Westview faculty member Kimberly Elliott believes that teachers are preparing future employees for the workforce, whether that classroom is filled with kindergartners or high school seniors. Her belief was reinforced last fall as she participated in the inaugural WestTeach class, sponsored by the University of Tennessee at Martin’s WestStar Leadership Program. Elliott joined fellow WestTeach participants for a recognition and graduation event Jan. 29 at Madison Downs Venue in Jackson.
WestTeach is a teacher-development program created as a class project by the 2017 WestStar class. Prospective WestTeach participants must be K-12 teachers who want to remain in the classroom but also aspire to be leaders in their respective schools and communities. Program applicants must be recommended by their principal, director of schools or superintendent, and only one teacher per school district is chosen to participate. Four sessions held across West Tennessee from August through November covered topics in agriculture, leadership, education partnerships for economic development and building communities. Several 2017 WestStar class members attended the program sessions along with the 12 teachers chosen for the inaugural class.
Elliott has taught business technology courses for 19 years at Westview while serving during that time as adviser for the Business Professionals of America and Future Business Leaders of America. She has also been yearbook adviser for 17 of those years, so successful outcomes are top-of-mind goals in her professional world. “Being a career technical educator, my end focus is post-secondary for those that I teach,” she wrote in an email response to questions about her WestTeach experience. “Any opportunities that increase my credibility in their (the students’) eyes with relative instruction that will benefit them in life is important.”
To that end, the veteran teacher pursues leadership and professional-development opportunities whenever possible. She is a Leadership Weakley County graduate and participated one summer in Education Edge that offered valuable manufacturing knowledge at Parker Hannifin in Greenfield. “I have always wanted to participate in WestStar to better see where we fit in the bigger picture of West Tennessee,” she wrote. “WestTeach provided me a more realistic opportunity as it focused more on my needs as an educator while taking into consideration my need to be in the classroom at the same time.”
WestTeach sessions offered Elliott and her classmates a real-world focus on the economy and employment opportunities in the region.
“My biggest takeaway has to be that even though we are faced with some daunting economic factors in our individual communities, there are still many viable employment opportunities open and available,” she wrote. “I was amazed to hear of the wide variation of skill levels, job types and educational needs throughout the West Tennessee area. I have shared this with anyone who will listen.”
Other activities included participation in a poverty simulation exercise, which she described as “the most realistic professional-development opportunity I think I have experienced in my 19 years teaching,” as well as networking with business and industry leaders and elected officials. Elliott equally valued the relationships and contacts she made with her fellow classmates.
“Participating with this group has given me 12 new teacher friends to share and collaborate with – plus opened up additional doors to new faces for us to network and work with to help our individual schools improve,” she wrote. “It has been an honor to be part of the inaugural WestTeach Class of 2018.”
Following a reception and dinner, Dr. Charley Deal, WestStar executive director, welcomed the WestTeach class, WestStar board members and other WestStar alumni in attendance. He introduced UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver who served as the event’s keynote speaker. Carver recalled a 2018 list released by the financial website WalletHub that ranked Tennessee as the “angriest state in the nation” and said that members of the WestTeach class can play a role in moving the state down that list through their work with young people.
“And I think if we just keep talking and keep working together across city and county lines, and keep investing and being an example for the youth, that’s going to be the key for our future,” Carver said. He closed by saying, “Thank you so much for what you’ve done this year. Thank you for the investments that you make into your communities. We are so proud to have you as members of the WestStar family.”
In addition to Elliott, members of the first graduating class are: Todd Alexander, Hardin County High School, Savannah; Jill Baker, Lakeland Elementary, Lakeland; Christy Buckelew, Paris Elementary School, Paris; Tracy Connell, Huntingdon High School, Huntingdon; Franky Hodges, Peabody High School, Trenton; Cindy Landry, Scotts Hill High School, Reagan; Beth McManus, Union City High School, Union City; Lauren Newell, Dyersburg Intermediate School, Dyersburg; Holly Owen, Fifth Consolidated Elementary, Dyersburg; Lindsey Parham, McKenzie High School, McKenzie; and Autumn Ratliff, Briarwood Elementary School, Camden.
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