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Bethel Kindergarten Teacher Allison Sparks Named Watauga’s Teacher of the Year

WCS Supt. Scott Elliott presents Allison Sparks with award on Friday morning.
WCS Supt. Scott Elliott presents Allison Sparks with award on Friday morning.

Kindergarten teacher Allison Sparks of Bethel Elementary has been chosen as the Watauga County Schools Teacher of the Year for 2015-16. Her selection was announced Friday morning in a surprise visit to her classroom by Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott, Jason Cornett of the Watauga County Board of Education, her family, WCS Human Resources Director Dr. Stephen Martin, and several other personnel from the Watauga County Schools central office.


Sparks reacted to the news with delight and surprise, saying “I am so happy and so honored…and I am so touched and excited to share this with my wonderful family, my wonderful students and their parents, and with our wonderful Ms. Cable.” Karen Cable is the teaching assistant in Sparks’ classroom.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Elliott congratulated Sparks on her well-deserved recognition and, in earlier remarks, also praised all the Teachers of the Year in WCS. “What makes Teacher of the Year awards so special is that they come from your peers, the people who see you day in and day out and witness your commitment to students, your hard work, your passion, and your love of children. I truly believe that education is the most noble of the professions, and I also believe that a strong system of free public education is the foundation for a vibrant economy and a successful society.   Great teachers like Allison Sparks and our other Teachers of the Year are what make all of this possible. They make me proud every time I get to say We are Watauga. ”

Sparks has taught Kindergarten at Bethel for three years and is in her seventh year of teaching, having taught kindergarten in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools before coming to Watauga. Her educational credentials include a bachelor’s degree from the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario and a master’s degree from Queens University in Charlotte.

Bethel Principal Randy Bentley praised Sparks as “a teacher who cares deeply for her students and who is committed to helping them grow and learn. She may in fact be the perfect kindergarten teacher. Students in her classroom know they are safe and loved, and she is very well respected by her peers. All of us at Bethel know she is a great teacher and a terrific person.”

In her interview with the Teacher of the Year Committee, Sparks said she loved teaching and that she wanted her students to know that “I loved them, and that they can make a difference.” She also noted the importance of parents in education and remarked that “the relationship with parents means everything to me.”

One component of the selection process for Teacher of the Year is a statement of teaching philosophy. In her statement, Sparks wrote that “teaching begins with knowing the curriculum” and that among its essential elements are “thoughtful and intentional preparation, a deliberate strategy and process, tailoring instruction to meet the needs of all students, and perseverance and effort.” To be an outstanding teacher requires even more. A few of the important attributes of the outstanding teacher are “remembering that she is growing a person before anything else. She is cultivating a love for learning…assisting a child in making good choices while encouraging self-control and social responsibility…And above all she is practicing kindness.”

The 2015-16 Teachers of the Year at the other schools in the WCS system include Liz Tincher of Blowing Rock, Dorothy Combs of Cove Creek, Amy Lunceford of Green Valley, Brianne Thurman of Hardin Park, Amy Thomas of Mabel, Natalie Willis of Parkway, Laura Huber of Valle Crucis, and Linda Hollar of Watauga High School.

Each school’s Teacher of the Year receives an award of $350 from the school system and the WCS Teacher of the Year is awarded an additional $350. In addition to these payments, local businesses have again donated generously to the recognition of all nine WCS Teachers of the Year and WCS Principal of the Year Patrick Sukow. The sponsoring businesses include Chetola Resort, Chick-fil-A, BeanStalk Community Theatre, Boone Drug, Stick Boy Bread Company, AFLAC, Hibbett Sports, Jersey Mike’s, Michael’s, Makoto’s, Cornerstone Bookstore, Blue Ridge Vision, Panera Bread, Subway, and Tanger Outlets.

The selection process for the Teacher of the Year includes interviews, unannounced teacher observations in classrooms, and a review of the written statement of teaching philosophy prepared by each candidate. The committee making the selection includes the previous Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year, the president of the Watauga County Association of Educators, Watauga Board of Education member Jason Cornett, and the director of elementary education for WCS.

Bethel Elementary is a K-8 school with a total enrollment of 170 students. The most recent WCS Teacher of the Year from Bethel was Darcy Grimes in 2011-12, who went on to be honored as the NC Teacher of the Year.

Sparks' kids gathered around their teacher for a group hug.
Sparks’ kids gathered around their teacher for a group hug.