past 22 years of her career in public education. But the one that stands out most clearly happened just this year with a girl in 1st Grade at Prince Street. “It was very challenging when this student and I first met. One of the things she said to me was, ‘I’m not a reader. I can’t read. Reading is just too hard for me.’ And so I knew I needed to pay close attention to her as we were in reading group.
“One day it was time for us to move up a level in reading and we were starting a new book, and I could see in her eyes that she was very nervous about whether she was going to be able to read this book. So I gave the students a pep talk, told them to remember all the strategies that we’ve learned throughout the school year.” As the students read independently, Mrs. Tacka leaned in to check on each one. “I was watching her read the words on the page, turn each page, and as she’s reading successfully her eyes are as big as saucers, her smile is as wide as can be … She was just beaming with pride and couldn’t stand it, and she shouted, ‘I’m a reader, Mrs. Tacka, I’m a reader!’ That is definitely a memory that stands out for me and defines why I teach.”
The new Teacher of the Year will begin her year in style, arriving at Prince Street Elementary School in Salisbury at 9 a.m. Friday for a school celebration. She will be chauffeured in a classic 1949 Buick provided for the occasion by Wicomico music teacher and auto enthusiast Buck Burton. She will be interviewed on PAC 14 by former Maryland Teacher of the Year Aaron Deal of Wicomico County Public Schools.
Ms. Tacka, 48, received a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Towson University in 1991, and her Masters of Education in Reading Instruction from Goucher College in 2005. She taught for 14 years in Harford County Public Schools, then joined Wicomico Schools in 2009 as a Reading/English/Language Arts teacher at Mardela Middle and High. She has been an intervention teacher at Prince Street Elementary since 2012. She was instrumental in creating a Student Government Association and a mentoring partnership between at-risk readers and Salisbury University interns. Ms. Tacka is currently the parent engagement coordinator for her school, and serves as a mentor for the Wicomico Mentoring Project.
Parent engagement to support students’ success should be a goal for every teacher and every school, Ms. Tacka wrote in her Teacher of the Year semifinalist writing prompt. “There should not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to engaging our families. I believe we should look at our own school’s unique makeup of caregivers. We need to know how to better communicate with our families using whatever means is best for them – not necessarily for us. If a large number of our families do not speak English as a primary language, then maybe we need to re-think how we communicate our school’s monthly news. [Prince Street is doing just that, posting in multiple languages on its Facebook page.] Perhaps the way we conduct our PTA nights should be re-imagined to better meet the needs of our families and students. For some of our students who may be struggling in reading and/or math, a home visit once or twice a marking term could be an approach worth trying. Using technology to skype a conference or a workshop may prove beneficial for some of our families to stay engaged during the school year. Some of our caregivers are reluctant to get involved. As a teacher, I need to find the right way to reach out for the benefit of the student.”
As Wicomico Teacher of the Year, Tacka represents the outstanding staff of Prince Street and the more than 1,250 teachers of Wicomico County Public Schools. Later this year, she will represent Wicomico County Public Schools in the Maryland Teacher of the Year contest. Wicomico is proud to have three former Maryland Teachers of the Year, Bonnie Walston, Aaron Deal and April Todd, working in the school system on behalf of students.
The annual Teacher of the Year Banquet spotlights not just the year's most outstanding teacher, but all Wicomico educators who demonstrate outstanding leadership, a commitment to excellence, dedication to teaching the children of the community, and professional achievement. This year many teachers were nominated. After rating reviews were completed by administrators and supervisors, 25 semifinalists were selected. The task of narrowing the field of semifinalists for Wicomico County Teacher of the Year was a very challenging one.
Each semifinalist interviewed with a blue-ribbon judging panel, participated in a public speaking challenge called a “fishbowl,” and completed a writing exercise. Scores from each of these steps as well as the evaluations were compiled to determine the winning finalist for each of the four school levels, with the highest-scoring finalist becoming the Wicomico Teacher of the Year.
Finalists, in addition to Tacka for the primary level:
Intermediate: Jennifer Hill, Adaptive Physical Education, Pinehurst Elementary
Middle School: Alison Wysocki, English Language Arts, Wicomico Middle
High School: Laurie Davies, English, James M. Bennett High
The other semifinalists for 2017-2018 Wicomico Teacher of the Year:
Beaver Run Elementary: Valerie Folsom, 2nd Grade
Bennett Middle: Kari Thomas, Math
Charles H. Chipman Elementary: Danielle Thompson, Kindergarten
Choices Academy: Devin Smith, Math
Delmar Elementary: Heather Jackson, Special Education
East Salisbury Elementary: Shannon Hurley-Wilson, Special Education
Fruitland Intermediate: Jessie Brown, Special Education
Fruitland Primary: Phoebe Horsman, 2nd Grade
Glen Avenue Elementary: Lorianne Menzel, Media Specialist
Mardela Middle and High: Cathy Ramey, History
North Salisbury Elementary: Sarah Burton, Orchestra
Northwestern Elementary: Charlie Echard, 4th Grade
Parkside High: Kevin Zaczkiewicz, Band
Pemberton Elementary: Arnetta Thomas, 5th Grade
Pittsville Elementary and Middle: Lindsay McCauley, Physical and Health Education
Salisbury Middle: Chris Agoglia, Health Education
Westside Intermediate: Alexis Willing, 5th Grade
Westside Primary: Erin Matthews, 1st Grade
Wicomico Early Learning Center: Freda Morris, Prekindergarten
Wicomico High: Lillian Hoffman, Band
Willards Elementary: Cristin Eurice-George, 2nd Grade
“For all 25 semifinalists, the Teacher of the Year Recognition Program will continue long after tonight’s festivities,” said Dr. Donna C. Hanlin, “The semifinalists will be part of a year-long think tank that will meet periodically with school system leaders to share their insights and ideas and to brainstorm solutions to issues in education. We congratulate these outstanding teachers on their success, and thank them for their ongoing service in representing their schools.”
Friend of Education Award
Each year at the Wicomico County Teacher of the Year Banquet, the school system honors a "Friend of Education" who has generously supported Wicomico schoolchildren and schools. The 2017 award was presented to the Wicomico Public Libraries and the Friends of the Wicomico Public Libraries for their commitment to the education of students, families and the community. Plaques were presented to Mrs. Andrea Berstler, Executive Director of Wicomico Public Libraries, and Mrs. Susan Bounds, chair of the Friends of the Wicomico Public Libraries.
The Wicomico County Public School System is fortunate to have many partners in our community who join us in the important mission of providing a quality education and a great future for every student. Wicomico Public Libraries includes several locations including one right next to Pittsville Elementary and Middle, and a Bookmobile that travels to elementary schools.
The library not only has books, it has cultural events, computers, a children’s activity room, Project Read, and more. For many years, the downtown library has hosted the school system’s Elementary & Secondary Student Art Show, offering a central venue to showcase the talents of more than a thousand of our student artists. The library has partnered with the school system to offer Parent University sessions to help foster family engagement. Wicomico Public Libraries is one of the driving forces behind the upcoming Salisbury Book Festival, which will spotlight literacy and gather book donations to go to Title 1 schools in Wicomico County.
Friends of the Wicomico Public Libraries help to make many of services available such as the Homework Help Center for students in Kindergarten through 8th Grade. On April 20th, the Friends will put on the annual Light of Literacy Awards, which celebrate individuals such as our teachers, students, and community programs that support our students, such as Delmarva Pets on Wheels which allows students to read to dogs. The Friends are doing a wonderful job of supporting literacy and learning, said Dr. Margo Handy, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, as she announced the Friend of Education award.
Sponsors of the Wicomico Teacher of the Year Program
The Wicomico County Teacher of the Year Banquet is sponsored or supported by a number of generous businesses, organizations and individuals:
Platinum Level: The Richard A. Henson Foundation, Wicomico County Education Association
Gold Level: CareFirst Blue Cross BlueShield, Dr. Carolyn Elmore, Salisbury University, Vernon Powell
Silver Level: Acme, Association of Public School Administrators & Supervisors, Atlantic Pumping Inc., The Bank of Delmarva, DataNetworks, Delmarva Shorebirds, Jennifer Seay Photography, Jostens, W.R. McCain & Associates
Bronze Level: Becker Morgan Group Inc., Davis, Bowen, & Friedel, Etch-Art Awards, Gillis Gilkerson, The Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, Martin & Marilyn Neat, Sharp Water Culligan
In-kind Donors: Buck Burton, Chasing Fireflyz, Chick-fil-A, Deli at Pecan Square, Educational Supplies, Inc., Goin’ Nuts Café, How Sweet It Is, Instructional Resource Center, Joseph Lauren Hair Classics, Kevin Shockley, Kitty’s Flowers, Kuhn’s Jewelers, La Tolteca, Longhorn Steakhouse, Lucky Star Restaurant, Macy’s, Minuteman Press, Pablo’s Bowls, Parkside CTE Culinary Students, Parkside CTE Horticulture Students, Red Lobster, Rise Up Coffee, Specific Gravity, Sonya’s Floral Boutique, Southbound Bowling Alley
Media Partners: Clear Channel Outdoor, PAC 14, The Daily Times/delmarvanow.com, WBOC-TV