A long-haired Bon Jovi took the stage with his motley crew after a performance by the Mullet King himself, Billy Ray Kiser.
The performances captured the attention of the teachers and Cleveland Board of Education members in attendance. Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald found himself the focus of an amped-up crowd as he took the stage to announce the Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award Winner.
He named Dianna Johnson of Cleveland Middle School as the award recipient.
The award is named after Fitzgerald’s mother. She was a senior English teacher in the Bradley County Schools system for 38 years. Fitzgerald said his mother retired in the 1980s and passed away in 2006.
“People still tell me what an impact she had on their lives,” he said. “They remember her.”
The annual award recognizes teachers with a similar spirit of dedication to the education of students.
Descriptions of Johnson included “innovative, outgoing, generous in helping colleagues, willing to accept ‘unassigned duties,’ ability to find the hidden potential in students and excellent organizational and leadership skills.”
Like Lillie Fitzgerald, Johnson often receives visits and messages from former students who thank her for the encouragement she offered.
Johnson has served on the CMS leadership team, the school climate committee, as the eighth-grade ELA Curriculum coordinator, eighth-grade team leader, mentor for new staff members, Veteran’s Day coordinator and Spelling Bee coordinator among other roles.
Fitzgerald then surprised those gathered with a special announcement.
He and his wife, Margo, along with the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation, decided to offer a second excellence in teaching award.
Cleveland High School’s Erin Hattabaugh received the second award of $3,000.
Fitzgerald read Hattabaugh’s accomplishments to the gathered crowd.
One former student said the health sciences teacher continually revived his passion for learning. Another student said Hattabaugh promoted knowledge through her dynamic eagerness and approachability.
The CHS teacher has been awarded teacher of the year three times, was named the Cleveland City System Level Teacher for 2014, received the Tennessee Career Technical New Educator Award and operated one of 17 pilot sites in the Biotechnical Engineering curriculum.
Both teachers received an additional $2,000 to spend in their classrooms on top of the $3,000 awards.
Fitzgerald told the “lively group” he was a representative of the BCPEF. He described the nonprofit as an “advocacy group” dedicated to publicizing the importance of public education.
Supervisor of Federal Projects and Staff Development Debbie Torres asked teachers, administrators and school board members to vote for BCPEF on 150daysofgiving.com. The goal is to win $5,000 for the local nonprofit through the 150-day money giveaway by First Tennessee Bank.
City Mayor Tom Rowland, radio personality Steve Hartline of Mix 104.1 and general manager and partner of Don Ledford Automotive Center Debbie Melton approached the stage next to make a special presentation.
The city mayor thanked the teachers for their work.
“You are not only educating the children, but you are giving them love and support and pointing them in the right direction for life,” Rowland said. “The City of Cleveland is grateful for all that you do every day.”
Hartline then announced all educators who stop by the Starbucks on either Keith Street or Paul Huff Parkway would receive a free cup of coffee Friday morning, Aug. 8. Mix 104.1 will be broadcasting live from both locations.
Rowland reminded the crowd of the special presentation when he mentioned Melton had a brand new Chevrolet Equinox in the front of the church for one lucky teacher. One educator from every school was chosen to pick a key and attempt to start the car.
Carole Dale from Cleveland High had the lucky key. Melton explained Dale will be able to drive the car for one year before it will be returned to the dealership.
Principals Mike Chai, Autumn O’Bryan, Mike Collier, Randall Stephens, Carolyn Ingram and Lisa Earby each performed a song with their adminstration team throughout the rest of the meeting. The City School’s AOB team and Maintenance Department also participated in between announcements and recognition of individual teacher’s years of service.
Ringstaff took a moment to offer encouragement to the gathered educators prior to the close of the program.
“You do wonderful things. You do great things every day,” he said. “The test scores are out there. It is all over the board how everyone did. Let me tell you this: I am very proud of the work you did in the classrooms. You rolled up your sleeves and you did a great job. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.”
Ringstaff added, “I honestly believe we are working smarter and harder than we have ever worked in the history of education. We will continue to do great things together for the students you see. It doesn’t matter about test scores, honestly.
“It matters about when that child walks across the stage. If they felt love and compassion, they are going to learn.”