Lawrence school district honors 2 new teachers as outstanding educators

photo by: Contributed photos

Free State High School teacher Allyson Gilmore, left, and Quail Run Elementary teacher Alex Smith, right, were recently named the Lawrence school district's 2020 Horizon Award winners. The award recognizes "exemplary" teachers who are in their second year of teaching.

Two teachers who are still in the early days of their careers have been recognized as “exemplary” educators in the Lawrence school district.

Earlier this week, Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis announced Free State High School teacher Allyson Gilmore and Quail Run Elementary teacher Alex Smith as the school district’s 2020-21 Horizon Award winners. The annual award honors Lawrence teachers who are in the second year of their careers but have already shown they are outstanding educators.

Typically, the district surprises the teachers with the awards in class in front of their students, but it could not do so this year because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the district’s current use of fully remote learning. But Lewis was still able to surprise the teachers through remote staff meetings.

“This teacher is a dedicated professional, creating relationships with students beyond the classroom and also sponsoring student activities and celebrating student successes,” Lewis said of Gilmore during a Free State staff meeting before revealing her as the award winner. “This is not a veteran educator. As a matter of fact, this is this teacher’s second year in the profession,” he added.

Gilmore, who teaches agricultural education at Free State, told the Journal-World Wednesday she was indeed surprised by the announcement. But for Gilmore, teaching students is an award all by itself.

“I am rewarded every day just by helping my students grow into young professionals,” Gilmore said in an email. “I am very thankful to have received this award and I am looking forward to a very long and fulfilling career in agriculture education.”

Free State High associate principal Amy McAnarney said Gilmore was a candidate for the award because she had created a good learning environment in her classroom and had high expectations of students, according to a district news release.

Gilmore is a graduate of Kansas State University and teaches career and technical education classes, including animal and plant science, veterinary science, and floriculture and greenhouse management, according to the district.

At Quail Run, Smith received the same surprise treatment during a remote staff meeting. Before announcing her as the winner, Lewis said Smith started her career with the district as a substitute, but went on to earn her teaching certification to return to the district as a full-time educator.

“A team player and respected by all, this teacher is dedicated to whatever is necessary for their students and their entire team to be successful,” Lewis said before naming Smith the winner. “This teacher has created a community of support where all are welcome, all are included and all are celebrated.”

Smith, who now teaches in the school’s specialized autism program, told the Journal-World she was honored to receive the award and humbled that it was announced during a meeting with her colleagues, friends and family.

Additionally, she said she has loved watching her classroom become a great learning environment, and seeing her students grow in their abilities gives her “great joy.”

“Developing specialized and impactful experiences for my students is my passion and I am very fortunate to have a team of talented paraprofessionals that support me in this journey,” Smith said in an email. “I look forward to continuing my career in serving those with special needs, as my team’s mission will forever be to help each student reach their unique potential,” she added.

Elaina Honas, a special education coordinator, said Smith earned the award because she advocates for her students and is the voice for them to ensure they are included, according to the news release. Smith earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree from Rockhurst University.

As part of the award, the school district will nominate Gilmore and Smith for the Kansas State Department of Education’s 2021 Kansas Horizon Award program. The department typically names Kansas Horizon Award winners in January. Chad Aberle, a West Middle School teacher, won the state award this past year.

Lawrence school district 2020-21 Horizon Award presentations

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