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‘You matter,’ Darnall tells educators at 37th Excellence in Teaching at Campbellsville University

Dr. Byron Darnall, associate commissioner of education, told the award recipients at Campbellsville University’s Excellence in Teaching Award Program they deserve to be proud of what they do and why they do it. (Campbellsville University Photo by Alexandria D. Dalton)

By Gerard Flanagan, news writer and photographer, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Dr. Byron Darnall, associate commissioner of education, remembers the excitement he would feel as Christmas drew near on the calendar each year.

His grandmother would put all her effort into making Christmas special by selecting just the right gift for everyone while leaving her gifts unopened.

“We would get to the point of forcing her to open her gifts and see her reaction,” said Darnall, the featured speaker at Campbellsville University’s 37th annual Excellence in Teaching ceremony in Ransdell Chapel on May 13. “What I realized later was her gift was giving gifts.”

This year’s Excellence in Teaching ceremony honored 236 recipients from 83 districts across the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Darnall, a Meade County, Ky., native, serves in the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Educator Licensure and Effectiveness. He has served in various education roles in Kentucky and a stint in the Iowa Department of Education.

He told the award recipients, “I feel this way about leadership. Today, we gather to celebrate you and the tremendous impact you make daily on students. This has very little to do with what I have to say and more about taking a moment to say thank you.”

Darnall asked the award recipients to name a teacher who positively and significantly impacted their lives.

“Just as you honor your teacher today, one of your current or former students is thinking the same about you,” Darnall noted.

Darnall quoted from Mandy Perez, the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

“She reflected her peer’s aggravation with the narrative that teachers enter the classroom with an agenda, which she refuted by saying, ‘The only agenda teachers have is doing the very best for every one of their students every day.’”

Perez is a sixth-grade English and language arts teacher at Crittenden County Middle School.

Darnall also quoted Rebecka Peterson, the 2023 National Teacher of the Year, who said, “One good thing, every day.”

“Every classroom, every school, experiences one good thing every day, and this is what matters in our profession because otherwise, the negative noise wins out,” Darnall said.

Scott Hurt, right, who teaches English as a Second Language at Butler County Middle School, poses for a picture with his parents, Steve and Cindy Hurt, during a luncheon at Campbellsville University’s 37th Excellence in Teaching Award Program May 13.

He reminded everyone that teaching has always been a labor of love, but teaching today has reached “a new level of taxing.”

“I’d love to wave a magic wand and make the difficulties disappear,” Darnall said. “I realize ceremonies and teacher appreciation weeks are nice, but they do not go far enough to recognize the talent each of you displays on a daily basis.”

“Weekly, I speak about the urgent needs of our professions. I regularly present sobering data about the education pipeline. I regretfully have no way to assure anyone things will improve. I fear, instead, the profession will continue to struggle for relevance in the public eye.”

However, Darnall said, that is what makes moments like the Excellence in Teaching Awards ceremony even more special.

“The answers everyone seeks are right here in this room,” Darnall said. “We are brand ambassadors. I’ll acknowledge concerns about toxic positivity, which to me, overlooks how hard it is to be a teacher.

“We all deserve the right to be human, and we deserve the right to be proud of what we do and why we do it.”

Darnall also thanked school administrators, saying, “As an administrator, I admire the importance of school leadership as a key to successful teaching…I do not underestimate your daily challenges and role in creating successful schools.”

Darnall also noted the many sacrifices teachers make, especially with their time.

“Just as each of you does every week,” he said, “you’ve given time on a Saturday that could be spent doing countless other things, things that likely get neglected as a result of your dedication to students. Because of this, I want you to know how much you matter.”

Dr. Lisa Allen, dean of the School of Education at Campbellsville University, welcomed everyone to the ceremony.

She told the award recipients, “We are brothers and sisters in serving the students we teach and serving their families, and we all work toward this common goal of making the world a better place, one student at a time.”

Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Campbellsville University, provided the invocation. Allen delivered the benediction.

Jacob Hayes, a senior; Kaylee Lawrence, a sophomore; Collin White, a junior, all from Campbellsville, Ky.; and Kellis Lawrence, a freshman at Taylor County High School, provided music at the ceremony. Jamie Lawrence, executive director of ministry and church outreach at Campbellsville University, served as accompanist.

Dr. Donna Hedgepath, far left, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Dr. Lisa Allen, far right, dean of the School of Education, present awards to Campbellsville Independent Schools teachers at the Excellence in Teaching Award Program. The award recipients are, from left, Jenny Despain (Campbellsville High School) and Leanna Cundiff (Campbellsville Elementary School). Joining them were, from left, Kirby Smith, superintendent, and David Petett, instructional supervisor and associate superintendent. (Campbellsville University Photo by Alexandria D. Dalton)
Dr. Donna Hedgepath, far left, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Dr. Lisa Allen, far right, dean of the School of Education, present awards to Taylor County Schools teachers at the Excellence in Teaching Award Program. The award recipients are Jade Sanders (Taylor County Intermediate School), third from left; Amber Wolf (Taylor County Middle School), center, and Melissa Laymance (Taylor County High School), fifth from left. Joining them were, from left, Donna Williams, principal at Taylor County Intermediate School, and Sara Tucker, principal at Taylor County High School. (Campbellsville University Photo by Alexandria D. Dalton)

Awards recipients by the school district are as follows:

Adair County – Dr. Pamela Stephens, superintendent; Sydney Humphress, Adair County Elementary School; Katie Cowan, Adair County Middle School; Brittany Smith, Adair County High School.

Anderson County – Sheila Mitchell, superintendent; Thomas Calvert, Emma B. Ward Elementary School; Melody Moeller, Anderson County Middle School; Kristen Shouse, Anderson County High School.

Augusta Independent – Lisa McCane, superintendent; Meghan Miller, Augusta Independent; Jessica Verst, Augusta Independent; Cathleen McKibben, Augusta Independent.

Bardstown Independent – Dr. Ryan Clark, superintendent; Terra Reynolds, Bardstown Primary; Craig Frey, Bardstown Middle School; Jeffrey Kisegy, Bardstown High School.

Barren County – Bo Matthews, superintendent; Melissa Shaw, Eastern Elementary; Delenia Alls, Barren County Middle School; Jerrod Browning, Barren County High School.

Bell County – Tom Gambrel, superintendent; Tonya Brashears, Bell Central School Center; Debra Napier, Page School Center; Nicholas Napier, Bell County High School.

Boone County – Matthew Turner, superintendent; Sarah Kendall, Ockerman Middle School; Tasha Lovins, Larry A. Ryle High School.

Bourbon County – Amy Baker, superintendent; Laura Ernest, Bourbon Central Elementary School; Kristen Koch, Bourbon County Middle School; Cheryl Conley, Bourbon County High School.

Boyd County – William Boblett Jr., superintendent; Melanie Kelley, Cannonsburg Elementary School; Christy Reliford, Boyd County Middle School; Marquita Welsh, Boyd County High School.

Breckinridge County – Dr. Nick Carter, superintendent; Timothy Lewis, Hardinsburg Elementary School; Stacey Harness, Breckinridge County Middle School; Clinton Board, Breckinridge County High School.

Bullitt County – Dr. Jesse Bacon, superintendent; Martha “Denise” Bullock, Pleasant Grove Elementary; Kimberly Thompson, Eastside Middle School; Victoria Mason, North Bullitt High School.

Burgin Independent – Chris LeMonds, principal; Leslye Turner, Burgin Independent Schools (elementary school); Amanda Rulon, Burgin Independent Schools (middle school); Megan Berketis, Burgin Independent Schools (high school).

Butler County – Robert Tuck, superintendent; Kassie Decker, North Butler Elementary School; Scott Hurt, Butler County Middle School; Jazmin Reynolds, Butler County High School.

Campbellsville Independent – Kirby Smith, superintendent; Leanna Cundiff, Campbellsville Elementary School; Jordyn Burkhead, Campbellsville Middle School; Jenny Despain, Campbellsville High School.

Carter County – Paul Green, superintendent; Amy Burton, Star Elementary School; Kayla Logan, West Middle School; Aimie Walker, East Carter High School.

Casey County – Barry Lee, superintendent; Lesley Wesley, Jones Park Elementary; Marlene Atwood, Casey County High School; Tara Luster, Casey County High School.

Caverna Independent – Amanda Abell, superintendent; Lee Ann Wood, Caverna Elementary School; Vanessa Moldon, Caverna Middle School; Joe Wilder, Caverna High School.

Clark County – Dustin Howard, superintendent; Brandi Faulker, Clark County Preschool; Lauren Whittaker, George Rogers Clark High School; Shanda Crosby, George Rogers Clark High School.

Clinton County – Dr. Paula Little, superintendent; Jordan Matthews, Clinton County Early Childhood Center; Rebecca Crabtree, Clinton County Middle School; Lorie Musk, Clinton County High School.

Cumberland County – Dr. Kirk Biggerstaff, superintendent; Shawn Stephens, Cumberland County Elementary School; Sara Moore, Cumberland County Middle School; Tonya Anderson, Cumberland County High School.

Danville Christian Academy – Pep Francis, headmaster; Twila Tyler, Danville Christian Academy; Veronica Crall-Martin, Danville Christian Academy; Kimberly McCowan, Danville Christian Academy.

Danville Independent – Greg Ross, superintendent; Brittney Groves, Hogsett Primary School; Tara L. Emerson, J.W. Bate Middle School; Melinda Morgan, Danville High School.

Daviess County – Matthew Robbins, superintendent; Lisa Greer, Burns Elementary School; William Phelan, Apollo High School.

East Bernstadt Independent – Vicki Jones, superintendent; Connie Floyd, East Bernstadt Elementary School; Karen Nantz, East Bernstadt Independent.

Edmonson County – Brian Alexander, superintendent; Kelci Prunty, Kyrock Elementary School; Amanda Vincent, Edmonson County 5/6 Center; Denise Stice, Edmonson County High School.

Elizabethtown Independent – Kelli Bush, superintendent; Kelsey Hood, Helmwood Heights Elementary School; Jonathan Lynn, TK Stone Middle School; Melissa Mills, Elizabethtown High School.

Estill County – Jeffrey Saylor, superintendent; Kayla McHone, West Irvine Elementary School.

Fayette County – Dr. Demetrus Liggins, superintendent; Donna Arnold, Rosa Parks Elementary School; Douglas Johnson, Bryan Station Middle School.

Floyd County – Anna W. Shepherd, superintendent; Misty Howell, Betsy Lane Elementary School; Stephanie Marsillett, Adams Middle School; Tonya Porter, Prestonsburg High School.

Frankfort Christian Academy – Carrie Beth Tigges, superintendent; Leigh Wilson, Frankfort Christian Academy(elementary school); Cory Sims, Frankfort Christian Academy (middle school); Dana S. Farthing, Frankfort Christian Academy (high school).

Frankfort Independent – Sheri D. Satterly, superintendent; Emily Clatos, Second Street School; Erin Peach, Second Street School; Mark Conkle, Frankfort High School.

Franklin County – Mark Kopp, superintendent; Mandy Meyer, Collins Lane Elementary School; Susan Hellard, Hearn Elementary School and Elkhorn Middle School; Londa Tester, Franklin County High School.

Glasgow Independent – Dr. Chad Muhlenkamp, superintendent; Lesley Mills, South Green Elementary School; Rachel Rodriguez, Glasgow High School.

Green County – Will Hodges, superintendent; Amanda Johnson, Green County Primary School; Jamie Vaughn, Green County Middle School; Whitney Judd, Green County High School.

Greenup County – Traysea Moresea, superintendent; Patricia Steele, Wurtland Elementary School; Doris Cattell, McKell Middle School; Bryan Mosier, Greenup County High School.

Hancock County – Robby Asberry, superintendent; Betty Jane Mitchell, South Hancock Elementary School; Laura Hagedorn, Hancock County Middle School.

Hardin County Schools – Terrie Morgan, superintendent; Hannah Hobbs, Woodland Elementary; Jamie Chaney, James T. Alton Middle School; Susan Carson, John Hardin High School.

Harlan County – Brent D. Roark, superintendent; Wendolyn Blanton, Rosspoint Elementary School; Brooke Clem, Black Mountain Elementary School; Dr. Kevin Harris, Harlan County High School.

Harrison County – Dr. Harry Burchett, superintendent; Pamela Hubbard, Eastside Elementary School; Heather Shields, Harrison County Middle School; Kyra Garrison, Harrison County High School.

Hart County – Nathan T. Smith, superintendent; Courtney Line, Memorial Elementary School; Melanie Walters, Cub Run Elementary School; Sheila Atwell, Hart County High School

Jessamine County – Matt Moore, superintendent; Erica Rhodus, Wilmore Elementary School; Courtney Blackmore, East Jessamine Middle School; Elizabeth Crump, Jessamine Career and Technology Center.

Kentucky School for the Deaf/ Kentucky School for the Blind – Jane Paynter, Director of State Schools; Chanda Britt, Kentucky School for the Deaf (elementary school); Alexandria Heckert, Kentucky School for the Deaf (middle school); Becky Spies, Kentucky School for the Blind (high school).

Knox County – Jeremy Ledford, superintendent; Jessica Hall, Lynn Camp Elementary School; Sarah Provost, Lynn Camp Middle/High School; Aimee Gross, Knox Central High School.

Laurel County – Dr. Doug Bennett, superintendent; Kimberly Carroll, London Elementary School; Kaylee Robertson, South Laurel Middle School; Kristie Harris, McDaniel Learning Center.

LaRue County – David Raleigh, superintendent; Sara Mullins, Abraham Lincoln Elementary School; Brandi Piper, LaRue County Middle School; Elizabeth Lockett, LaRue County High School.

Lee County – Earl Ray Shuler, superintendent; Pamela Deaton, Lee County Elementary School.

Lexington Christian Academy – Dr. B. Scott Wells, superintendent; Melinda Tonkel, Lexington Christian Academy; Elizabeth Wilson, Lexington Christian Academy; Andrew Groves, Lexington Christian Academy.

Lincoln County – Michael Rowe, superintendent; Bridgete Sowder, Stanford Elementary School; Dakota Lunsford, Lincoln County Middle School; Rhonda Nottingham, Lincoln County High School.

Logan County – Paul M. Mullins, superintendent; John Shemwell, Olmstead School; Sheila Cunningham, Chandler’s School; David Dayton, Logan County High School.

Madison County – David Gilliam, superintendent; Karis Lingenfelder, Glenn Marshall Elementary School; Melanie Foley, Foley Middle School; Susan Cates, Madison Southern High School.

Marion County – Chris Brady, superintendent; Cathy Mattingly, West Marion Elementary School; Bobby VanDyke, Marion County Middle School; Troy Costisick, Marion County High School.

Menifee County – Tim Spencer, superintendent; Sally Ann Morris, Botts Elementary School; Kristina Castle, Menifee Central; Jacqulyn Parsons, Menifee County High School.

Metcalfe County – Josh Hurt, superintendent; Nikki Jolly, Metcalfe County Elementary School; Lesley Landon, Metcalfe County Middle School; Tonya Howard, Metcalfe County High School.

Middlesboro Independent – Waylon Allen, superintendent; Traci Kelley, Middlesboro Elementary; Sandra Evans, Middlesboro Middle School; Sally Adams, Middlesboro High School.

Monroe County – Amy Thompson, superintendent; KeriBeth Turner, Joe Harrison Carter Elementary School; MaKayla McMillian, Monroe County Middle School; Jennifer Garmon, Monroe County High School.

Montgomery County – Matthew Thompson, superintendent; Erin Lueker, Northview Elementary School; Emily Hamilton, McNabb Middle School; Sherrie Adams, Montgomery County High School.

Muhlenberg County – Contessa Orr, superintendent; Sarah Brothers, Muhlenberg South Elementary School; Rebecca Coombs, Muhlenberg North Middle School; Ted Everly, Muhlenberg North High School/Muhlenberg County High School.

Owen County – Reggie Taylor, superintendent; Molly Lemker, Owen County Elementary School; Natasha Bard, Maurice Bowling Middle School; Anne Kline, Owen County High School.

Owensboro Independent – Dr. Matthew Constant, superintendent; Mary Hamilton, Cravens Elementary School; Gina Biever, Owensboro Innovation Middle School; Maurice Sandefur, Owensboro High School.

Paris Independent – Stephen McCauley, superintendent; Leslie Morris, Paris Elementary School; Talena Watts, Paris Middle School and Paris High School; Kyle Campbell, Paris High School.

Pendleton County – Joe Buerkley, superintendent; Paige A. Bowling, Pendleton County High School.

            Pulaski County – Patrick Richardson, superintendent; Haley Molen, Shopville Elementary School; Tonya Lamar, Southern Middle School; Brandon Foister, Pulaski County High School.

Rockcastle County Schools – Dr. Carrie Ballinger, superintendent; Jennifer Chandler, Roundstone Elementary; Lauren McQueary, Rockcastle County Middle School; Charity Johnson, Rockcastle County High School.

Rowan County – John Maxey, superintendent; Taylor Planck, Clearfield Elementary School; Kiersten Bradley, Rowan County Middle School; Terry Lewis, Rowan County Senior High School.

Russell County – Michael A. Ford, superintendent; Allison Coffey, Russell Springs Elementary; Rhonda Kimbler, Russell County Middle School; Charlie Anderson, Russell County High School.

Russellville Independent – Dr. Larry Begley, superintendent; Cynthia Duncan, Stevenson Elementary School; Tina Shoemake, Russellville Middle School; Tammy Triplett, Russellville High School.

Scott County – William Parker, superintendent; Rebecca Martin, Southern Elementary School; Kelly Beckett, Royal Spring Middle School; Marissa Hancock, Great Crossing High School.

Shelby County – Dr. Sally Sugg, superintendent; Amber Whitehouse, Southside Elementary School; Joseph Turner, East Middle School; Juanita Feck, Ascension Academy.

Simpson County – Tim Schlosser, superintendent; Angie Vaughn, Lincoln Elementary; Courtney Dawn Gass, Franklin-Simpson Middle School; Melanie Abney, Franklin-Simpson High School.

Somerset Independent – Kyle B. Lively, superintendent; Jordyn Adcock, Hopkins Elementary School; Julie Back, Meece Middle School; Noella Deaton, Somerset High School.

Spencer County – Chuck Abell, superintendent; Beatrice Kelty, Spencer County Early Learning Center; Ronda Cox, Spencer County Middle School; Darilyn Hamilton, Spencer County High School.

Taylor County – Charles Higdon Jr., superintendent; Jade Sanders, Taylor County Elementary School; Amber Wolf, Taylor County Middle School; Melissa Laymance, Taylor County High School.

Todd County – Mark Thomas, superintendent; Colby Thomas Bicksler, Todd County Middle School.

Trigg County – Bill Thorpe, superintendent; Samantha Jo VanDuzee, Trigg County Intermediate School; Dawne Jokinsky, Trigg County Middle School; Cameron Brown, Trigg County High School.

Trimble County – Jessica Wilcoxson, superintendent; Mary Morgan, Milton Elementary School; Kreg Wingham, Trimble County Jr./Sr. High School; Ali Maldonado, Trimble County Jr./Sr. High School.

Union County – Patricia Sheffer, superintendent; Lori Steward, Morganfield Elementary School; Glenette Hill, Union County Middle School; Audrey Girten, Union County High School.

Warren County Public Schools – Rob Clayton, superintendent; Amber Dwyer, Alvaton Elementary School; Cheri Marshall, Warren East Middle School; Joshua Owens, Greenwood High School.

Washington County – Dr. Robin Cochran, superintendent; Morgan Eaton, Washington County Elementary School; Lindsey Wilson, North Washington Elementary School; Lisa Hall, Washington County High School.

Wayne County – Wayne Roberts, superintendent; Hannah Parmley, Monticello Elementary School; Jon West, Wayne County Middle School; Brooke Gregory, Wayne County High School.

Williamsburg Independent – Timothy Melton, superintendent; Bailee Gregory, Williamsburg City School; Kandice Powers, Williamsburg City School; Michael Dow, Williamsburg City School.

Williamstown Independent – John Slone, superintendent; Heather Kightlinger, Williamstown Elementary School; Spencer Johnson, Williamstown Jr. High School; Jonathan Popham, Williamstown High School.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that offers over 100 programs including doctoral, master, bachelor, associate and certificate programs. The website for complete information is