Macon County Schools announced last week that South Macon Elementary School teacher Melissa Faetz was named the 2013-14 Teacher of the Year and East Franklin Elementary School Principal Shirely Parks was named Principal of the Year.
“Shirley Parks has served the students of Macon County for 29 years,” said Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “She began her career as a teacher assistant at Otto School in August 1984 and went on to serve as a teacher at that school and Union Elementary through July of 2000. She transitioned to South Macon Elementary in 2000 and then on to Cartoogechaye Elementary School in 2003. She went on to become the Lead Teacher/Assistant Principal of Cartoogechaye in June of 2006. She continued in this role until July of 2011 when Ms. Parks was named principal of East Franklin Elementary School. Ms. Parks is well-respected as an outstanding educator who has consistently put the needs of her students first throughout her career.”
“I am honored to be chosen Principal of the Year by my esteemed colleagues of Macon County Schools,” said Parks. “They are all great people to work with and their professionalism has guided me into becoming a positive, professional and caring administrator.”
Shirley Ann West Parks was born and raised in Franklin, to the late Mary Francis and Harley West. As one of ten children, four brothers and five sisters, Parks credits her family's ongoing support for her success as an educator. “My brothers and sisters hold a special place in my heart,” she said. “They have always been there to encourage me and guide me throughout my life.”
Parks and her husband Gerald have two children, Valerie Parks, 22 a graduate student at Georgia State University and Isaiah Parks, 14, a freshman at Franklin High School. “My family means the world to me, they have always been supportive and a blessing to me,” said Parks.
As a child, Parks attended Chapel School which was the predominantly African-American school in Macon County during segregation. “Due to integration of schools, I began my third grade year at East Franklin Elementary School, then on to Junior High and Franklin High School,” said Parks. “After high school, I enrolled at Saint Augustine’s College located in Raleigh, where I obtained my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Early Childhood Education. During this time I did my student teaching in Rochester, N.Y. Returning home, I continued my education at Western Carolina University obtaining my Masters’ Degree in Intermediate Education and my Educational Specialist Degree in Administration.”
Since first being hired at Macon County Schools, Parks has taught at numerous schools within the district. Four years after graduation from Saint Augustine’s College, Parks was hired by Macon County Schools as a teacher assistant for Otto Elementary School. “After four years at Otto Elementary I was hired as the Title One reading and math remediation teacher for both Otto and Union Elementary Schools,” said Parks. “Two years later, Terry Bell hired me to teach third grade at Union Elementary School. During the consolidation of Otto and Union Elementary School into South Macon Elementary School, I continued to teach third grade. After two years at South Macon Elementary School, I transferred to Cartoogechaye Elementary School. In 2003, I became lead teacher for Cartoogechaye which later lead to my being appointed principal of East Franklin Elementary School. I also did an interim principal position for Cowee Elementary School, which was a great experience to jumpstart my career as an administrator.”
As an educator in Macon County for nearly three decades, Parks has seen the profession evolve tremendously. “Education has changed in many ways during my 29 years as an educator,” she said. “There have been changes in the way we are required to teach, the way our students learn, the way public education is viewed by legislation. In today's schools, teachers are given more to do with less help and less funding. Students are assessed on a regular basis with too much emphasis on testing and not enough on creative teaching and learning. The way in which students learn has changed; it is more difficult to keep their attention and keeping them focused due to video games and the mass variety of instant entertainment.”
According to Parks, technological advancements have made an understandable impact on teaching methods and the profession as a whole. Despite all of the changes Parks has witnessed, she said the reason people are called to the profession has remained the same. “One aspect of the teaching profession that has not changed is the 'reason' people choose to teach; they love the children,” she said.
When asked what her favorite memory has been to date in her education career Parks found it difficult to narrow it down. “I have so many fond memories that I would be hard pressed to choose just one,” she said. “I could write about titled, 'My Favorite Memories as an Educator.' However, one does come to mind, when I encounter many of my former students, they always comment on how much they enjoyed me teaching them etiquette during their third grade year.. They are quick to assure me that they still continue to put their napkins on their laps and keep their elbows off the table. Wow, we had some good times learning, laughing, and growing together.”
“It is a humbling experience to be chosen for this distinguished award,” said Parks. “I will continue to strive to be a strong, positive and caring advocate for my students and staff at East Franklin School as well as all children that I may encounter throughout my career as an educator.”
Teacher of the Year
“Mrs. Faetz has been teaching 10 years, all at South Macon Elementary,” said Superintendent Baldwin. “Last May she completed her Master’s Degree in Elementary Education at WCU. During the 2012-13 school year, Ms. Faetz was a presenter at the Regional Science Conference held in Atlanta. This year she was selected to be a presenter at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in Boston. It is the national conference and will be held Nov. 21-24. Macon County is fortunate to have dedicated, professional teachers such as Melissa Faetz.”
“I was very honored to be selected for Teacher of the Year,” said Faetz. “Our district is filled with amazing teachers and it is an honor to work with them each and every day. I have been fortunate to work at a wonderful school that has an incredible and supportive faculty. Mr. Bowles and Mrs. Guynn have always supported me through the years and I feel very blessed to have worked in such a great environment.”
Faetz was born in North Palm Beach, Fla, but moved to Macon County with her family when she was 10 years old. Faetz attended fourth through sixth grade at Union Elementary before going to Macon Middle School and then graduating from Franklin High School. She attended Western Carolina University on a Teaching Fellows Scholarship from 2000-2004. She graduated in May 2004 and began teaching that fall. Faetz later returned to WCU to pursue her Master’s degree in education where she graduated with an M.A.Ed. this past May.
Faetz's husband also works for Macon County Schools as an English teacher at Franklin High school. The two have been married for 10 years and have twin eight year old sons, Patrick and Dominic.
“I began teaching in the 2004-2005 school year at South Macon Elementary,” said Faetz. “I taught third grade for the first year. There was an opening in first grade the following year and I made the change and began teaching first grade. I have been teaching first grade ever since. I have always felt that first grade is a pivotal year in students’ education. First grade teachers have the opportunity to lay a solid foundation for students, especially in the area of literacy, which can greatly impact students’ futures in our schools.”
With a decade under her belt, Faetz has been active in all aspects of education. “During my time at South Macon, I have been able to serve on many committees and attend and lead trainings in our district,” she said. “I have also been fortunate in having the opportunity to present at professional conferences with some of my professors and colleagues at WCU.”
During her tenure, Faetz said one of the greatest changes she has seen was an increase in the expectation of students. “Education is constantly evolving and changing,” she said. “There are continuous ebbs and flows, progressions and most recently regressions in the field of education. Some of the major changes that I have seen during the last ten years are the increased expectations of students, especially in the primary grades. Students are expected to learn so much and pre-school education has become a vital, yet underfunded, aspect for students’ preparation of school. The focus in the past ten years has also been on standardized assessments. As you can imagine, this has both positive and negative effects. At times, it can allow for teachers and support personnel to meet the needs of students in a more efficient manner; but it also places an undue amount of stress on students and does not allow leniency for student’s personal development. Children do not, nor should they ever be expected to, grow and learn at the same rate.”
With higher expectations also comes new and evolving curriculum. “New curriculum for math and English/Language Arts was adopted a few years ago by most of the states in the USA,” said Faetz. “Changes in curriculum always cause a change not only in the content that teachers’ teach, but also in the way that we teach it.”
While she has seen countless changes in the last decade, Faetz believes that the greatest change came this year. “Finally, out of the last ten years that I have taught, I can officially say that the most catastrophic changes that have occurred in the N.C. education system have occurred this year,” she said. “As newspapers have covered across the state, the new budget put in place this year for education has greatly damaged our public schools. We have fewer personnel to meet the needs of students, fewer materials to use when teaching our students, and an extremely low per-pupil expenditure, which limits the ability of the schools to meet the needs of students. All of this is occurring while tax payer money is being given for vouchers for students to attend private schools that are not held to the same standards as public schools. These changes have also been coupled with the cuts of advanced degree pay for teachers beginning next year as well as the cut of many important programs in North Carolina including the Teaching Fellows program.”
According to Faetz, teaching as a whole has been one great memory, and pinpointing it down to one would be nearly impossible.
“I cannot say that I have one single memory that stands out above all the rest,” she said. “Teaching isn’t about that one great moment, but about the evolvement of our students and the evolvement of our teaching over the years. It is about all of the small moments that we celebrate with our students on a daily basis. I have so many great memories of experiences that I have had with my students. The moments that stand out to me occur when my students have made a connection from something that I have been teaching to something that they have learned independently or those moments when I can sit back and watch my students lead a discussion or respectfully debate a topic in class with little involvement from me because they have the background knowledge to share and the security to take a chance to speak up in front of their peers.
"Another important moment occurred last year when my students had the opportunity to work with the horticulture class from FHS to build and begin our first school garden at South Macon. They were involved in every step of the process and they were extremely proud of their work and excited about the future of our school garden.”