Pickens teacher named best in South Carolina

PICKENS — South Carolina’s 2013-2014 Teacher of the Year is Pickens County’s own Darleen Sutton, a first-grade teacher who has proudly served her community at Pickens Elementary School for the past seven years of a career that began in 1991.

“The first thing I thought when they announced the award was the incredible journey that’s ahead of me,” said Sutton. “Representing the teachers across South Carolina, and the privilege I have to represent teachers across Pickens County.

“I can’t wait to celebrate with my students because I can jump and scream with them, and they will be right there with me.”

Other finalists nominated for the honor included Lisa O. McCrea-Raiford, an elementary teacher at the Center of Innovating Learning at Pinecrest in Aiken County; Paul D. Johnson, a biology teacher at Saluda High School; Trevor T. Ivey, a science teacher at Alice Drive Middle School in Sumter; and Jeffrey M. Venables, a chemistry teacher at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill.

Sutton was announced as the state winner during a May 1 ceremony and celebration held in Columbia marking the 48th year of the program, which has increased in both participation and prestige. The awards program is a nationally recognized event that honors the State Teacher of the Year, Honor Roll teachers, and district teachers of the year.

The National Teacher of the Year program, which began in 1952, is a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and is sponsored by the ING Foundation.

From a group of nominees representing 81 local school districts, the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Palmetto Unified School district, and the South Carolina Public Charter School District, the five finalists traveled to Columbia for personal interviews with a seven-member state selection committee.

Each of the five teachers chosen as finalists for the Teacher of the Year Award were selected by a panel of educators and private citizens who have no relationship to the South Carolina Department of Education, and the names of the teachers and their schools were concealed from the judges during the selection process to ensure absolute fairness.

In addition to the honor of winning SC’s Teacher of the Year Award, Sutton also received a $25,000 cash prize and a BMW X3 that she will be driving for the next year. During the 2013-14 school year, Sutton will participate in a one-year residency program at the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA), and as Teacher of the Year, she will serve as an ambassador for the teaching profession statewide.

“I get to go to a national conference to meet more teachers from across the nation who are passionate about their students,” Sutton said, “and I can’t wait to get back to share what I’ve learned with the teachers in South Carolina, and specifically Pickens County.”

Following Wednesday’s ceremony in Columbia, Darlene Sutton was recognized for her accomplishment by Governor Nikki Haley at the State House.

State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais said, “After parents, the most important person in a child’s education is the man or woman at the front of the classroom. Teachers change lives by putting the interests of their students first and lead classrooms where a personalized and customized education produces high levels of student learning. On behalf of her students, parents, and colleagues at Pickens Elementary School, we congratulate and thank Darlene for her excellence in the classroom.”

Although Sutton may have been uncertain about the professional tack she would take as a high school student, it would appear that a career in education was the perfect fit.

“There were too many things that I enjoyed doing,” she said after being named one of the five finalists. “I started thinking about how I really loved working with young children, and I liked doing experiments and reading and having fun. All the things that I liked to do, it just made sense that the perfect career choice for me would be education.”

Sutton was welcomed back to the community and her home school Pickens Elementary with a parade, complete with law enforcement and the Pickens Fire Department leading the way.

School District of Pickens COunty superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew could not be more delighted by Sutton’s accomplishment.

“I am so proud that Darleen was recognized South Carolina’s Teacher of the Year,” she said. “She will represent the excellence of Pickens County and South Carolina’s public educators. She is a wonderful teacher to her students and mentor to her colleagues. I am honored to know her and to have had the opportunity to work with her in Pickens County.”