Both are past recipients of the prestigious Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award, an annual honor now entering its eighth year and which is described on the Bradley/Cleveland Public Education Foundation website as, “... the highest honor at the local level to recognize and encourage teaching excellence in the classroom.”
Robinson, an innovative and popular instructor at Ocoee Middle School, was the coveted award’s first recipient in 2005. Burris, a forward-thinking teacher with a keen sense of motivation and an ability to teach outside the box at Oak Grove Elementary School, was the most recent Fitzgerald Award honoree in 2011-12.
According to the BCPEF, and to Dr. Rodney and Margo Fitzgerald who endow the award as the son and daughter-in-law of Mrs. Fitzgerald, Robinson and Burris are in good company. In between their years as honorees were Barbara Brantley, Valley View Elementary, 2006; Richard Shaw, Cleveland High School, 2007; Sylvia Coates, Teen Learning Center, 2008; Luajean Bryan, Walker Valley High School, 2009; and Victoria Pritchard, Homebound Teacher for Cleveland City Schools, 2010-11.
The secret of who will be selected as the award’s eighth recipient will be unveiled in August during opening sessions of both local school systems prior to the start of the new school season. But in the meantime, one week remains until the April 15 nomination deadline. Nominations are being accepted by the BCPEF.
Teachers may be nominated by supervisors, peers, students, friends or family. Along with the prestige that accompanies the award, the recipient also receives a $3,000 cash prize.
Nomination criteria include:
1. Must be employed as a full-time, certified, K-12 teacher in Cleveland City or Bradley County Schools with a minimum of five years’ experience.
2. Demonstrates a passion for teaching and inspires students with a love of learning.
3. Communicates effectively across all racial, cultural and economic backgrounds.
4. Utilizes creative, current and relevant teaching strategies.
5. Is admired and respected by students, parents and colleagues.
6. Must be involved personally in the community.
7. Embodies the spirit of teaching demonstrated by Lillie F. Fitzgerald; that is, being professional, articulate and passionate about education.
According to an editorial published in the March 6, 2013, edition of the Cleveland Daily Banner, “Stir the above ingredients together in a melting pot of learning and rising to the surface like cream will be the epitome of great teaching. A textbook example is found in the memory of Lillie F. Fitzgerald.”
A 37-year instructor of English and speech at Bradley Central High School, Fitzgerald was, “... passionate about teaching, instilling into each student a love of learning and a belief that academic success was possible,” according to the BCPEF website.
The longtime teacher, who was a favorite among students, parents and colleagues, attended Carson-Newman College and completed graduate work at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. During her teaching tenure at BCHS (formerly known as Bradley County High School), Mrs. Fitzgerald initiated a club for future teachers and an academic honors banquet recognizing students for their achievements. She also developed the college preparatory English program.
Nominated by several of her former students, Mrs. Fitzgerald was inducted into the Tennessee Teachers’ Hall of Fame located at Middle Tennessee State University in 1995.
All Fitzgerald Award nominations are reviewed by a panel of evaluators unrelated to either school system. Complete application guidelines and additional information about the award, as well as about the nomination process, can be found on the Foundation’s website at www.bcpef.org.
Application guidelines point out that the nominator is responsible for compiling and submitting a nomination package that contains the following:
1. Letter from the nominator outlining the reasons the teacher is being nominated for the award.
2. A history of the nominee including: Full resume, dates of service with the local school systems, degrees earned, achievements and recognitions in the field of education, civic and community involvement, and family information.
3. Letters of recommendation from one peer, one supervisor, one student and one parent. Other letters may be included as desired.
4. A statement of teaching philosophy from the nominee.
5. Other relevant information.
Nomination packages should be mailed to: Bradley/Cleveland Public Education Foundation, P.O. Box 4354, Cleveland TN 37320-4354. The telephone number is 423-476-0034. An email address is listed on the website as firstname.lastname@example.org.