COLUMBIA — When fourth- and fifth- grade teacher Greg Colman woke up Friday morning, he had no idea his Ridgeway Elementary School classroom would be bombarded by family, friends and colleagues.
Seven Columbia School District educators were surprised in their classrooms with academic excellence awards Friday morning. School district administrators and Superintendent Chris Belcher traveled to the school buildings of each of the honorees for a few minutes to surprise them in their classrooms and announce their award.
Outstanding Elementary Educators:
Grades Pre-Kindergarten to 2:
Tara Gutshall, Paxton Keeley Elementary School
Grades 3 to 5:
Greg Colman, Ridgeway Elementary School
Outstanding Middle/Junior High Educator:
Pam Didur, Oakland Junior High School
Outstanding Senior High Educator:
Janna Fick, Hickman High School
Outstanding Educator in a Specialized Area:
Mary Grupe, Rock Bridge High School
Outstanding Beginning Teacher:
Dolores Obregon, Hickman High School
Principal Amy Watkins, Parkade Elementary School
"It's really pretty emotional," Colman said. "I had a hard time talking for a while. I had no idea; they set me up pretty well."
Seventy-nine children watched Colman choke up when he learned he was an honoree. They yelled and cheered for him.
"They had a blast," Colman said. "I'll be getting high-fives all day."
Colman was also awarded a notebook full of letters of appreciation from the children, their parents and Colman's colleagues. He said he'd celebrate the award by looking through the 70-plus letters.
For more than 30 years, the Columbia Fund for Academic Excellence has awarded educators selected from nominations submitted by parents and peers.
Mary Grupe, a learning specialist at Rock Bridge High School, was also awarded Friday.
"It's a little overwhelming," Grupe said. "It made me feel incredibly grateful. Honestly, it is an intense experience to be recognized out of a group that you respect."
She didn't realize what was going on until she saw Belcher with a bouquet of flowers and her parents walk in.
"It meant a lot to receive this award from Dr. Belcher and to see him among my friends and family," she said. "I've been taken with the way that he speaks to Columbia Public School staff."
The award-winning educator has a strategy for working with "kids who really don't like school," she said.
"Speak to them like adults, because many times they have a life outside of school that demands them to act like adults, older than their peers," Grupe said. "Speak honestly with them about it and tell them the truth, and they can tell when you mean it."
Paxton Keeley Elementary School's second grade teacher Tara Gutshall took the surprising moment to reflect.
"I was humbled immediately," Gutshall said. "I was shaking. I had a moment to spend time with my mom and dad and reflect on the journey of the past five years (teaching) and the many lives that have impacted me. It is definitely a day of thanks in many ways just for the opportunity to teach kids."
The honorees received an engraved silver tray, $1,200, and will be recognized at the annual Columbia Fund for Academic Excellence banquet to be held at 6 p.m. April 12 at the Peachtree Conference Center.