SMECO honors CCPS teachers for excellence in the classroom

SMECO honors CCPS teachers for excellence in the classroom


Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO) recently named eight Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) teachers as 2021 Outstanding Teacher Honorees. The annual awards program recognizes teachers for outstanding achievements in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Honored for accomplishments in math and named 2021 Outstanding Mathematics Teachers of the Year are Carrie Heard of Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer Elementary School, Natalie Gilliom of Milton M. Somers Middle School and Joanna Olson of Henry E. Lackey High School.

Honored for accomplishments in science and named 2021 Outstanding Science Teachers of the Year are Megan Swinea of Indian Head Elementary School and Julie Andrews of La Plata High School.

Three CCPS teachers – Jessica Roberts of Malcolm Elementary School, LoWanda Buck of Mattawoman Middle School and Shawn Starcher of La Plata – were honored by SMECO as 2021 Outstanding STEM Teachers of the Year.

Each teacher was nominated for the recognition by staff, students and parents. Honorees are chosen for demonstrating outstanding leadership and classroom performance, rapport with students and staff, enthusiasm for teaching, professionalism and technology use in the classroom. SMECO announced the award honorees earlier this month.

Heard is a third-grade teacher at Jenifer. She has also taught Grades 4 and 5. In her classroom, Heard teaches reading, writing, math, health and social studies. She has been teaching with CCPS for the past 16 years and is the grade-level team leader. She sees her students for their academic strengths, and skillfully designs instruction to reach all levels of learners. Heard incorporates a variety of instructional methods and strategies in the classroom. She is kind and passionate about learning, and in turn her students develop a strong desire to achieve. Students leave her class with a strong math background and the ability to actively problem solve beyond an assignment or class lesson. Jenifer Principal Kevin Jackson, Sr., said Heard is a phenomenal teacher. “Ms. Heard delivers engaging, thought-provoking lessons to students daily. She goes above and beyond to build lasting positive relationships with her students,” Jackson wrote in a nomination letter.  

Gilliom is a seventh-grade math teacher at Somers. She works with students in both grade-level and accelerated math classes. She has been teaching at Somers for the past seven years, and with CCPS for the past nine years. Gilliom also has a background in special education. This year with hybrid learning, Gilliom has been at the forefront of using technology to engage her students. She is an expert in using programs such as NearPod and ClassKick to keep students engaged in learning. Gilliom takes pride in planning meticulous lessons that cater to different learning styles and abilities of students. Somers Principal Sandra Taylor said Gilliom is an exceptional educator. “Whether we are brick and mortar or in the virtual setting, observing Mrs. Gilliom in action is an unforgettable experience,” Taylor wrote in a nomination statement.

Olson is a mathematics teacher at Lackey. She has been teaching with CCPS for the past nine years. Her course load includes Honors Geometry, Algebra I and Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus. Olson is a teacher mentor in the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program at Lackey and helps to oversee countywide geometry planning. She is the Lackey math team sponsor and coaches the school’s cross country team. Olson differentiates her lesson plans to meet the levels of all learners. She holds her students to high expectations and helps them achieve higher levels of math comprehension. Olson has experience with curriculum writing and is a go-to resource for her math department colleagues in need of assistance. Students refer to Olson as a teacher who makes learning about math challenging yet fun. Lackey junior Grace Landgraf said Olson helped her learn to be confident when learning math. “If it wasn’t for Mrs. Olson’s influence, I wouldn’t have felt the confidence I do today with my ability to successfully do math,” Landgraf wrote in nomination statement.

Swinea is a science teacher at Indian Head and works with students in Grades 3-5. She has been teaching with CCPS for the past four years. Swinea began her career with the school system as a third-grade teacher and transitioned to the science classroom position two years ago. In 2019, Swinea partnered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and The Smithsonian to provide her students with engaging and relevant experiences. She co-taught lessons with these partners using a tornado machine and showed her students how to build their own designs. Indian Head Principal Shane Blandford said Swinea is a master at relationship building. “She completely understands that the real magic of teaching happens when the students and teacher have a relationship built on respect and love,” Blandford wrote in a nomination letter.

Andrews works with sophomores and juniors at La Plata. Her classes include Honors Chemistry, Earth Systems and AP Chemistry. She has been teaching with CCPS for the past 11 years, all of which she has spent at La Plata. She is the science department chair and serves as the varsity cheerleading coach. Andrews is a member of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the Science National Honor Society and has helped write curriculum for chemistry and Earth systems classes. She holds her students to high expectations and encourages them with their academic and personal goals. La Plata Principal Douglass Dolan said Andrews is an example of an educator making a difference. “She demonstrates exceptional leadership skills. Dependable, trustworthy, competent, and driven, Mrs. Andrews personifies what any school would categorize as a role model,” Dolan wrote in a nomination letter.

Roberts has been teaching science at Malcom for the past five years and works with students in Grades 2-5. She embraces technology use in the classroom; she teaches her students the skills necessary to advance their learning. Parents often share with Malcolm administrators that Roberts has helped their children develop a love for studying science. Students are eager for Roberts’ science class; she makes curriculum engaging by providing hands-on learning and experiments for students. Roberts shares instructional practices and strategies with her colleagues and recently completed her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. Her peers refer to her as a kind, efficient and knowledgeable teacher. Malcolm Principal Mary Finneran said Roberts is an outstanding educator. “Her dedication and passion for teaching and learning will continue to spark a love of science. She is building our future scientists,” Finneran wrote in a nomination letter.

Buck has been teaching at Mattawoman for the past five years. She teaches STEM and Gateway to Technology to students in Grades 6-8. Buck has also held the position of computer science department chair. She is the related arts department chair, SeaPerch coach and yearbook sponsor. Buck sponsors the annual Mattawoman computer science family night and computer science week. She also partners with the Microsoft Youth Sparks program in which engineers sponsor in-school STEM days and after-school events for students. Mattawoman Principal Sonia Blue said Buck is a role-model educator. “She constantly searches for ways to make her teaching more interesting and more informative,” Blue wrote in a nomination letter.

Starcher has been teaching with CCPS for the past 21 years. She began teaching at La Plata in 2005. Her course load includes AP Psychology, Foundations of Curriculum and Instruction, Teaching as a Profession, Human Growth and Development Through Adolescence and the Teacher Academy of Maryland internship. For five years, Starcher was an attendee and presenter for the Towson University Teacher Academy of Maryland Summer Leadership Institute and Advanced Leadership Institute. She has also served as an AP Psychology reader and AP Psychology table leader for the College Board. Additionally, Starcher has coached cross country and girls’ lacrosse. La Plata Principal Douglass Dolan said Starcher is a role-model teacher. “She has an unparalleled work ethic and epitomizes the belief that educators can make a difference in the lives of students,” Dolan wrote in a nomination letter.

SMECO honored the teachers with their awards in an April 21 virtual ceremony.

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 27,000 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 37 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Kathy Kiessling, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.  CCPS provides nondiscriminatory equal access to school facilities in accordance with its Use of Facilities rules to designated youth groups (including, but not limited to, the Boy Scouts).

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