It was a much-anticipated evening as the South Huntington Board of Education and the district’s administrators gave well-deserved recognition and praise to their top teachers during the annual Teacher of the Year celebration.
“It is our pleasure to highlight these great teachers, who have been identified by their peers as possessing exceptional instructional skills and holding a strong dedication to fostering the learning and growth of our students,” said Dr. Joseph T. Centamore, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel and District Services.
South Huntington’s districtwide teacher of the year is Mr. Rufus Shepard, a sixth-grade teacher at Silas Wood. “Mr. Shepherd is a well-rounded, positive role model to all students that cross his path,” said Silas Wood Principal Steve Toto. “He looks at the ‘whole child’ with a sense of understanding, holds them to high expectations, and encourages them to be the best that they can be.”
Mr. Shepard’s rise to one of teaching’s most coveted honors was neither typical nor easy.
After graduating Walt Whitman High School in 1985, Mr. Shepard began working in South Huntington’s schools as a custodian while attending college. In 1988 he became a full-time custodian at Walt Whitman. Like so many, Mr. Shepard had a strong desire to serve his country and took a 2-year break to enlist in the Army reserves. After several years in the military, Mr. Shepard decided to go back to school to earn his master’s degree in education and become a teacher.
Mr. Shepard reflects that he benefited greatly from the encouragement he received from his teachers and coaches, who all helped him realize that he had a profound ability to connect with people and make a difference by bringing out the best in them.
“I am truly grateful to my colleagues for their support and nomination as Silas Wood teacher of the year,” said Mr. Shepard, now in his twelfth year of teaching. “I am extremely honored and humbled to be awarded districtwide teacher of the year, considering the quality of the teachers with whom I work.”
“Most importantly. I want to thank my parents, who instilled in me a sense of purpose and the belief that I can accomplish anything that I put my mind to,” continued Mr. Shepard. “Thank you for demanding nothing less than excellence. As a new teacher, I benefited greatly from my first department chairperson and my mentor, recently retired, Dr. Melvin Douglass. Dr. Douglass required total professionalism, teaching me to have high expectations of my students as well as myself.”
“Teaching is truly a family affair, and it’s great to see all our teachers of the year surrounded by their families tonight,” said Schools Superintendent Dr. David Bennardo. “I’m reminded of a quote that simply said, ‘They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ And that is clearly evident tonight as we see how students have gone out of their way to put the face of their favorite teacher on a t-shirt, or our high school students jumping quickly to their feet for a teacher they know, or our primary students, whose faces light up when they hear the name of their teacher called. I think they have figured out the evaluation system, I really do. Congratulations to all these fine teachers, who make a difference and truly love what they do.”