Sharon Sylvester was honored on her retirement as a teaching assistant in preK and kindergarten. Principal Meehan says Sylvester, 'knows her students well. She anticipates their every need even before they do.'
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The North Adams Public School's named a surprised Roberta Sullivan as its Teacher of the Year on Thursday morning at Colegrove Park Elementary School.
The kindergarten teacher, who is retiring after more than 28 years in the public schools, was feted with the Marion B. Kelley Teacher of the Year Award during the school's end-of-the-year assembly. Also recognized was pre-kindergarten teaching assistant Sharon Sylvester, retiring after 13 years.
"Nobody said anything, I was so shocked," Sullivan said. "I had no idea of anything, let alone this award."
She had an inkling that something was up when she spotted her daughter, grandson and husband, and her two sisters, Paulette and Sherry Wein.
But she was still in shock when she was called up to receive a framed artwork from her pupils, a certificate of congratulations from the House of Representatives from state Rep. John Barrett III, and the school system's most prestigious award.
The Kelley Award is given annually to the educator who most exemplifies the ideal teacher through dedication, teaching skills and understanding of children. Kelley was a longtime educator in the public schools, retiring as the principal of both the former Haskins and Johnson schools.
Nominations come from the school community and the awardee is determined by Central Office. Colegrove Park Principal Amy Meehan nominated Sullivan.
"She works diligently to drive the academic, social and emotional growth of her students by promoting early literacy skills, self-regulation and wellness," Meehan wrote in the nomination letter read on Thursday by Assistant to the Superintendent Ellen Sutherland. "Mrs. Sullivan has instilled a sense of wonderment, joy and enthusiasm in her students for learning through her role as an educator."
The principal noted that "in the twilight of one's career," there could be a tendency to fall back on past patterns but Sullivan rather has embraced new programs and served as a "role model and thoughtful practitioner" to blend her many years of expertise with new resources and training.
"Mrs. Sullivan's ongoing investment to make every minute matter with her students until her retirement exemplifies what this award stands for, and will pay dividends for the children of Colegrove Park Elementary for years to come."
Barrett, a former educator and mayor of the city, said he'd worked with both Kelley and Sullivan. Kelley had been hired in 1929 but forced to quit by state law in 1936 when she married and didn't return until nine years later, a story he said she'd told him many times.
"She was a pioneer for education in so many ways, she fought for women's rights," said Barrett. "Marion Kelley exemplified all that was good in education because the first thing in her life was taking care of the students in her classroom and in her school and today we're honoring a teacher who has the same qualities."
One example, he recalled, was how many years ago Sullivan had started a service learning program that connected with pediatrics at the former North Adams Regional Hospital.
Sullivan had started her career as a kindergarten teacher at the former J.S. Sullivan Elementary School, named for her father-in-law and longtime principal. Sylvester first worked at Brayton Elementary before moving to Colegrove Park, assisting in both prekindergarten and kindergarten classes.
Sylvester said she'll miss the children most. "I have a part-time job working in a garden center greenhouse so I'll still work with growing things," she laughed. She also received a tote bag with the children's colorful handprints on it.
The school chorus sang two songs in honor of the retirees and a number of students were congratulated for their various accomplishments.
"I am fortunate enough to have the best job that I literally love coming to every single day," Sullivan told the assembly while holding her grandson, Jacob Pace. "So boys and girls out there, think of something you love and do that because it makes life fun and you're always happy every day."