District names teacher of year

Kayla Maxwell, a fourth-year teacher and product of Horry County Schools, was named the 2014-15 Horry County Schools Teacher of the Year at the district’s annual banquet Tuesday at the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort and Spa at Grande Dunes.

Maxwell was one of five finalists honored, along with other teachers of the year from each school.

“I feel like my whole life is right in front of me,” said Maxwell, as she named educators in the audience who had taken part in her education. “I feel like this is where I should be. ... I’m home.”

Maxwell has taught sixth-grade math for four years, all at Forestbrook Middle School, where she once attended. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Coastal Carolina University, and said she was inspired to become an educator by her third-grade teacher, Barbara Durfey, at Forestbrook Elementary School, the first teacher to make her love school.

“We are just so proud of her – she’s a wonderful teacher,” said April Scott, principal at Forestbrook Middle, whom Maxwell said took a chance on her when she was a new teacher and desperate for a job.

Maxwell said she instills in her students a passion for learning and the need to set attainable goals, and they are never allowed to settle for less than their personal best. She said her students find answers through inquiry-based learning with their peers, but she is amazed at how much she learns from them. She thanked her students – about 90 – and said she wished they all could have been there.

“They are the reason I wake up every morning with a smile on my face,” Maxwell – the third HCS Teacher of the Year in a row to come from a school in the Socastee attendance area – said tearfully.

The other finalists for the award were Beth Cox, a biology teacher at St. James High School; Holly Barnes, an English teacher at Conway High School; Lesley Etherson, an art teacher at North Myrtle Beach High School; and Pam Jackson, a math teacher at the Academy for Technology and Academics.

Faculty members at each school in the district select their Teachers 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.

The HCS Teacher Forum, made up of former teachers of the year, also awarded four scholarships to students who are pursuing careers in education. Brooke Nicole Hagler of North Myrtle Beach High School received $2,700, while Allison Nichole Whisnant of Loris High School received $1,000. Alicia Davenport and Taylor Gerland, both of North Myrtle Beach High School, each received $500.

Edward Jadallah, dean of CCU’s Spadoni College of Education, also presented the Horry County Higher Education Commission Scholarship Awards to the district Teachers of the Year. They each received a certificate for free tuition for one course in Spadoni College.