Shannon Peterson stood in disbelief Tuesday night when her name was announced before a crowd of about 200 teachers, district staff and loved ones – every one of them applauding her.
Peterson, preschool special education teacher at Ocean Bay Elementary School, beat out four other finalists for the coveted 2016-17 Horry County Schools Teacher of the Year. Peterson was announced the winner at an annual gala at the Grande Dunes Marriott in Myrtle Beach.
“It kind of took me a minute to process it,” Peterson said about her win. “It hasn’t even sunk in yet.”
Peterson earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education/special education and a master’s degree in special education from The College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y. She has 10 years teaching experience, seven of which have been with Horry County Schools.
She works so hard at what she does. Her time, her effort, the way she cares for those kids – it’s just unbelievable.
Thomas Lynam, Peterson’s stepfather
She knew she wanted to be a teacher from a young age, and in high school realized she wanted to work in special education. That passion has lasted throughout her life, which is apparent to Ocean Bay principal Ben Prince.
“She is so deserving, and she’s such a great teacher,” Prince said. “I really can’t say enough good things about her.”
Ocean Bay Elementary has had one Teacher of the Year finalist before, Prince said, but never any winners. Peterson’s “excellence” and compassion for everyone – students, other teachers, parents – is the best first winner Ocean Bay could ever ask for, he said.
Debbie Lynam, Peterson’s mother, was at a loss for words Tuesday night. She said her daughter is the most deserving person to be up for the award because of her big heart and perseverance. Lynam was in the crowd with the rest of Peterson’s family, who all jumped up when the special education teacher’s name was called.
“She puts herself on the bottom and builds everyone else up,” Lynam said.
The other four finalists were:
- Londa Cross – Academy for Technology and Academics
- Eric McKinney – Black Water Middle
- Steven Panamarczuk – Forestbrook Middle
- Martha Hutchinson – Homewood Elementary
Faculty members at each school in the district select their Teacher of the Year, who apply to be one of 10 semi-finalists, who were selected in January. An interview process in February narrowed the field to five finalists, who were observed in their classrooms by a selection committee.
Teacher of the Year entrants submit written applications that cover teacher biographies, their philosophy of teaching, advocacy and evaluation of teaching techniques. Each school selects its Teacher of the Year, and 10 semifinalists are chosen for interviews before the list is narrowed to five finalists.
Each finalist undergoes a series of classroom observations by an evaluation team – made up of teachers, district staff, former teachers of the year and principals – which then determines the winner.
Standing behind the podium Tuesday night, Peterson said she’s thankful she can spend every day doing what she loves.
“I just love being able to share what we do to create the path for these kiddos at the beginning of their education path,” she said.
Claire Byun: 843-626-0381, @Claire_TSN
This is a first for us. When you think of excellence in teachers, she meets all parts of that.
Ben Prince, principal of Ocean Bay Elementary School