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West Hartford Teacher of the Year Finalists Announced

West Hartford 2021 Teacher of the Year finalists (alphabetically, from left) include Chelsea Smith, Matthew West, and Lara White. Courtesy photos

Tuesday was ‘Teacher Appreciation Day,’ which coincided with the announcement of 2021 Teacher of the Year finalists at the West Hartford Board of Education meeting.

By Ronni Newton

Before announcing the three finalists for 2021 Teacher of the Year at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting, West Hartford Superintendent of Schools noted that it was also Teacher Appreciation Day, and the middle of Teacher Appreciation Week.

“I can’t get across my, and our, appreciation for our teachers and all their work this year,” Moore said, praising the district’s teachers for being there for their students every day, for meeting them where they were – despite the teachers’ own fears, concerns, and loss.

Moore said more than ever before he wants to thank the teachers for their work, and as the end of the year approaches he thinks it will turn out to be West Hartford’s greatest year ever, “and that’s because of our teachers. … It’s the culture, it’s what they create in the classroom.”

The finalists for Teacher of the Year are traditionally honored at a reception prior to the first Board of Education meeting in May, but due to COVID-19 Moore instead announced at the meeting that (in alphabetical order) Chelsea Smith, Matthew West, and Lara White are this year’s candidates.

Teacher of the Year nominations come from other teachers, Moore said. “It’s a teacher-driven process.”

Nominees submit a resume, essay, and recommendations, and the finalists have a lesson videotaped and are interviewed by the Teacher of the Year Committee. Later this month, the Teacher of the Year will be officially announced.

Chelsea Smith

Smith, who has been with West Hartford Public Schools since August 2007, is a language arts teacher at Bristow Middle School, and has also taught social studies at Bristow.

She has been a presenter to a national reading conference on the topic of connectedness and is the co-author of “Book Walk: Books That Move Our Teaching Forward.”

Smith has also served on a variety of district committees, including as middle school representative to the Curriculum and Instruction Reopening Committee, SRBI/Safe School Climate Committee, Stipend Committee, Scheduling Committee, and Principal’s Advisory Committee.

Smith earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Buffalo and her 092 Certification (sixth year degree) in educational leadership from Sacred Heart University.

Matthew West

West joined West Hartford Public Schools in November 2007, and teaches English to grades 9-12 at Hall High School.

He has served as a mentor to many new teachers, has led building-wide cultural competence training and also led a statewide professional development session on implicit bias.

West also organized and moderated Hall’s Human Rights Day speaking panel, co-chaired the Safe School Climate Committee, and coordinated the National Walkout Day advisory response.

West is a graduate of Saint Michael’s College with a degree in English, received his master’s from the University of New Haven, and earned his 092 Certification in educational leadership from Sacred Heart University.

Lara White

White is also a Hall High School teacher. She has taught social studies at Hall to grades 9-12 since 2015 and was chosen as graduation speaker for the Class of 2020.

She assisted in development and implementation of the Future Educators of Diversity program for West Hartford Public Schools, increased enrollment of underserved students in AP courses, created and facilitated several collaborative inquiry teams on culturally responsive instruction, and established the ethnic affairs position with the West Hartford Education Association.

White received the CEA’s Henry Barnard Memorial Award in 2019-2020, and was a teacher representative and contributing member of the district’s Open Schools Committee, strategizing and planning for scheduling and logistics for the 2020-2021 school year.

White earned her Ed. D in educational leadership from the University of Connecticut, and her dissertation was “a case study examining how experienced teachers adopt culturally responsive instruction through participating in a collaborative inquiry team.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Columbia University, her master’s from the University of Vermont, and her 092 Certification in educational leadership from Central Connecticut State University.

“The committee has a difficult task ahead of them as they do every year because these are three fine educators … just the best of the best,” Moore said.

Ann Graboski was announced as the 2020 Teacher of the Year and honored during a virtual ceremony in June 2020.

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