- Kinston High School
Teacher of Year finalists judge success by their students
Three educators who say their mission is to create opportunities for students have been chosen as finalists for the 2020-2021 LCPS Teacher of the Year award.
Kristen Davenport, a science teacher at E.B. Frink Middle School; Ryan Gardner, a science teacher at South Lenoir High School; and Barbara Purdie, an English teacher at Kinston High School emerged as contenders from a field of 18 teachers who represent each of the district’s schools and its pre-kindergarten program.
A seven-person panel comprised of district administrators and La Grange Elementary teacher Jennifer Sutton, the current Teacher of the Year, interviewed school Teacher of the Year honorees on Thursday and reviewed portfolios they compiled describing their educational history, their professional biography and philosophy of teaching.
The same panel will select the winner based in part on classroom observations of the three finalists scheduled for February. The finalists will also keynote the district’s annual employee recognition banquet on April 2. At that banquet, Teacher of the Year, Principal of the Year, Teacher Assistant of the Year and Classified Employee of the Year winners will be announced.
"I am very proud of all of the candidates for Lenoir County Teacher of the Year," Superintendent Brent Williams said. "They represent all of the best qualities of truly outstanding educators -- strong passion for teaching and learning, a complete commitment to continuous growth and professional development and a total dedication to doing whatever it takes to help our students to grow and to experience success now and throughout their lives. These dedicated teachers display every day in their classrooms and in every interaction with their students and other staff members exactly why Lenoir County Public Schools is so fortunate to have them represent our school system.
Davenport, a Lenoir County native and a product of its public schools, is in her fourth year of teaching. She came to Frink Middle after graduating cum laude from N.C. State University with a bachelor’s degree in science education in 2016. She also earned associate degrees from Lenoir Community College.
She is active on Frink’s School Improvement Team and on LCPS’s Science Curriculum Team, helped organize the district’s 2020 Science Showcase, works as a mentor for beginning teachers and is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, such as the North Carolina Science Teacher Association Conference.
She will be honored next month by the North Carolina Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development as the 2020 North Carolina Outstanding Young Educator.
In her professional biography, Davenport reflected on the impact a loving fifth-grade teacher had on her desire to become an educator.
“Education is the one job where I would have the opportunity to touch individual lives that would disperse and impact every other aspect of life,” she wrote. “If I alone have the ability to reach the students within the walls of my classroom through love, compassion and education, I also have the secondhand ability to reach every other part of the world through love, compassion and education.”
Gardner, who chairs the science department at South Lenoir, came to the high school in 2001 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina. He is a National Board Certified Teacher, was named a Kenan Fellow for Teacher Leadership in 2013 and was selected LCPS Teacher of the Year for 2005-2006.
He is an active member of the N.C. Technology in Education Society and the N.C. Science Teachers Association, serves as a clinical teacher for student teachers and a new teacher mentor and for the past seven summers has worked as part of the national AP Biology Leadership team. He coaches South Lenoir’s Science Olympiad and Quiz Bowl teams.
His honors in education include a regional Outstanding Science Teaching Award from NCSTA, an Inspirational Teaching Award from N.C. State University and selection in 2018 as an NCSU Sustainable Bioproducts and Bioenergy Professional Development Program Scholar.
Gardner’s professional biography describes his younger self as an eager student who “always thought my teachers were remarkable people” – teachers who proved to be the seed for a career that geminated when a college professor made Gardner a teaching assistant in her biology labs.
“My greatest accomplishments in education are my students and what they have done not only for themselves, but also what they have done for others,” he wrote.
Purdie, who chairs the English department at Kinston High and teaches in its International Baccalaureate program, came to the classroom after working for 10 years with the Lenoir County Department of Social Services. She earned an associate degree from Lenoir Community College and a bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University.
Prior to coming to Kinston High in 2013, she taught at Savannah Middle School and at schools in Auburn Virginia, and Bedford, Virginia, where she was named Liberty High School Teacher of the Year in 2013. While at Savannah Middle, she was nominated as Disney Teacher of the Year.
She is Kinston High’s SAT and ACT testing coordinator, serves as a mentor for beginning teachers, has worked with student teachers here and in Virginia, is a presenter at district professional development workshops and is a member of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Purdie said the five years she worked as a family literacy instructor at LCC “made me realize the need to play a significant role in creating a culture of literacy enriched students who would ultimately be our adults of tomorrow.”
She wrote in her professional biography, “The intergenerational cycle of undereducation and poverty was apparent to me, and that issue alone propelled me to want to move students forward educationally.”
Pam Heath, the district’s human resources director and organizer of the Teacher of the Year recognition program, said this year saw a particular strong field of candidates.
“The 18 Teacher of the Year candidates truly exhibited all of the characteristics of excellence that we knew they possessed,” she said. “Each of the candidates proved that LCPS truly has some of the best and brightest teachers. All of them spoke about how passionate they are about teaching and learning and all certainly displayed the genuine love they have for their students and their respective schools.”
Finalists for 2020-2021 LCPS Teacher of the Year are, from left, Kristen Davenport of E.B. Frink Middle School, Ryan Gardner of South Lenoir High School and Barbara Purdie of Kinston High School.