Donnie Piercey, a 5th-grade teacher at Stonewall Elementary School (Fayette County), is the 2021 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and Elementary Teacher of the Year.
“I’m never someone who cries. Now I’ve got tears here,” Piercey said from his home during the virtual presentation. “I don’t know what to say. My kids are cheering for me downstairs right now.”
Piercey said he has had many mentors in his 14 years as a teacher. He thanked his parents for their encouragement and his wife and children for their support.
Piercey said he appreciated learning from all the other teachers and principals he has worked with, and thanked any of his students who might be watching.
“I’m sorry I’m not there right now. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow on Zoom,” Piercey said.
Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass thanked Piercey, other winners and all of the Commonwealth’s teachers for devoting their lives to educating Kentucky students.
“Our most important assets in education are the teachers who bring their classrooms alive with learning. The teachers we recognize today represent some of the best in Kentucky,” Glass said. “No matter what subject area or grade level they teach, these teachers challenge, lead and set good examples for the children in their care.”
Piercey’s selection was announced in a virtual ceremony on Oct. 22 in Lexington by award co-sponsors, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and Valvoline. This was the first Kentucky Teacher of the Year announcement to be held virtually and to be livestreamed. Semifinalists for the award joined the broadcast online.
The ceremony opened with a video greeting from Gov. Andy Beshear, who praised the extra work teachers have done and are doing related to COVID-19.
“I am so thankful for what each and every one of you do, and I want you to know that you have my full support,” he said.
Piercey is in his 14th year of teaching and has been at Stonewall since 2018. When schools closed in March due to COVID-19, he immediately set up an online hub to keep teachers and students connected, set up virtual classrooms for other teachers and held training sessions on how to teach remotely. His work during the pandemic is an extension of what he does in the classroom: teaching technology skills his students will need later in life.
Also announced were the 2021 Kentucky Middle School Teacher of the Year and 2021 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year.
The Middle School Teacher of the Year is Laura Peavley, an 8th-grade math teacher at Westport Middle School (Jefferson County).
Westport is the only Kentucky public school with a Montessori program, which Peavley was instrumental in shaping. She works to build trusting relationships with her students, going so far as to sell her Oldham County home three years ago and move to West Louisville so she could better understand her students’ environment.
“I could not even imagine sitting in this position, but this is absolutely phenomenal; and man, I’m just at a loss,” Peavley said. “Thank you so much for just supporting teachers and just for all that you do. All I do every day is just love the kids, and I think that goes way further than we could ever realize.”
The High School Teacher of the Year is Christopher McCurry, a 12th-grade English teacher at Lafayette High School (Fayette County).
McCurry, a poet, introduces his students to other Kentucky poets and authors. In response to racial unrest across the country, he developed a course on Black literature in America.
“I wouldn’t be the teacher that I am without my colleagues at Lafayette High School,” McCurry said, naming fellow English teachers Bob Howard and Meredith Dill.
He also thanked parents, Valvoline, KDE and especially his students.
“The students challenge me every day and push me to be a better teacher,” McCurry said.
Being recognized as Kentucky Teacher of the Year is a huge accomplishment under normal circumstances, but teaching is made more difficult by the changes wrought by COVID-19, said Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman at the ceremony, who also is a teacher. Still Kentucky teachers have risen to the challenge, helping students excel whether in class or learning remotely, she said.
Coleman pledged that Kentucky education will have the support it needs from her and Gov. Beshear.
“You are heroes, and this award is the least we can do to show you that,” she said.
The 2021 Teacher of the Year will receive a $10,000 cash award, while this year’s Middle School Teacher of the Year and High School Teacher of the Year will get $3,000 each, Coleman said. The remaining 21 Valvoline Teacher Achievement Award recipients each get $500.
Piercey also will receive an ambassadorship or equivalent resources for his classroom and will serve as an ambassador for GoTeachKY, a KDE initiative to recruit the next generation of talented teachers. As the 2021 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Piercey will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
All three of the Teacher of the Year recipients will receive an art-glass statuette from Valvoline.
The Selection Process
Three elementary, three middle school and three high school teachers were announced Sept. 1 as semifinalists for Teacher of the Year out of more than 2,500 nominations received by KDE, a new record.
The semifinalists were chosen by a panel of veteran educators based on applications that included nominees’ teaching philosophies, experience, community involvement and letters of recommendation.
Each semifinalist had an interview and classroom lesson review. The one with the highest cumulative score from the entire process is chosen as Teacher of the Year.
This is the 20th year Valvoline, which is headquartered in Lexington, has partnered with KDE to honor Kentucky educators.
“Teachers, we appreciate your efforts. Each of you should feel pride in knowing that you not only excel in your profession in your district, but also rank among Kentucky’s best educators,” Valvoline CEO Sam Mitchell said. “We applaud you and we recognize the many sacrifices you and your family members have made throughout your years as an educator.”
MORE INFO ABOUT THE WINNERS …
- 2021 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Christopher McCurry uses poetry as an outlet for students.