SYLACAUGA, Ala. – The Sylacauga City Schools Foundation annually presents the Joseph B. Morton Excellence in Education Awards to recognize outstanding educators, support personnel, and volunteers for their work on behalf of Sylacauga’s school children. The 2018 recipients are Nicole Peoples, Volunteer of the Year; Lisa Strong, Support Personnel of the Year; and Rhonda Courson, Educator of the Year.

Dr. Monte Abner, Principal at Indian Valley Elementary, nominated Nicole Peoples for Volunteer of the Year describing her as a life-long supporter of Indian Valley who has become a regular presence at the school. He wrote, “Since Nicole has been president of our PTO, we have not had to have our students fundraise money for anything. Under her leadership, PTO has led the way in meeting every need our school has had. This past year we wanted to purchase books and book shelves for various places in the school and community. Without hesitation, Nicole pulled together parents and PTO to make this request happen.

“During the 2015-2016 school year, Indian Valley launched a Lunch Reading Buddy initiative that would connect the community to our school, while at the same time, increase literacy among our most needed students. Nicole volunteered her time to serve as a reading buddy and continues to support this program, which is now in its third year. She has helped us with celebrations for different classes. She organizes our Mother/Son and Father/Daughter dance, our Glow Party, our Santa Abner pictures, and much more. She does more than is expected or required. She purchases prizes for students and makes sure teachers are appreciated and valued.

“Each day that Nicole comes to the school she greets the entire school community with a smile. The children are always excited to see her. She is a friend, a mentor, a parent figure, a servant. She unselfishly gives of her time and resources to help our young people become strong readers and strong leaders.”

Dr. Abner also nominated Lisa Strong for Support Personnel of the Year. Lisa has been an instructional assistant at Indian Valley for fourteen years and currently serves as Early Literacy Group professional providing intense reading instruction to kindergarten students. She also provides support to the media center and is editor-in-chief of the school yearbook. Dr. Abner stated that he “has been privileged to witness the magic of her work and the value of her worth to our school, students, teachers, and families.”

He wrote, “Lisa is an exceptional leader and an even greater student. She has taken on the monumental task of helping to foster foundational reading skills. She has excelled in this task. Each day she takes home resources to study and lesson plans to review. She is inquisitive and always seeks new ways to help reach students. She wants to know more about the students in her group, as well as participate in the meetings and discussions relative to their performance.

“Another impressive characteristic of Lisa is her ability to adapt and embrace change. When I first arrived at Indian Valley, Lisa worked in our computer lab as the computer instructor. She was tasked with providing students with basic keyboarding skills. Our leadership team knew that we needed all hands-on-deck to assist us with improving students’ literacy skills, so we “repurposed” how we used our instructional assistants. Moving Lisa from the computer lab could have appeared as a demotion by many, but not to Lisa. She relished the opportunity to be used in the same capacity as our certified teachers. Change is difficult, but Lisa took on this task with ease and has become skilled at teaching students foundational reading skills. She goes above and beyond by always monitoring their academic, emotional, and personal well-being.

“In addition to her role at school, Lisa also demonstrates, her commitment to student achievement through her work with SAFE’s Bridges after-school program, where she provides additional academic support, as well as social-emotional support.”

The Joseph B. Morton Educator of the Year award was presented to Rhonda Courson, an English teacher at Nichols-Lawson Middle School. Principal Gary Rivers remarked that Mrs. Courson “has all the credentials necessary to meet the standards of a master teacher. She performs superbly in all aspects of her job description and maintains an excellent rapport with staff members, parents, and the students she teaches.”

He went on to say, “Mrs. Courson epitomizes every meaning of the word leader, and it has resonated with her receiving several honors over the years. Her leadership skills have also been portrayed by serving on multiple committees both school and district-wide. A few of the committees on which she has served are Title 1, RTI Problem Solving Team, Vertical Reading Team, Technology chair, Budget, Safety, and STIPD chair. She has been called upon often to facilitate professional development at the district level and in-house.

“She has developed the school-wide literacy plan and has been instrumental in training and coaching her colleagues. She helped lead school and system level professional development on differentiated instructional strategies and many other topics.

“Mrs. Courson plans lessons with standards-based outcomes in mind. She provides opportunities for her students to write, investigate, collaborate, and use technology. She runs a classroom that is well organized, child-friendly, and conducive for student learning. She is the very essence of a master teacher.”

The Sylacauga City Schools Foundation was created in 1988 by Dr. Joseph B. Morton, and was the first education foundation of its type in Alabama and one of the first in the nation. The Foundation’s role is to support the schools in their quest for excellence and is dedicated to enhancing the educational needs of students. Congratulations to these three deserving recipients of the Joseph B. Morton Excellence in Education Award.

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