By Jacob Perkins
Robert Walker, a school safety and wellness coordinator in Harrison County, and Shelly Thomas, a family resource center coordinator in Barren County, have been selected to represent Kentucky for the national 2020 Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman made the announcement during Gov. Andy Beshear’s media briefing on Nov. 16. The new award, which recognizes classified school employees who have displayed excellence in serving students, was passed by Congress and is overseen by the U.S. Department of Education (USED).
Walker and Thomas’ names have been forwarded to USED for consideration for the 2020 RISE Award. The national winner will be announced by the U.S. Secretary of Education in spring 2021.
They also will receive the Kentucky 2020-2021 Education Support Staff Professional Award, which was created this year at the state level by Beshear and Coleman to recognize the state’s classified school employees.
“As a classroom teacher, I know I could not be successful in my job without the work of countless classified employees,” Coleman said. “Often, their work goes unnoticed and unthanked. I am grateful we have the RISE Award which honors the considerable contributions our classified employees make to every school district in the Commonwealth.”
Beshear said Walker and Thomas represent more than 46,000 classified school employees who serve a vital and often overlooked role in Kentucky’s schools and districts.
“There is so much that our classified school employees do every day in classrooms, lunchrooms and in getting our children to school to ensure they have the safest and healthiest environment to learn in,” Beshear said.
The RISE Award committee, comprised of key education stakeholders, was assembled by Coleman and Beshear to review and score the nominations.
Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass said Thomas and Walker serve a vital role in their schools and districts.
“The work performed by Robert Walker and Shelly Thomas directly contributes to the overall quality of education and the success of our students in Harrison and Barren County,” he said. “It is important they are recognized, particularly now as they continue to excel through one of the most unprecedented eras our education system has ever seen.”
In his 21 years with the district, Walker has been driven to better the Harrison County community, which has continued amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Harrison County Superintendent Harry Burchett.
Walker knows Harrison County’s priority is for students to succeed academically, but he realizes this can only happen if a student’s mental health and wellness needs are being met, said Burchett.
“The mentorship and counseling he provides to students adds an extra layer of support to our social emotional learning team,” said Burchett. “He is saddened when he hears of former students in our community who are in trouble and his yearning to continue to help them never waivers.”
Thomas has worked as the Barren County High School’s youth service center coordinator since 2017. From day one, she has demonstrated an unparalleled level of commitment by pouring herself into serving students and their families, said Cortni Crews, assistant superintendent of Barren County Public Schools.
Thomas has built a network of community support that allows her to meet the needs of many of Barren County’s students and families. She works with local agencies to solve problems and provide continued assistance for those in need. She created a free store at the high school where students can shop for clothing, personal hygiene items and school supplies.
“Shelly Thomas is truly a servant leader,” said Crews. “Her work is driven by compassion for others, and she is committed to using her skills and talents to elevate our students and their families.”
KDE received 96 nominations for the RISE Award and Kentucky 2020-2021 Education Support Staff Professional Award this year. The nomination period was open from Oct. 1-16. KDE will be highlighting the work of all nominees for the remainder of the school year through social media posts and on Kentucky Teacher.