Union College presents Excellence in Education Awards

Published on
October 02, 2012

Union College recently presented four local professionals with Excellence in Education Awards, a program launched in 2011 that recognizes outstanding careers in Knox County.

Winners this year represent the program’s second class of recipients. They include Rebecca Hubbard of Central Elementary School; Brandon Simpson of Barbourville High School; Jeff Frost of Jesse D. Lay Elementary School; and Lana Sowders of Knox Central Elementary School. Each recipient was chosen based on a strict set of criteria after finalists were selected from a large pool of nominees. Winners are active teachers and administrators who have made significant contributions to the teaching profession.

Hubbard, a special education teacher with Central Elementary, received the Dr. Mary Alice Lay Teacher—Leader Award.She works with collaborating classroom teachers to modify lessons and plans to provide appropriate accommodations for her identified students. She has been described as an effective and positive teacher who is consistently pleasant, tackling all assignments with dedication and attention to detail. Extremely competent when dealing with special education laws and procedures, Hubbard takes extra care in meeting the educational needs of each child. Additionally, she has served as a leader in the Knox County school district by providing training to staff about special education topics such as autism and is a member and team leader of the autism cadre for Knox County Schools. 

Hubbard is also recognized for her dedication to other projects in the school system.  She has served as a First Priority leader for over six years and as an Odyssey of the Mind coach from 2003-2008.  Outside the classroom, Hubbard is a youth leader at her church and a member of the Women’s Missionary Union.  According to one of the many submitted recommendations, “She reaches out to the children at both school and church.  She has not only a strong work ethic, but she has strong moral and ethical values.  The students in any school where she works benefit from her dedication to the students of Knox County.”

Simpson, who also earned the Dr. Mary Alice Lay Teacher-Leader Award, instructs English and has served Barbourville City Schools in various other capacities. During his tenure, he has served as head coach of the high school varsity softball team for eight years and assistant coach for one year; as the assistant coach for the varsity girls basketball team for two years; as head coach of the 5-8 grade girls basketball team for four years; and assistant coach for the 5– 8 grade boys basketball team for one year.  Additionally, he has served as moderator, judge and composition scorer for the elementary, middle and high school academic teams for eight years; coordinated numerous fundraising activities to help fund Barbourville High School girls sports programs; and served as coordinator of the Barbourville Elementary Intramural K-4 Basketball League for one year. 

Simpson, who is often praised for his impressive work ethic, is recognized as a teacher with superior content knowledge who solidly manages his classroom. He also works well with his colleagues.  His students enjoy his classroom atmosphere and are eager to accomplish the learning targets he sets for them.  Simpson guides students both inside and outside of the classroom, and his students deeply respect him as an authority figure while also holding him in high regard as a friend.  “One of the hardest lessons for me as a teacher was the realization that some students, no matter how hard you try, may not be successful, but that absolutely cannot hinder a teacher from trying his or her best to ensure that students have every opportunity to succeed,” Simpson said.

Frost, principal of Jesse D. Lay Elementary, was chosen to receive the Dr. Warren Robbins Educational Leadership Award. His long list of duties includes providing instructional leadership; serving as chair of the site-based council; designing and implementing school policy; preparing and managing multiple budgets and grants; creating the school handbook; designing and coordinating schedules; collaborating with the central office, parents, teachers and the community; and providing professional development.

From 1997-2006, Frost was a mathematics and science teacher for grades five through eight. He also served as instructional team leader; coordinated graduation; served as a site-based council member; was the parent-teacher organization treasurer; served on the text book committee; chaired the Title IX Committee; coordinated the St. Jude’s Math-a-thon; coordinated the science fair and athletic banquet; served as an Odyssey of the Mind coach; was a campus coach for First Priority; and coached 5 and 6 grade basketball.  He has also served as the Red Bird Missionary Conference youth facilitator; as the minister to students at the Barbourville First United Methodist Church and as a Union College Upward Bound project tutor/counselor and instructor.

According to a quote taken from Frost’s anonymous nomination form, “… (Frost) has maintained his caring and compassionate manner in everything that he does.  He quietly does his job without fanfare, seeking only to do what is right in relation to the job at hand.  He understands that teaching is not an 8:00 to 3:00 job; that most of the real work takes place after the school day is over, and he has continued to work to help make his school a success.”     

Alsoselected to receive the Dr. Warren Robbins Educational Leadership Award is Sowders, who is currently the assistant principal at Knox Central Elementary School. During her career, she has served as a classroom teacher, cheerleading coach, history department chair and curriculum coach. She has also served on the following committees: the budget committee, curriculum committee, district professional develop committee, and on the site-based council.  She has worked as a tutor and mentored teachers for early involvement as well as student teachers.  She has been a KTIP resource teacher and KTIP principal.  She attends Immanuel Baptist Church and teaches children’s church.  

Sowders was the first teacher in Knox County to be a National Board Certified Teacher (1999 and renewed in 2009). She received the Campbellsville Excellence in Teaching award in 2000; was included in Who’s Who Among America’s Teacher; was a presenter for National High Schools that Work Conference, the KASA Conference—Freshman School within a School, and Silver and Strong.  She is a ten- time Green Leaf Award Winner, an honor presented by the Knox Central top 25 students; served as a presenter for the Alpha Gamma State Workshop; received the 2004 Class Nobel Educator of Distinction; received the Governor’s Scholar Outstanding Educator Award as well as the DAR History Teacher of the Year  Award.

In her current position at Knox Central High School, Sowders is well respected by the faculty and her peers.  She works with teachers on classroom management, curriculum development and professional growth.  She is willing to mentor new teachers and routinely evaluates the effectiveness of existing procedures and assessment practices. Even though she is no longer in the classroom, Sowderes never stops giving students valuable life lessons and is very dedicated to student achievement.  She sees potential in every student and works endlessly to ensure that they have a learning experience that leads to success.  She personally knows the value of higher education and serves as an example that as educators, we never stop learning. 

The Excellence in Education Awardsrecognize teachers and administrators who follow the examples set by the instructors for whom the awards are named. Union College distinguished professors Dr. Warren Robbins and Dr. Mary Alice Lay are both iconic in representing Union’s legacy of supporting educational excellence.

Robbins, who joined Union’s faculty in 1957, first served as a teacher, principal and a supervisor in the Bell County School System. From 1954-1957, he was supervisor in a Ford Foundation pilot program at Berea College to improve education in rural Kentucky.  His first positions at Union included associate professor of education and director of student teachers. He later became department head, vice president of graduate affairs, professor of education, dean of graduate studies, and dean of faculty. Robbins retired from Union in 1990 from the position of dean of graduate studies program and then served as professor emeritus of education.

Lay came to Union in 1961 as instructor of home economics after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky. She continued her graduate studies through a National Science Fellowship in Nutrition at the University of South Dakota and through travel study in Europe via Indiana State University. She was promoted to assistant professor in 1969, the same year she was granted tenure. From 1978-1983 she stepped aside from her faculty duties to become Union’s director of alumni affairs. During this time, she completed another graduate program, receiving her Rank I certificate from Union in 1980. She returned to the faculty ranks and has served as associate professor of education from 1985 to the present.

The 2012 nominations included teachers and administrators from the Knox County and Barbourville Independent School Districts and St. Camillus Academy.  Each nominee must have completed a minimum of five full years of teaching experience and be currently serving in a school or an administrative position.

Fellow educators, students, parents and community members issued nominations, which were not limited to Union College alumni.  A committee composed of impartial educators and community members from the region and beyond made up the selection committee.

The selection committee was pleased to note an impressive number of nominees with inspiring references and educational experiences. Because all nominees were examples of excellence, the final selection process was difficult.

Union College is a private liberal arts college related to The United Methodist Church and located in Barbourville, Ky.