The Spring Hill School District is the smallest in Johnson County, but two of its teachers are being recognized in a big way.
Two of the six teachers from Johnson County who were awarded with the Kansas Department of Education’s prestigious 2015 Kansas Horizon Award teach in Spring Hill.
Haley Epperson of Spring Hill Elementary School and Jamie Droegemeier of Spring Hill Middle School are among this year’s winners for the award, which honors exemplary first-year teachers. They will be honored Friday in Topeka during the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network State Education Conference.
Thirty-two first-year educators were named from across the state. Other Johnson County award winners were Blue Valley School District’s Kelsey Bradley of Indian Valley Elementary School and Katherine Durick of Lakewood Middle School, and DeSoto School District’s Taylor Newman of Prairie Ridge Elementary School and Katherine Wilber of Monticello Trails Middle School.
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The dual award winners are a first for the Spring Hill School District, which serves 2,600 students in its five schools and another 900 students online.
“We have never had a Horizon Award winner in our district so to get two in the same year is exciting,” said Spring Hill spokeswoman Christine Splichal.
Every district in the state is allowed to nominate one elementary school teacher and one secondary school teacher for the award. To be eligible, teachers must have completed their first year of teaching while distinguishing themselves as outstanding.
Droegemeier of Spring Hill Middle School doesn’t fit the typical profile of a first-year teacher. He came to the Spring Hill School District after a 14-year career in accounting. Feeling a pull toward teaching, Droegemeier completed his certification and began teaching middle school math in the fall of 2013.
Droegemeier’s principal nominated him. He cited Droegemeier’s professionalism, his use of technology in the classroom, strong student test results and the manner in which he deals with his students.
Changing career paths after 14 years and going back to school didn’t come without some sacrifices for both Droegemeier and his family. But he’s glad that he followed his heart and grateful that this award validates his decision to begin a career in education.
“I am humbled by how many first-year educators there are in the state of Kansas and to be one of that small number to be selected,” Droegemeier said. “I felt all along that this was the right move for me and this award has reinforced that. “
For Epperson of Spring Hill Elementary School, getting her first-year teaching job took a more traditional path. After graduating from Baker University in 2013, she went to work for Spring Hill Elementary School right away in the fall of 2013 as a fourth-grade teacher.
“I adore Spring Hill and from the minute I left the job interview there, I knew it was the right fit for me,” said Epperson.
Epperson was also nominated for the award by her building principal. Some of the areas that made Epperson stand out for the award were her classroom engagement skills, classroom management skills, communication with parents and her abilities in differentiated instruction.
“I think first and foremost, one thing I incorporate and am strong in is my classroom management,” said Epperson. “My goal is to make students feel safe and welcome in their learning environment. I am also strong in differentiation or figuring out all the ways that students learn.”
Epperson said she prides herself on creating learning environments that will accommodate all of the different learning styles in her classroom.
Both Epperson and Droegemeier said that they feel extremely grateful to be chosen as two of this year’s Horizon Award winners. They count their good fortune as a win for the teaching profession overall.
“I know there are so many wonderful teachers out there that are truly deserving,” said Epperson. “It’s truly an honor to represent the profession.”
“The thing I’m most happy about is to see some recognition for our school district,” said Droegemeier. “There are a lot of great things happening in the Spring Hill School District.”