In 2005, Dr. Rodney and Margo Fitzgerald established the award in honor of his mother Lillie Fitzgerald, a former English teacher for Bradley County Schools.
The first winner of the award was Ocoee Middle School teacher Dr. Jason Robinson.
“I had been hired by Ocoee Middle School to come in and develop a space science program. So, at the time I was teaching space science to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders,” Robinson said.
Robinson completed his doctorate degree after receiving the Fitzgerald award.
“Mrs. Fitzgerald was such an awesome teacher. Her legacy is just one that’s very powerful. One that has had an effect on the community,” Robinson said.
“(If) we who are teachers just strive to do what she did, we’ll be able to have the same legacy, to make a positive effect on our community.”
Last year, he began teaching the Academically Talented program at Ocoee Middle.
His work teaching space science has reached beyond the school into the community and other countries.
“The doors that have opened have now become more ministry type doors where I am going overseas and doing kids’ camps ... and presenting the gospel through science, which is a really cool thing,” Robinson said.
He also conducts science camps every summer at Lee University, where he teaches part-time, as part of the Solar System Ambassador program.
Robinson said he is not sure what the future holds.
“I’m a dreamer. There are a lot of things I would like to do,” he said.
In 2006, Valley View Elementary School teacher Barbara Brantley received the award.
Brantley has taught at Valley View almost her entire career. One year at Trewhitt Middle School (now Lake Forest) is the exception.
Receiving the award came as a complete surprise to this veteran teacher.
“I was just in shock because Mrs. Fitzgerald was an icon in Bradley County,” Brantley said. “I was so surprised and so honored that my name would be associated with her.”
Since the award, Brantley has enjoyed relocating to a brand new classroom in Valley View’s addition, and introducing new technology to her students.
She hopes this use of technology will continue and that eventually her students will have iPads in their classrooms.
She said the greatest thing for her is seeing students’ excitement when they learn something new. She has also been named the Valley View Teacher of the year a few times. Brantley plans to retire at the end of the school year.
For Sylvia Coates and Victoria Pritchard, the Lillie Frank Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching award has special meaning because they were Fitzgerald’s students at Bradley Central High School.
“She was such a great role model when I was a student at Bradley,” Coates said.
Later, when Coates became an educator, she worked with Fitzgerald judging local creative writing and speech contests. Coates took a break from teaching to pursue a small business venture, but her friendship with Fitzgerald grew.
“We got to be dear, dear friends,” Coates said. “So, then I went from being her student to a colleague to a friend. I felt especially honored to win an award with her name on it.”
Coates was teaching at the Teen Learning Center when she received the award in 2008.
“Something about winning that award inspires me to dig a little deeper and try a little harder to be the teacher she would be proud of,” Coates said.
Coates still teaches at the Teen Learning Center. The award has become a source of strength on those tough days. She said it was great to read the letters that former students had written supporting her for the award.
Her highest goal is to have a positive impact on her students lives, and empower them to believe in themselves. She has organized a service-learning project with her class and Arnold Elementary, and often has Allied Arts-sponsored programs come to her class.
“I never walked into her class that she didn’t meet me with a smile,” Pritchard said. “She was kind. She was strict. She expected you to succeed.”
Pritchard said Lillie Fitzgerald “went the extra mile to see her students excel.”
Pritchard is the most recent recipient of the award.
“That’s one reason the award meant so much to me because I was a part of what she was,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard works in the homebound program for prekindergarten through 12th grade in the Cleveland City Schools.
“Children who are too sick to come to school or they have issues that keep them from being able to attend school, I go to their home and help them with the curriculum they have been assigned, so they do not fall behind,” Pritchard said.
“My job kind of allows me to be a ministry teacher, friend. It opens a lot of doors,” Pritchard said.
Last Thanksgiving, she was able to take Thanksgiving to one of her students, whose mother was too ill to prepare the meal.
Pritchard completed her education specialist in curriculum and instruction degree the same year she received this accolade. She is now considering a doctorate program.
In 2009, Walker Valley High School teacher Luajean Bryan received the award.
“I think what the award did for me is give me a little more of that positive push,” Bryan said.
She said she was honored to be nominated.
“You work really hard, but you don’t know if anyone is noticing,” Bryan said.
She said an award is a “challenge to do even more.”
This often means looking for life application -based lessons. In her statistics class, her students look at data to see if there is a correlation between eighth-grade TCAP math score and SAT math scores. She said if the data supports the idea, it could be used to help those eighth-grade students.
“If they can do projects like that, that have real world meaning, then it makes the learning a lot more significant,” Bryan said.
Since winning the award, Bryan has been appointed to the Governor’s Science Technology Engineering and Mechanics Advisor Council. She has also received a full scholarship to complete her doctorate degree. A calculus textbook she co-wrote was published last year.
Her future goals include possibly teaching college or being involved with STEM initiatives.
Of the six winners of the Lillie Frank Fitzgerald award, Richard Shaw is the only one who is no longer teaching. Shaw received the award in 2007 as a history teacher and coach at Cleveland High School.
“It was right before I retired, so it was a nice thing to have,” Shaw said.
Shaw coached football and the girl’s track team. He was also involved in the model UN program at the school.
“You don’t ever expect to get those kinds of award ... that really is an honor because it is based on what teachers’ say, what administrators’ say, parents, students. It’s really a wonderful honor,” Shaw said.
Now, he serves as an at-large representative on the Cleveland Board of Education. On the school board, Shaw was part of the process of selecting Martin Ringstaff as the next director of schools. Shaw also works with graduate students at Lee University in the teaching intern program.
Recipients are nominated by fellow teachers, past students, parents and administrators. Teachers nominated are asked to submit an essay on their philosophy of education.
The deadline for nominations for this year’s award is Friday.