Tiffany Marsh, a vocal music teacher at Lexington's Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, said she was surprised this week when she was named 2019 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year.
"I don't know what special thing I've done. I feel like I do the same thing as every other teacher in Kentucky and work hard for our students," said Marsh.
But Marsh acknowledges that she pushes the importance of arts education and music education in Kentucky.
"It's a part of education that is tremendously important because of the different skills that students learn — the teamwork, the leadership building, the creativity," Marsh said. "It prepares these students for real life in a lot of circumstances. It can be carried through in any avenue they decide to go, whether its music or not."
Marsh said it's "very disheartening" when music and arts "is one of the first things that is cut" when budget reductions are made.
Marsh has taught vocal music at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School for three-and-a-half years and taught at Western Hills High School in Frankfort for ten years prior to that. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Louisville and attended a College Board Advanced Placement Summer Institute on AP Music Theory at Morehead State.
Valvoline and the Kentucky Department of Education, who co-sponsor the awards, made the announcement of Marsh's award Tuesday at a ceremony held at the Berry Mansion in Frankfort. Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton; Kentucky Interim Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis and Sam Mitchell, chief executive officer of Valvoline, made the presentation, a Kentucky Department of Education news release said.
Jessica Dueñas, a 10-year teaching veteran who has taught special education classes for three years at Oldham County Middle School, was named the 2019 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. NyRee D. Clayton-Taylor, a creative writing teacher at Phillis Wheatley Elementary in Jefferson County, received the 2019 Elementary School Teacher of the Year. The three joined 21 other teachers from across the state honored with 2019 Valvoline Teacher Achievement Awards.
Clayton-Taylor and Marsh received $3,000 each. Marsh, 38 of Midway, said she planned to put a portion of that in her child's college education fund.
Dueñas received $10,000. The Kentucky Department of Education will provide a sabbatical or suitable alternative for Dueñas, who also will represent the state in the 2019 National Teacher of the Year competition, officials said.
Lewis said in a news release that the teachers "represent the best of the teaching profession and they deserve to be celebrated.”
The remaining 21 winners in the Kentucky Teacher Achievement Awards each received $500 cash awards. They included Susan McLaughlin-Jones of Lafayette High in Fayette County, Brooke Powers of Lexington’s Beaumont Middle and Lindsey Depenbrock of Wellington Elementary in Fayette County. Applications for the program came from across the state, and the first tier of the selection process was completed in March, with 24 teachers selected as 2019 Valvoline Inc. Teacher Achievement Award winners.
The nine top scorers – three each from the elementary, middle and high school levels – were selected, and teams of educators visited their classrooms to watch them at work and to conduct personal interviews, a news release said. One of the nine was Susan E. McLaughlin-Jones , a science teacher from Lexington's Lafayette High School.
The Herald-Leader reported in November that McLaughlin-Jones had been working with three friends of high school sophomore Trinity Gay who died in 2016 in the crossfire of gun violence in Lexington. McLaughlin-Jones helped the students take the story of Trinity, their former classmate and daughter of Olympian Tyson Gay, to a national conference in Colorado.
From those nine teacher semi-finalists, three were selected as 2019 Kentucky Teachers of the Year. The selection of the overall Kentucky Teacher of the Year was based on the compilation of scores from all phases of the judging, a news release said.