The five finalists for Washington County Public Schools’ 2022-23 Teacher of the Year recently were surprised by visits from Superintendent Boyd Michael and school staff members.
One teacher will be chosen to succeed Caroline Schlegel, a Spanish teacher at Smithsburg High School and Washington County Public Schools’ 2021-22 Teacher of the Year.
The group of finalists represents 95 total years of teaching experience, with 73 of those years being served as educators with WCPS, a news release states.
The 2022-23 Teacher of the Year will be announced on April 20, at an event hosted by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce at Fountainhead Country Club. The Teacher of the Year program is a partnership through the Washington County Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
Finalists for the 2022-23 Teacher of the Year include:
• Elizabeth Baumgardnergifted and talented education teacher at Eastern Elementary School.
Baumgardner has been a teacher with WCPS for 15 years and is a previous Teacher of the Year nominee.
She integrates computer science education and social emotional learning into her lessons, a WCPS news release states. Baumgardner co-teaches meaningful watershed educational experiences to help plant trees around schools. This year, they are integrating ways that nature can help improve mental health.
“I feel that my job is to teach students how to think critically,” Baumgardner stated in her nomination paperwork. “… Memorization and recitation will not help my students when they enter the world and have to solve problems on their own. I want my students to be able to think critically and creatively in order to solve problems.
“I strive to teach all students how to use their voice to stand up for themselves and others,” she said.
• Caitlin Kellerconnections teacher at Boonsboro Middle School.
Keller is in her third year of teaching at WCPS and has taught in Maryland for 13 years.
She is the Best Buddies chapter leader at Boonsboro Middle School, a WCPS news release states. This national organization focuses on pairing students with and without disabilities to foster authentic friendships. Keller is also an equity coach for WCPS and leads training for staff on matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“I am so honored to be included as a Teacher of the Year Finalist, and I’m excited to share my passion for teaching students with complex needs,” Keller stated in an email.
“These students are capable of achieving so many amazing things and with the help of a network of indispensable team members, we are making a difference in the lives of our students and their families,” she said.
• Erica Kozlowskisecond-grade magnet teacher at Fountaindale Elementary School.
Kozlowski is currently in her ninth year of teaching with WCPS and is a previous Teacher of the Year nominee.
She facilitates student-led service projects, including “Socktober,” a sock drive to benefit Reach of Washington County, Children in Need and CASA. She implements an activity called “Genius Hour” in which students direct their own research and learning towards a topic of their choice, a WCPS news release states.
“I was so surprised !,” Kozlowski stated in an email. “I know and work with some of the best, most dedicated educators, so to be recognized in this way is such an honor.”
• Elizabeth McDonaldbiomedical science teacher at Washington County Technical High School.
McDonald has been a teacher for more than 20 years, and has worked at WCPS for 11 years. She has been a previous Teacher of the Year finalist in 2016 and 2020.
McDonald facilitates hands-on, interactive learning experiences in her classroom, and she pursues real-world medical scenarios that allow her students to observe and question, a WCPS news release states.
“I am honored to have this opportunity to represent, share, and celebrate the amazing work of my students and colleagues,” McDonald stated in an email. “I truly love teaching and the learning community at Tech High inspires me every day to grow and excel as an educator.
“I am passionate about the potential of quality academic and career / technical education to help young people develop their talents, find an area in which to succeed, develop college and career readiness, and help our community grow and thrive in the future,” she said. “Just being a teacher is the reward for me. It has been a lifelong goal of mine and I am thankful every day for the opportunity to guide, nurture, challenge, inspire, and learn from my remarkable students.”
• Ann Palmerthird-grade teacher at Jonathan Hager Elementary School.
Palmer has been teaching for nearly 40 years, and has been with WCPS over the last 38 years, a news release states.
Palmer serves as the third-grade district literacy lead teacher, which gives her the opportunity to lead professional development for WCPS elementary teachers, and she models best practices in English language arts teaching methodologies for other educators.
“I have wanted to be a teacher since I was in fourth grade so I’m grateful that each day I get to spend working with my three favorite people and things: kids, curriculum, and community,” Palmer stated in an email. “Being named as a finalist for WCPS Teacher of the Year has been both overwhelming and inspiring.”
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Sherry Greenfield is the Education Reporter, covering Washington County Public Schools and the Washington County Board of Education.