The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

March 17, 2013

Ridgeview Elementary teacher is the Ashtabula County Teacher of the Year

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — As part of her protocol for keeping order in her fifth-grade classroom, Ridgeview Elementary teacher Deborah Nanney often tells students to “clap your hands if you hear my voice.”

This school year, the county’s educational community is clapping its hands for Nanney, who was named the Ashtabula County Teacher of the Year.

To become a candidate for the honor, Nanney first had to be selected as the district’s teacher of the year. The recommendation was made by the building principal, Mary Balmford.

“Her instruction is exemplary,” said Balmford, summing up why Nanney was selected for the honor.

Balmford said Nanney consistently employs research-based practices in her teaching and has a “high sensitivity to the learning needs of all the students in her classroom.” Students in her classroom do “lots of writing” and work collaboratively. Balmford said Nanney provides a “highly structured, predictable framework” in which students can learn.

“She is indicative of the teachers we have in the building. Many of our teachers go above and beyond. ... We are a team here, that’s the only way we can get this job done.”

“It’s about the school. I think every person in this building deserves to be Teacher of the Year,” Nanney says.

Nanney’s passion for teaching, students and teamwork is evident in the way she works with both staff and the 23 students in her classroom. Nanney is a member of the building’s learning and leadership teams. She often serves as the leader of the fifth-grade planning team, and in her latest role, she splits her day between the classroom and administration. Halfway-through her course work required for a principal’s certification, Nanney is working with Balmford to learn the job and assist as needed, just in case the opportunity arises.

“She has a passion for her own professional growth,” Balmford says. “She leads by example and sets the bar high for herself and her colleagues.”

Even if she were to become a principal, however, Nanney said she would want to stay focused on and love in touch with students.

“I love being in the classroom,” she says. “I love teaching ... it’s not about the subject, it’s about the kids.”

Balmford says that a performance-driven spirit drives Nanney’s heart for youngsters.

“She is very data driven,” Balmford says. “She uses data in the classroom to help students keep track of their improvement.”

Nanney, who grew up in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, said she knew from first grade on that she wanted to become a teacher. She earned her undergraduate degree from St. Andrews Presbyterian College in North Carolina and spent her first five years as a teacher in Christian and specialized schools. After her husband, the Rev. Shane Nanney, accepted the job of pastor at East Side Presbyterian Church, she applied for a teaching position with Buckeye. Nanney spent her first year with the district at Kingsville Elementary and transferred to Ridgeview, a mile from her home, the following year.

She taught sixth grade until it came time for their daughter, Maggie, to attend that grade. Nanney says Maggie did not want to be in her mother’s class, so Nanney requested a transfer to the fifth grade, where she has been ever since.

“My son (Ian) had me for a teacher, and it was fun,” she says.

Maggie is a senior at Smith College and is narrowing down her final choices for graduate work in institutional research. Ian is a sophomore at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he is studying mechanical engineering.

Nanney, who earned her master’s degree from Youngstown State, says her best instructor has been Mary Balmford, who through both example and professional development sessions, has been mentor and model.

“The person I’ve learned most from is Mrs. Balmford. It’s been amazing. And I learn a lot from the other teachers,” Nanney says.

Under Balmford’s leadership, teachers use their professional development time to garner effective teaching strategies from each other. Once a week, all the teachers who instruct the same grade come together for collaborative planning so there is reinforcement and consistency. Fifth-grade teachers talk to the kindergarten and first-grade teachers about the skills that they expect the students to have mastered by the time they reach the fifth-grade classrooms.

For example, if the science teacher is teaching about trees one week, the reading teacher will select literature that deals with a similar concept. And the math teacher uses data about trees to teach her subject area. And no matter what subject the teacher is responsible for, reading is at the core of what they do.

“We all support each other,” Nanney says of her peers.

The teachers support their students, as well. At Ridgeview, no distinction is made between the “regular” and special needs students, classrooms are fully integrated. And if a student has a special physical need, such as a coat or boots, the staff is always ready to help.

“There is more involved in being a teacher than what the public thinks that teachers do,” Nanney says.

The school’s atmosphere of learning and caring has not doubt contributed to its Ohio Department of Education Report Card status of “excellent” two years in a row. In the most recent report card, the school earned “excellent with distinction.”

“Our building has a culture where learning is important,” Nanney says. “This is our job, and learning is fun. I’m not sitting at my desk all day, I’m up walking around, having individual conversations with students.”

Student input drives how Nanney and the other Ridgeview teachers present material. She says students are encouraged to tell her if a certain technique or approach is more effective than another in helping them grasp concepts. “They are giving me a lot of input on how they learn better,” she says.

Since becoming a teacher on special assignment for half of the day, Nanney’s classroom time teaching her favorite subjects is limited to mornings.

“I pretty much like (subjects). I love science. It is so hands on. And I am really good at math. We don’t tell the kids the (math) rules, we let them discover them on their own,” she says. “And I love teaching reading. I do a lot of independent conferring with students and I hear their thoughts. I get insights from those conferences with students, and sometimes I learn things from them.”

Nanney has in her classroom a “private library” of books, titles that she selected for their ability to teach concepts of the written word.

“It’s not about teaching the story, it’s about teaching how to read using the medium,” she says.

Nanney says that while she would like to say that she reads for pleasure, her busy schedule as a teacher, graduate student and pastor’s wife does not allow much time for that kind of reading. She does find time to relax with flower gardening, but even her summers are filled with events and classes that help her hone her skills as a teacher, a job she truly loves.

“I can’t imagine not being at Ridgeview. It’s an amazing school,” she says.

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