A kindergarten teacher at Banks Elementary School and her principal were presented LCPS’s top individual honors Thursday night.
Maria Johnson, in her fifth year as a teacher at Banks, was named 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year and Kellan Bryant, who has led the school for two years, was chosen 2017-2018 Principal of the Year. The awards were announced before a crowd of more than 200 LCPS employees, friends and elected officials at the Lenoir County Shrine Club.
Johnson was selected as a finalist for the teacher honor in March along with Sabrina Martiello, an English teacher at Kinston High School, and Jennifer McLawhorn, a first-grade teacher at Pink Hill Elementary School. All three had been named Teacher of the Year at their respective schools earlier in the school year, and finalists were chosen from the 18 school nominees.
Bryant was one of four school leaders nominated for the principal honor, along with Stacy Cauley of Moss Hill Elementary School, Elizabeth Pendleton of Frink Middle School and Patrick Phillippe of Woodington Middle School.
Both winners said they were drawn to careers in education by the opportunity to make a difference in children’s lives.
“Every single day is a chance to impact lives like you’ve never done before,” Johnson, of Greenville, told the audience.
Bryant, of Kinston, wrote in an essay judges used as one criterion for selecting the top principal: “Nothing brings me more joy than walking into the school building each morning, greeting the hard-working staff, seeing the children’s smiling faces and knowing, without a doubt, someone is going to be better for having been a part of the educational environment they entered today.”
Superintendent Brent Williams praised all school nominees as “the best among our best. I am proud to work with all of you and honored to have the opportunity to lead this district.” All 18 Teacher of the Year honorees from LCPS schools and all four Principal of the Year nominees were recognized and presented a plaque and gifts.
As county winners, the two Banks educators will represent the district in regional competition in the fall. Regional winners will be announced early in 2018 and state winners chosen in the spring.
A native of Kinston who grew up in Greenville, Johnson joined the Banks faculty in 2013. Previously, she taught first grade for a year in Littleton and was a student teacher at a primary school in Swadesi, South Africa, as part of a program offered through UNC-Wilmington, where Johnson graduated in 20011 with a bachelor of arts degree in elementary education.
She earned a master of education degree in elementary education and a master’s of school administration degree, both from East Carolina University. At Banks, she is the school improvement team process manager and leader of a program that assists beginning teachers.
In a district committed to digital learning and the use of technology, Johnson is among the strongest proponents of the concept in the classroom. She has led professional development related to digital learning and she and her students often demonstrate for visiting educators the value of making digital devices their class’s chief learning tool.
Bryant joined LCPS in 2006 when she became an exceptional children’s teacher at Banks. She taught there for six years before moving into administration as an intern, staying at Banks until 2014. She worked as an assistant principal at Kinston High School from January 2014 to June 2015, when she became Banks’ principal.
She holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of North Carolina and a master of school administration degree from East Carolina University.
Bryan leads a school that is consistently among the district’s top performers in terms of student academic achievement.
Candidates for Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year go through a similar but separate judging process.
Finalists for Teacher of the Year were chosen by a five-person panel of current and former LCPS employees, including 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year Alicia Stanley. Judges based their decision on the interview, the candidate’s resume and an essay each wrote on what she considered the major issue facing public education today. Earlier this month, the judges observed each finalist in her classroom.
Principal of the Year nominees were interviewed by the same panel of judges except that 2016-2017 Principal of the Year Rhonda Greene took Stanley’s slot. The four nominees also submitted an essay on their philosophy of education.
In the past, both honors have been announced in the fall. The schedule was changed to better fit with the schedule for regional and state competitions for both principals and teachers, according to school district.