There were a few hints that something was different Thursday morning at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.
The biggest tipoff: interim Superintendent and former Liberty principal Anna Stubblefield showing up for an impromptu visit at her old stomping grounds. Stubblefield had stopped by that day to surprise friend and colleague Cari Davis with the Lawrence district’s 2018 Secondary Teacher of the Year award.
“Her energy, enthusiasm and passion for student learning is an inspiration for all,” Stubblefield said, leading up to the big announcement. “She has mastered the elusive art of being firm yet fair. She betters the school and the district with her leadership in and out of the classroom.”
“ … And this will be a dead giveaway — we share a love of food,” Stubblefield added before revealing Davis as this year’s honoree, eliciting some knowing laughs from Liberty staff.
That’s about when Davis realized she’d been recognized for something very special. The $1,000 check from Truity Credit Union was simply the cherry on top.
“That specific praise made me feel like I’d been validated for the things I’m trying to do,” the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher recalled moments after her big win.
A University of Kansas alumna, Davis joined the Lawrence district in 2006, teaching fourth grade at Pinckney Elementary School. Now in her seventh year at Liberty, Davis serves on the school’s Building Leadership Team and as Liberty’s liaison to the KU Professional Development School Program.
Outside Liberty, Davis has remained actively involved with her children’s school, serving as treasurer of the New York Elementary PTA for several years now.
Davis’ colleagues praised the teacher’s ability to connect with students of all backgrounds, strengthened by her “comfortable and flexible” classroom and efforts to introduce culturally relevant material into her lessons.
“Teaching with Cari makes me a better teacher,” Jackie Stafford, an English language arts and social studies teacher at Liberty, wrote in her nomination. “She is creative in her lesson planning, quick to respond to students’ needs and can adapt a lesson on the spot.”
Later, when asked about her favorite part of the job, Davis said it’s the “team spirit” that makes Liberty great.
“I just feel so grateful that I’m with this team of people that know me as a colleague and as a friend,” she said. “I think that’s so amazing.”
After the ceremony Thursday, Davis and her colleagues agreed to celebrate later with donuts. A shared love of food, indeed.
As the Lawrence Secondary Teacher of the Year, Davis will be nominated to the Kansas State Department of Education’s Kansas Teacher of the Year program. Nicole Corn, a kindergarten teacher at Sunset Hill Elementary School, was named the Lawrence Elementary Teacher of the Year earlier this week.