Horry County Schools’ Ainsworth wins S.C. Teacher of the Year

Jennifer Ainsworth, a teacher at Socastee High School, was named South Carolina’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center Wednesday night, and made history as the first educator to bring that title home for Horry County Schools.

Ainsworth, with her student Savannah Thompson by her side Wednesday night, said she was honored and humbled as she accepted the award.

“We really are a family,” said Ainsworth, who said she wished her whole class could be with her, and that each one of them shines. “Teachers shine because of their students, and I have superstars.”

Ainsworth is a special education teacher who teaches Socastee High’s mild to moderate special needs class, with students from ages 14 to 21 who are learning work skills, life skills and academics in order to be productive citizens. She is known for her passion and dedication to her students, and for going above and beyond to provide them with opportunities for recreation and to participate in the community.

Five Horry County Schools educators, including Ainsworth have been named finalists for Teacher of the Year, others included Bobby Chandler, Julie Lovell, Janet Calder and Jackie Stanley.

Ainsworth was supported by her husband, two sons and father, as well as by student Savannah Thompson and her parents Wednesday and said, “This whole day has been electric, being with the other finalists and teachers.” Savannah said she was excited about representing their class.

Ainsworth said her inspirations are her late mother, her 96-year-old grandmother and her late class assistant, Peggy Blaine, who died the night before Ainsworth won HCS Teacher of the Year last year.

“That’s her mother,” said Larry Geddie, Ainsworth’s father, about the qualities that put his daughter in the winner’s circle, “but all of these teachers are special. You hear a lot about the bad, but this is the good.

Her new title earned Ainsworth $25,000 and a new BMW to use for one year.

In 2014-15, she also will participate in a one-year residency program at the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, and she will serve as a statewide ambassador for the profession.

Ainsworth was named one of the state’s five finalists, known as Honor Roll teachers, in March.

A team visited her at Socastee High to video her teaching and do preliminary work for a seven-member state selection committee, with which she later had personal interviews in Columbia. The finalists were chosen from 81 school districts, the S.C. School for the Deaf and the Blind, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Palmetto Unified School District and the S.C. Public Charter School District.

Other finalists, who each receive $10,000, were John “Jed” Dearybury, a second-grade teacher at Woodland Heights Elementary School, Spartanburg School District 6; Rhonda Hudak, a seventh-grade English language arts teacher at Rawlinson Road Middle School, Rock Hill School District 3; Patrick Kelly, a twelfth-grade Advanced Placement U.S. government and politics teacher at Blythewood High School, Richland School District 2; and Vivian “Beth” Tuten, a special education teacher at Swansea High School, Lexington School District 4.

School district teachers of the year also were honored at the gala. Each of them receive $1,000.

Ainsworth succeeds Darleen Sutton, a first-grade teacher at Pickens Elementary School in the School District of Pickens County.

All state finalists and school district winners will be honored by the S.C. General Assembly.

The annual Teacher of the Year gala is sponsored by S.C. Future Minds and the S.C. Department of Education. This year’s keynote speaker was Maj. Gen. Charles Frank Bolden Jr., USMC-Retired, NASA administrator and Columbia native.

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