WAXHAW, NC – The last two years in education have been challenging on a local and national scale. Teachers have shown patience, adaptability, and a love for their profession and students despite the challenges. One of those teachers is Cheryl Konopka, this year’s Union County Public Schools (UCPS) 2022 Teacher of the Year.
After two years of virtual celebrations, UCPS leaders were excited to bring back an in-person Teacher of the Year program.
On May 24, during a celebration held at the Dowd Center Theatre, UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan, principals, senior leaders and Board of Education members recognized all the finalists.
“Ms. Konopka is a phenomenal choice for our Teacher of the Year. She goes above and beyond every single day for her students and brings excitement to learning,” said Dr. Houlihan. “She’ll do a great job serving in this capacity.”
Konopka was overjoyed when she was named Teacher of the Year.
“I work with some of the most dedicated and passionate educators around. They embody grace, commitment and love. I’m thankful that my administrators allow me to be my passionate self,” said Konopka. “Teaching is hard, but what other profession allows you to create a little family for 180 days? What other profession allows you to help a child be all that they can be even when they don’t see it? What other profession allows you to see a child you have taught come back years later and tell you something you did or said made an impact? Teaching is a calling, and I feel blessed to call myself an educator.”
Konopka is a fifth-grade teacher at Rocky River Elementary. A graduate of Canisius College and Wingate University, she has been an educator since 2007. In her classroom, Konopka creates a family atmosphere. She also presents real-world tasks that require problem-solving skills and provides thought-provoking lessons and high-quality debates.
Creating connections and a collaborative classroom setting is critical to her students’ learning. Morning meetings are an example of class community for the “Konopka Crew,” as she affectionately refers to them. It is the most significant time of day, according to Konopka.
“It begins with the Konopka Crew chant and reciting our class mission statement, both student-written. Students become stakeholders in their learning when they create and embrace a mission statement,” said Konopka. “Leadership comes in many forms. I am proud to be part of a Leader in Me school and a staff leader for our Lighthouse Team. Morning meetings also include video and discussions targeting Stephen Covey’s book, The 8th Habits.”
Konopka makes it a point to learn her students’ hobbies outside the classroom.
“I have attended various sporting events, plays and dance recitals to show students that I want to know them. The early establishment of a classroom culture allows students to understand that they are a part of a family,” said Konopka. “I am beyond passionate about making sure my students want to come to school every day, not just for academics, but for a place they feel loved and valued as individuals.”
Konopka received a one-year lease on a new car from Union County KIA, a Keffer Automotive Company, a Publix gift card, a $500 Target gift card, a Team UCPS t-shirt and $1,000 awareded by the Union County Education Foundation.
The Beginning Teacher of the Year program recognizes new teachers in their first three years of employment who demonstrate excellence in the classroom.
The Beginning Teacher of the Year recipient, Virginia Griffith of Cuthbertson Middle, was also recognized at the event. A graduate of Appalachian State University, she has been an educator since 2021. Griffith previously worked as a student-teacher at Watauga High School in Boone, where she taught standard civics and economics classes. She currently teaches seventh-grade social studies.
“I’m completely overwhelmed. I am passionate about teaching and to be recognized for it shows that my efforts are paying off,” said Griffith. “I’m at a loss for words right now. I didn’t know anyone when I first moved here. It’s all been a whirlwind. To end the year on this note is phenomenal.”
The Union County Education Foundation awarded Griffith $500. She also received a Team UCPS t-shirt and a Publix gift card.
“Ms. Griffith is energetic, very bright, and a go-getter. She deserves to be named our New Teacher of the Year,” said Dr. Houlihan. “I’m very proud of all our educators. Congratulations to all of them!”
Both winners will represent UCPS in the regional teacher programs.