Four deserving top teachers

Published 10:14 pm Thursday, March 27, 2014

Most sixth-graders would never expect to have their math teachers give them a cupcake. But Audrey Casazza’s students at King’s Fork Middle School know that on their birthdays, their math teacher will present them with their own special sweet treat.

Casazza considers the miniature birthday cakes to be icebreakers that help her connect with her students, and those connections give her the kind of credibility with them that then allows her to encourage them not just to pass math, but to master it.

Her strategies to engage students and help them pursue excellence helped Casazza earn the designation as Suffolk’s public school Teacher of the Year, and the school system honored her last week with a special visit to her classroom by School Superintendent Deran Whitney.

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“Her understanding of how to unlock the mystery of mathematics for middle school students is remarkable,” King’s Fork Middle School Principal Jennifer Presson said in a press release announcing Casazza’s selection. “Her enthusiasm for math is contagious. Even the most reluctant students develop confidence in math.”

Confidence is the first step toward mastery, a goal that Casazza literally keeps in sight with a “mastery chart” on the wall that tracks her classes’ progress toward mastering the curriculum and with individual mastery charts for each of her students.

“The bottom line is: I care,” Casazza said this week. “I care about each and every child I teach, and how well they are doing.”

Similar caring attitudes are evident among the other top teachers honored by the school system this year:

  • Northern Shores Elementary School special education teacher Mallorie Jones — Elementary School Teacher of the Year — has developed “a passion for children with special needs, because her brother was born with cerebral palsy,” according to the release.
  • Jo Ann Murray from Nansemond River High School, named High School Teacher of the Year, is described as an English teacher adept at making grammar lessons and Shakespeare “engaging and interactive” for her ninth-graders.
  • And Suzanna Hodges, an 11th-grade English teacher at Nansemond River High, from which she graduated four years ago, earned the honor of Citywide Rookie Teacher of the Year. “I can honestly say, these past five months have been the most tiresome, exhausting, stressful, rewarding months of my life, and I will work hard each day to ensure my students receive my very best each and every day, year after year,” Hodges said.

All four teachers are well deserving of the honors they received. Suffolk students are privileged to have such fine people teaching their classes.