April 15, 2019
Wakulla County School Board honored April’s Teachers and Employees of the Month at the April 15 School Board Meeting.
“These four deserving people help our students in so many ways. From the first school person they see in the morning driving their bus to the specialists who work one-on-one with them and every job in between, we are fortunate to have such outstanding faculty and staff members who see their role caring for our children as a calling, not just a job,” says Superintendent Bobby Pearce.
Riversink Elementary School chose Sarah Watters as their Teacher of the Month. She works with RES students in grades Kindergarten through 5 who have IEPs (Individual Education Plans) that direct her work with those who are diagnosed as in need of help with their communication skills.
Watters is in her third year working at RES, after four years at Sopchoppy Pre-K and six at COAST Charter School. For nine of those years, she was also an Early Steps Provider. Early Steps is Florida's early intervention system that offers services to eligible infants and toddlers with significant delays or a condition likely to result in a developmental delay.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders from FSU, then went on to earn a master’s degree in Communication Disorders from the University of Texas at Dallas.
“Since I get to work with many students kindergarten through fifth grade, I really get to know them and see them grow over time. Each of my students is different, with distinct needs. This gives me motivation to continually develop engaging learning activities that are individualized to meet their needs,” says Watters.
Research shows that books in the home are strongly linked to academic achievement and Watters knows that her students often struggle with reading. So she decided, “Instead of a typical treasure box, I have a book store where my students can pick a book to add to their home library.
“It has taken time and personal funds to achieve, but hearing my students report back on the book they chose is fantastic. Since I know reading is so closely tied to both speech and language, I can feel good that they are doing their ‘speech homework’ without even realizing it.”
Watters also gets involved in other aspects of Riversink, such as volunteering to judge Odyssey of the Mind competitions and the Tropicana Speech Contest.
“Sarah is an integral part of Riversink Elementary,” states RES Principal Simeon Nelson. “She handles a large Speech and Language caseload with enthusiasm and professionalism, plus does an excellent job collaborating with her peer teachers.
“She is always looking for ideas to support our students. For example, recently she attended a training for students with Autism to ensure that population of students has all the support necessary to be successful. We are fortunate to have her here at Riversink.”
Wakulla Pre-Kindergarten at WEC (Wakulla Education Center) chose Carrie Pafford as their April Teacher of the Month.
Pafford is in her eighth year at WEC, but has over 13 years of prior experience working with infants through five year olds and their families as Director of the Early Learning Coalition, Florida Department of Children and Families Childcare Licensing Specialist, Pafford Family Child Care owner, and Annsworth Academy preschool teacher.
A Tallahassee native, Pafford is a product of the Leon County School District and is proud to say that she is a member of the very first graduating class of the International Baccalaureate Program at Rickards High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Child Development from FSU.
“The thing I enjoy most about my job is the outstanding growth that I see in each and every one of my students from year to year. The children that enter my classroom are exposed to fun, hands-on learning activities that encourage their emotional, social and physical development. When we play, we often get messy and we may get dirty, but most importantly, we learn!”
Asked to share a job-related experience that shows her dedication, Pafford explains, “A few years ago, we were taking a group of students on a field trip to the Tallahassee (Junior) Museum when our bus broke down on Springhill Road. My co-teacher was out sick that day and I had to entertain 20 preschool students for over an hour while we waited on another bus to rescue us.
“I walked up and down the aisle going through every story, song and finger play that I had stored in my teacher brain! Of course, in order to maintain their attention, each one had to be an ‘over the top’ performance. They all laughed and giggled at how silly I was being and then listened quietly as I told stories. Needless to say, I was relieved and we were all exhausted when our bus finally arrived.”
In addition to teaching, Pafford also volunteers at the Pre-K Family Fun Day, is on the Pre-K Graduation Committee, and is WEC’s representative on the WCSB District Calendar Committee.
“Carrie’s classroom is bright, colorful, inviting and appealing to the ‘littlest learners’ in the District,” says WEC Pre-K Principal Laura Kelley. “She plans daily lessons that spark her students’ interests and maintains their attention through developmentally appropriate activities and engaging technology which always includes music and movement.
“Students in her classroom daily greet one another with a hug, high five, fist bump or acknowledgement of their choice. She has high expectations for all learners and has a strong classroom management plan in which the class works together as a team for a common goal while rewarding students individually for making smart choices. She is also well respected by her colleagues and is a team player. I am proud of her for earning this recognition from her peers.”
Employee of the Month for April is paraprofessional Stacy Pfeifer from Wakulla Middle School. She is in her seventh year of working with students and helping teachers. This is her fourth year at WMS. She was also a parapro at Riversink Elementary for one year and a Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten teacher at COAST Charter School for two years prior to coming to WMS.
A North Florida native, Pfeifer attended kindergarten through high school in Niceville, Florida and graduated from Niceville High School. She earned her Associate of Arts degree from Tallahassee Community College and currently attends Flagler College in her off hours after working full-time at WMS. Pfeifer is studying to earn her degree in education to become a classroom teacher.
“The most enjoyable thing about my job is getting to work with the best people and students. The administration, faculty and staff are so supportive and welcoming,” says Pfeifer.
“I wear many hats at WMS. One of the most exciting is when I get to substitute in a classroom. Subbing can be one of the most challenging experiences, but when I get asked to sub in a class, it becomes one of the most fulfilling positions.
“I get to teach a class or work one-on-one with a student that is struggling and make lifelong connections with students. To me that makes my goal of becoming a teacher the most exciting.”
Even though attending college takes up most of her free time after a day at WMS, Pfeifer also assists in running the WMS Student Government organization.
“Mrs. Pfeifer is truly deserving of this award,” notes WMS Principal Tolar Griffin. “She does an outstanding job working with our students. Her main role is rotating to different classrooms to work with small groups of students who are not performing on their grade level. Many of these students receive accommodations on an IEP. Mrs. Pfeifer works with these students to close learning gaps and help them get back on grade level.
“She has taken advantage of the ‘Para to Teacher’ program at Flagler College and will graduate with a degree in Elementary Education in May. She is passionate about education and will make a great teacher.”
The Wakulla County Schools Transportation Department chose Ray Gray as their April Employee of the Month. He is in his fifth year as a school bus driver.
No stranger to the workings of the Wakulla County School System, Gray served as a Wakulla County School Board member, vice-chair and chairman during his 16 years prior to working with the Transportation Department.
“Previous beloved School Board Member Mrs. Jackie Walker convinced me years ago that working towards the success of the children in Wakulla County through the school system would be one of the most satisfying things I would ever do. She was totally correct!” says Gray.
He graduated from Pace High School and attended the University of Southern Mississippi where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation with a double minor in Accounting and Business Management. Gray went on to earn a master’s degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation with a minor in Business Marketing Management from Texas Tech University.
For most of the years prior to and simultaneous with his becoming a School Board Member, Gray was involved with children as a Parks and Rec Director in Texas and in Wakulla.
“I just enjoy the kids,” Gray explains. “With a youth coaching background, I feel like every morning I coach the kids to school for a great day and then coach them home in the afternoon, asking them what they accomplished today.
“There are many benefits to working in a multiple generational family community,” continues Gray. “My first year driving a school bus, I had a third grader who had a hard day and was extremely frustrated when he got on and would not stay in his seat. When I told him I would have to let his parents know he was misbehaving that day, he said, ‘I don’t care, they aren’t home anyway.’
“I said alright, I’ll call your granddad. He said, ‘You don’t know my granddad.’ I said, ‘You tell your granddad you were acting up on Mr. Gray’s bus and let’s see what he says.’ The next morning granddad was at the bus stop and when the little fellow got on, he had his head down and hugged me. To this day, this young man goes out of his way to come see me.”
Gray also is a Mentor at Riversprings Middle School, a volunteer at Wakulla Parks and Recreation, and a charter member of the Wakulla Kiwanis Club.
“Mr. Gray is a remarkable school bus driver with sincere care and dedication,” says Pat Jones, Coordinator of Transportation for Wakulla County Schools. “He demonstrates exceptional skills, passion and commitment to the safety of all the students he transports.
“In addition to driving his daily routes and many field trips, Mr. Gray works in the Transportation Office making sure all bills are paid and parts are ordered with remarkable efficiency and superior record keeping. This alone is an enormous task! I can truly say that he does this with a smile and is always willing to help in other areas where needed. We are blessed to have him serving the students of Wakulla County.”