The falling leaves and crisp cool weather means its time again for the Friendship Public Charter School Teacher of the Year Award held annually at the refined J.W. Marriott Hotel. My wife Michele and I are always eager to attend this inspiring event. We were not disappointed.
Upon arrival at the opening reception I ran right into Patricia Brantley, the former chief operating officer for the school, now Mr. Hense’s replacement who I recently interviewed. I asked her what it felt like to be in this new role this evening. She answered without hesitation. “I was of course exceedingly familiar with the workings of Friendship from my 23 years of being on the staff. However, it is beyond thrilling to me that I now have the unbelievable opportunity of celebrating the greatest educators in the country. As CEO, to be able to shake the hands of teachers who make Friendship work and who on a daily basis are in front of our children, is beyond moving. There are six nominees tonight for Teacher of the Year but I feel like I’m the winner for just having the opportunity to strive to support these amazing individuals.”
Between cocktails and appetizers served by the hotel’s highly professional staff, coincidentally the next person we met was Donald Hense. Looked relaxed and content he immediately wanted to boast about his new leader. “Pat is doing a marvelous job,” the past Friendship CEO observed, “She is excellent. We did the absolute right thing. But this was all intentional. We had created a succession plan more than a year ago. Friendship has the individual it needs to conduct this life changing work and she will ensure that our educators are no less than world class.”
I asked Mr. Hense about recent progress at Friendship and he informed me about an exciting initiative regarding their alumni. He related that about 52 percent of Friendship high school graduates have completed college or are currently enrolled. Mr. Hense told me that the charter has now created a reclamation program to figure out how to ensure that the remainder of these pupils complete their degrees.
The crowd then moved into the ballroom for the formal dinner program. Mr. Hense gave a few introductory remarks but it was the words of Ms. Brantley that stirred the audience’s emotions. She spoke powerfully about the momentous impact of the opening on September 24, 2016 of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She stated that there have been many efforts over the years to recognize the contributions of American Americans but none have been as great as the creation of this institution. She talked about having the privilege of taking Friendship students through a building that provides them with a background that prepares them to make history. Ms. Brantley explained that it teaches these young people to dream big and to believe that anything is possible to achieve in life.
She thanked all of the teachers of Friendship schools for their strong dedication, exclaiming that “you do so much more for them than we ask you to do and more than we compensate you for doing.” She remarked that “you take these kids into your lives, your homes, and your classrooms on a daily basis and welcome them in.” She gave her strong appreciation to Friendship staff no matter what their role “be it security, nutrition, or administration.”
For this ninth Teacher of the Year Gala Mr. Roland Martin, the host of News One Now and a commentator for TV One Cable Network, was again the Masters of Ceremonies. He prodded through jokes and laughter all of the school principals to keep their introductory remarks of their nominees short. It worked. The six finalists were then revealed. They were Bharti Bhasin, Collegiate Campus; Paul Griffith, Technology Preparatory Campus; Prinz Milton, Blow Pierce Campus; Quianna Richburg, Chamberlain Campus; Cinthia Suchorski, Woodridge International Baccalaureate Campus; and Lucy Williams-Price, Friendship Southeast Campus.
Each time we attend this celebration Michele and I attempt to guess the winner by watching the well-produced videos of each teacher at work that accompanies their nominations. These presentations never fail to bring tears to my eyes and this occasion was no exception. Hints as to the likely selection may also be obtained by reading the statements of each finalist contained in the elegant brochure provided to each attendee. But on this night we could not make a decision. They all appeared fantastic and deserving of the top prize. The judges had to make an extremely challenging decision.
Mr. Hense announced that the Teacher of Year for 2016 is Quianna Richburg, an English language instructor at Friendship Chamberlain. In her acceptance speech Ms. Richburg spoke about how humble she felt winning this recognition, especially in light of other teachers at Friendship that “inspire and engage students every day.” She noted that “their passion is of course unparalleled. This is not easy work that we do.”
Ms. Richburg went on to say that this victory is extremely personal to her. She informed the audience that she was the young girl that played school at home. She created a classroom out of all her figurines, gave them assignments, and called on them. She added that she even split them up into small groups and went so far as to contact their parents.
But perhaps, in retrospect, it was obvious that she should be the one. From her brochure statement:
“Many of the students who walk through my door everyday are faced with personal challenges that interfere with their academic achievement. Poverty, instability, hunger, anger, fear, and illness continue to plague the community I serve. To an outsider looking in, forming relationships with students who are already shouldering such burdens may seem impossible. But to me, it is an opportunity to be the adult every child deserves; a time when teachers can make a huge impact. . .
Ultimately, we as teachers hold the keys to unlocking the potential our students possess. It is our responsibility to create classrooms that are both informative and interactive, where students feel invested and loved each and every day. While curriculum, standards, and educational policies may change, the value of a great teacher is immeasurable.”
It was then time to move on to the after party.