High School English Teacher Named ‘Teacher of the Year’

Brian VanDerlaske, an English teacher at West Johnston High, is the recipient of the 25th Annual Flame for Learning Award.

VanDerlaske was honored at the annual Flame for Learning Banquet held on Tuesday at The Farm at 95 in Selma.

Hosted by the Johnston County Association of Chambers of Commerce, the award comes with the title of “Johnston County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year.”

“To be named Teacher of the Year is a fantastic honor. It’s great to be in a room with my peers and know that they’re doing such great work, and to know that I was selected is very humbling,” said VanDerlaske. “It’s a tremendous honor and something I’m really quite proud of.”

Brian VanDerlaske (center), an English teacher at West Johnston High, was named the the recipient of the 25th Annual Flame for Learning Award at the annual banquet held on Tuesday at The Farm at 95 in Selma. Photographed with VanDerlaske are Johnston County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow (left) and West Johnston High Principal Jennifer Swartz (right).

VanDerlaske was recognized for his best practice, “Kindness and Gratitude Project.” VanDerlaske said the project involves having his students go out and commit three acts of kindness and then finding a way to frame that into a professional presentation.

“This project teaches the students public speaking skills, where they have to be on stage, have all eyes on them, and talk about what they’ve accomplished,” said VanDerlaske.

VanDerlaske said he likes to find ways to relate to his students and make sure they are engaged in the lessons he is teaching. He said it is important for him to get feedback from his students, so he knows that his lessons are working.

“A typical day in my classroom is filled with a lot of energy,” said VanDerlaske. “I like to make sure my students know that I’m there for them. I like to be active, involved, and to know how they’re doing.”

As the Flame for Learning Award winner VanDerlaske received a cash award of $2,500, along with $500 from the Johnston County Education Foundation. He will go on to compete for the North Carolina Teacher of the Year, beginning with regional competition in the fall of 2018.

“We commend all of our semifinalists on being recognized for best instructional practices in the classroom,” said Johnston County Public School Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow. “Congratulations to this year’s Flame For Learning Award recipient, Brian VanDerlaske, for his innovation, commitment, and dedication to the students at West Johnston High.”

The three finalists for the award were Kelly Bradshaw, Math teacher at South Johnston High School – Best Practice: “The Magic of Collaborative Learning with Positive Behavioral Support”; Tinkia Ruffin, Math teacher at Selma Middle School – “Flexible Learning Groups”; and Allen Williams, U.S. History teacher at West Johnston High School – “American Revolution Escape Room.” Each of the three finalists received $500, and the schools of the award recipient and finalists each received $500.

The Johnston County Association of Chambers of Commerce adopted the Flame for Learning Award 25 years ago because of the important role that teachers play in developing and educating children. In so doing, it has been the goal of the local chambers to support and elevate the teaching profession in the school district. This award recognizes outstanding creativity and innovation of teachers and the impact they are having on their students.

The 2018 Annual Flame for Learning Award finalists were recognized at a ceremony on Tuesday, April 24. Those who were photographed on the front row (from left) are Johnston County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow, finalist and Selma Middle teacher Tinkia Ruffin, finalist and South Johnston High teacher Kelly Bradshaw, and the Chick-Fil-A of Smithfield Cow. Those who were photographed on the back row (from left) are finalist and West Johnston High teacher Allen Williams, the 2018 Flame For Learning Award recipient and West Johnston High teacher Brian VanDerlaske, and Johnston County Board of Education Chairman Mike Wooten.

Hundreds of teachers were nominated and were asked to submit a “best practice” that they used in the classroom. A selection committee named 20 semifinalists after reviewing the best practices, without knowledge of the teacher’s name, address, or school. The 20 semifinalists later participated in an interview process to determine the recipient and the finalists.

The remaining 16 semifinalists for the 2018 Flame for Learning Award received $250 each, and they are:

Alexandra Canady – Powhatan Elementary

LiAnn Cheong – Riverwood Elementary

Lindsey Dotzel – South Johnston High

Tracy Finch – Riverwood Middle

Erin Haskins – Riverwood Elementary

Gardner Johnson – Innovation Academy

Bethany Jones – Smithfield-Selma High

Morgan Jones – Micro Elementary

Jennifer Medlin – Riverwood Elementary

Christina Nait Saidi – Wilson’s Mills Elementary

Danielle Reichard – Powhatan Elementary

Mary Catherine Roberts – Powhatan Elementary

Lori Sharpe – McGee’s Crossroads Elementary

Stacey Sharron – Riverwood Elementary

Kimberly Smith – Riverwood Elementary

Jennifer Thorne – Clayton Middle

Chick-fil-A of Smithfield was the presenting sponsor for the 2018 Flame for Learning Award. In addition, there were 60 Johnston County businesses, civic organizations, and community members that helped to sponsor this year’s event.

“We appreciate our chambers of commerce, event sponsors, and the Johnston County Education Foundation for all they do to support public education in our schools,” said Renfrow.

The 20 Flame for Learning Award semifinalists stand together after being recognized. On the front row (from left) are JCPS Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow, Mary Catherine Roberts, LiAnn Cheong, Christina Nait Saidi, Morgan Jones, Bethany Jones, and the Chick-fil-A Cow of Smithfield. On the middle row are Alexandra Canady, Tinkia Ruffin, Jennifer Medlin, Erin Haskins, Tracy Finch, Lori Sharpe, and Lindsey Dotzel. On the back row are Danielle Reichard, Brian VanDerlaske, Gardner Johnson, Jennifer Thorne, Kimberly Smith, Stacey Sharron, Kelly Bradshaw, and Allen Williams.

As the 2018 Flame for Learning Award recipient, VanDerlaske will serve as a role model and ambassador for educators across the district.

“As the Johnston County Public Schools Teacher of the Year I most look forward to meeting people from other areas that are representing their districts and taking from them what I can to make myself better,” said VanDerlaske. “I also hope to be able to offer up to them some of my best practices.”

VanDerlaske made sure to thank his fellow West Johnston High teacher, Emily Scott, who is the 2014 Flame for Learning Award recipient. He also wanted to thank his principal, Jennifer Swartz, and his students for helping him be the best teacher he could be.