On Monday, February 8 during the regular board meeting, three teachers from Ashdown Public Schools were recognized as being the 2020-2021 Teachers of the Year for their respective campuses.

Shawnda Chester was selected by her peers as Teacher of the Year (TOY) for Ashdown Elementary, Jamie Fleming for Ashdown Junior High School, and Melanie McGraw for Ashdown High School.

Shawnda Chester was selected as the Ashdown School District Teacher of the Year. After the announcement, she graciously thanked the board, administration, and her fellow TOY winners for all of their support over the years and how honored she was to be selected along with Ms. Fleming and Mrs. McGraw.

Ms. Chester started her employment with Ashdown Public Schools as a school bus driver in 2004, since then she has been a substitute teacher at all campuses, 9th-grade math remediation teacher, and computer technician all while working her way through college. She earned her Associate’s Degree in General Studies from Cossatot Community College in 2007 and earned her Bachelor’s Degree of Applied Arts and Sciences from Texas A&M University-Texarkana in 2017. She started her first year at L.F. Henderson for the 2017-2018 school year as a 5th-grade math and science teacher and continued on with her education. She earned her Master’s of Arts in Teaching Degree from Southern Arkansas University in August 2018. This is her fourth year to teach 5th-grade math and her seventeenth year to drive a bus for Ashdown Public Schools. She has a passion for sharing knowledge and for helping students build a desire to push through adversities one step at a time.

Ms. Chester has 3 children and 3 bonus children who have all attended Ashdown Schools for their entire school career.

Jamie Fleming, AJHS TOY, is a 2008 graduate of Ashdown High School and currently in her 9th year of teaching. She received her Bachelor of Science in Education from Arkansas State University and holds three teaching certifications: 7-12 Social Studies, 7-12 Theatre, and English as a Second Language. While at ASU, she was a member of the history academic honor society Phi Alpha Theta and was awarded the Outstanding BSE Achievement from the history department in 2012. She previously taught theatre at North Heights Junior High and was a high school sports coach. About teaching history, Ms. Fleming said, “I have always had a connection with history. It started from the time I was a little kid watching the History Channel with my father and the connection got deeper when I had Mrs. Murphy Cauthron was my history teacher for three years in high school. I’ve always felt drawn to the past because with an understanding of the past comes a better ability to empathize with humankind. Many times, I hear other adults groan when I say, ‘Yes, I am a junior high history teacher.’ My hope is to never be the source of bad memories for my students. I would like them to remember some dates, but what I am striving for is to teach the past in such an interesting way they will learn more than mere facts. My goal for students is for them to understand the impact of past events and how it is echoing in our lives today.” She quoted Thomas Paine as once saying, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” She ended by saying, “It is with this mindset that I approach my classroom each day.”

Melanie Rice McGraw, AHS TOY, graduated from Ashdown High School in 1990.  After graduation from AHS, she graduated from East Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies and has her Master’s of Science in Education in Educational Leadership from Arkansas State University.  Mrs. McGraw has taught Art for 16 years in our district along with teaching EAST.  According to AHS Principal Kay York, “Since she began teaching art at the high school three years ago, art classes have expanded to include ceramics.  With the help of grants from Arvest and the Margaret Daniel Educational Foundation, Mrs. McGraw was able to purchase potter wheels and a pugmill/extruder to enhance the ceramics program.  She has received other donations from the community to include precious art manuals and art materials from the late Mrs. Kippy Wilson and ceramic molds from Mrs. Fern Green of Foreman.  Her classes are at maximum capacity each year.”

Mrs. McGraw is married to Fred McGraw, has three boys, and a granddaughter.

Ashdown Superintendent Casey Nichols said, “I could not be prouder of this group of teachers. They go above and beyond each and every day to educate our students and to show them how much they care for them.  They love, protect, and help each and every student, they know our students and meet them where they are to give them what is needed in order for them to grow into educated and productive citizens.  We are so blessed to have these three talented educators in our district.”

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