By ASHLEY JACKSON - Bulletin Staff Writer
LaDonna Hearn Varner had a lot to process after being named Henry County Schools' 2012 Teacher of the Year on Tuesday night.
"It's an overwhelming honor" to get to represent such an incredible group of people in the school system, Varner said. "I'm still trying to take it in."
As part of the award, Varner, an English teacher at Bassett High School with 18 years of teaching experience, got to choose a new ride for the summer. That was thanks to Nelson Automotive, which donated the use of cars for the winner, first runner-up and second runner-up.
Varner, who had first choice, picked a 2012 Ford Fusion.
"This is amazing ... we (she and her family) will just burn the road up" this summer, she said.
Varner was among 15 teachers who were honored as school-level teachers of the year at the event Tuesday at Chatmoss Country Club. The first runner-up, Magna Vista High School Spanish teacher Lindsay Favero, chose to drive a 2012 Mazda 3.
That meant that second runner-up Genell Brown, a fifth-grade teacher at Carver Elementary School, got to the keys to a 2012 Ford Focus.
The award, which is the first step toward competing for regional, state and national honors, begins at the school level.
Each school selected a Teacher of the Year based on criteria outlined by the Virginia Department of Education. Each Teacher of the Year completed an application portfolio that detailed his or her community involvement, philosophy of teaching, educational issues and trends that he or she considers most important, and three letters of recommendation.
A committee made up of school system administrators, school staff and community members selected the five finalists after reviewing the teachers' portfolios. The committee then interviewed the finalists and selected the three winners, according to Linda Dorr, the system's assistant superintendent of administration and human resources.
Varner will be considered by the Virginia Department of Education for regional honors and possibly state and national honors as part of the National Teacher of the Year program, Dorr added.
Rounding out the five finalists were Natalie Coleman of Collinsville Primary School and Brian Stowe of Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School.
"We are recognizing the very best in teaching (tonight)," Dorr said. "What an honor to be nominated and selected by your peers."
"Each of you is a teacher of the year, and each of you make a difference," said Joe DeVault, vice chairman of the Henry County School Board and a retired educator.
The school board is proud of what all of the teachers "have done for our school system," DeVault said.
Blackberry District Supervisor Jim Adams, who is chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, was among numerous local officials at the event. He told the teachers, "You're a good example to your community, and your community appreciates what you do."
Last year's winner, Magna Vista horticulture teacher Deborah Barker, also was awarded the use of a car, in her case a 2011 Subaru Forester. Barker told those gathered Tuesday that during the past year, she often thought two things: "I can't believe I'm driving this car, and please don't let me hit a deer," she said with a laugh.
For being named Teacher of the Year, Varner also received a hand-crafted glass trophy, flowers, free food at Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell for one year, a three-credit course from Patrick Henry Community College, and a one-year family membership at the Martinsville-Henry County Family YMCA.
The runners-up each received a glass trophy and flowers. The top five finalists received gift bags with gift certificates and cash prizes donated by area businesses.
The other school teachers of the year were: Lisa Eliassen, Axton Elementary School; Amy Stuart, Campbell Court Elementary School; Mary Davis, Center for Community Learning; Ruth Clay, Drewry Mason Elementary School; Amy G. Hairfield, John Redd Smith Elementary School; Debbie Hiatt Robinson, Laurel Park Middle School; Lisa McGhee Eanes, Mt. Olivet Elementary School; Sandra N. Scales, Rich Acres Elementary School; Jennifer McDaniel Terry, Sanville Elementary School; and Kristi R. Hearn, Stanleytown Elementary School.