SPS welcomes 112 new teachers

Published 10:59 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Quoting from her brother, an English teacher in Ohio and Stage 4 cancer survivor, Suffolk Public Schools Citywide Teacher of the Year Patricia Waegerle used his words as a tribute to the 112 new teachers during her speech at the Welcome Breakfast for New Teachers Monday at King’s Fork Middle School.

The journey the new teachers will undertake, she said in the words from her brother, Manuel Halkias, is infinitely special, and “that something special is you.”

She told them, in the words of her brother, that it is in each of them that their students will find guidance, support, relevance and authenticity.

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“It is in you they will find their way, and it is in you they will find themselves,” said Waegerle, an eighth-grade math teacher at Col. Fred Cherry Middle School.

She said their new colleagues would welcome and celebrate what they bring to their respective schools, and that the school division is blessed for each of them.

“It is your hand that will raise them,” Waegerle said, continuing to use her brother’s words. “It is your smile that will reassure them. It is your heart that will protect them (and) it is your knowledge that will empower them.”

Many of those new to Suffolk bring with them experience from other neighboring localities, with some coming from out-of-state.

They heard from members of the School Board, Waegerle and Interim Superintendent Dr. LaToya Harrison, among others, as principals from each of the city’s schools introduced their new staff members. They highlighted the division’s new, fully accredited status to the teachers new to Suffolk, and highlighted the support they would receive as educators in Suffolk.

Bre Brothers, who came to Suffolk from Massachusetts, will be teaching a first-grade inclusion class at Northern Shores Elementary School and is looking forward to the new year.

“I came to Suffolk because I wanted a school system that was neighborly and had an educational background that I could strive in,” Brothers said.

Janet Alexander, who is also coming to Northern Shores, will teach special education inclusion for grades 3 through 5. She taught in Newport News for 12 years and came to Suffolk to be closer to family.

“I feel like every student can learn in their own time and their own maturation level,” Alexander said. “And as Suffolk says, everyone’s a star, and this is a time for which they can shine.”

Brittany Howerton, who will teach third grade at Northern Shores, taught at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy’s Harbour View Campus last year and had previously taught in Newport News.

She is hoping to provide her students with a seamless change as they move from their younger years of elementary school into being a “big kid” and moving into the testing grades.

“Hopefully, I’ll be providing the classroom environment that’s welcoming and makes them feel comfortable where they can go through those changes,” Howerton said.

Harrison told the group gathered at the breakfast that developing a team and trusting in them was one of the best lessons she learned as an educator 20 years ago this week. She had just moved from her hometown of Newport News to Washington, D.C.

She said she had numerous ideas on how she would “be the change” she wanted to see in the world, only to receive a big dose of reality when she chose to teach in a high-poverty neighborhood known for a high crime rate and violence and lived in the same neighborhood.

Her idealism, she said, was no match for having her car broken into on numerous occasions and witnessing neighborhood gun violence first-hand, not to mention the issues she faced in the classroom, such as students with behavior challenges, an unwelcoming school culture and a lack of parental involvement.

“With all the challenges I faced in my first year, my dream could have easily turned to a nightmare,” Harrison said, “but it didn’t, because I was determined to not teach alone. I created an all-star support system for myself and my classroom.”

She said her mentors taught her the written and unwritten rules of being a teacher, and she called on the new teachers to develop their own support team and nurture it.

“One of the things that’s really key here in Suffolk Public Schools is that no one teaches alone,” Harrison said.

“Just look around the room, and even after you leave here, you’re going to meet more people, your support system. You have a lot of people here to cheer you on, and also here to provide resources, information, coaching, professional development, whatever support you may need. And trust me, whether you are new to teaching, or just new to Suffolk, there will be many times when you will need to rely on your team.”

Waegerle noted that support in her own remarks, and said that what makes the school division unique is its people, saying she’s had support from colleagues and administrators alike.

“There’s never been a closed door for me when I’ve had an issue or a complaint or a joy to share,” Waegerle said. “Above all that, we have the best students in Suffolk Public Schools, and now we are fortunate because we have you.”