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Local Educator Wins National Award

Cumberland County Schools (CCS) veteran educator Kellie Pfaff Perkins has been named Teacher of the Year by the National Grange, which is the oldest agriculture and rural advocacy organization in America.

Perkins, a visual arts teacher at Terry Sanford High School, was named in late December as the national organization’s winner of the annual award because of her dedication to her subject, students, and fellow educators. Perkins called the national recognition “enormous” and “flabbergasting,” and said she is proud that an organization that advocates for lifelong learning has selected her for this honor.

Perkins, who is the Terry Sanford High School Chair of the Fine and Performing Arts Department, advises the schools’ National ART Honor Society, is the P2 Positivity Initiative Lead Teacher, and a member of the school’s Global Studies faculty. She also serves on CCS' Arts Education Leadership & Curriculum Team and the Very Special Arts Planning Committee.

"Ms. Perkins has taken the lead on various ad hoc committees this year to assist all teachers with the transition to remote teaching," said Tom Hatch, the principal at Terry Sanford High. "In doing so, this has helped her exemplify distinguished teaching practices in which her students have benefited." 

Since the pandemic started, Perkins has spent more than 160 hours in a variety of continuing education professional development courses to learn how to teach virtually and become a trainer in Cisco Webex and Canvas. The National Board Certified Visual Art Teacher and Congressional Scholar, has used that training to not just enhance her own teaching, but to serve as a leader in her school and district for other educators.

“I needed to learn all the technological skills and methodologies I did so that I could help everybody else, which was my intent: to enable others to be successful. I want everyone to be successful, not just students, but faculty and staff as well,” Perkins said. “I was like a sponge, soaking up all the information I could.”

Perkins, a Winston-Salem, North Carolina, native and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at the Chapel Hill and Pembroke campuses for her BFA and MA, respectively, has been extremely active in developing virtual courses and a variety of digital lessons making them available for others.

“I want to leave a legacy of learning that will help other people,” she said.
She is also known for finding ways to highlight the talents of her students and connect their artistic abilities and interests to real-world applications.

As a Kenan Fellow, she helped lead students from her school in the creation of the beloved “Fayetteville: Past, Present and Future” mural, a way to get students engaged in the community and see that art is “more than just taking art class, but can overlap with everything you do in your life.”

Perkins said the award helps validate not only her work but the many mentors she has had along the way in her 39 years of teaching. “I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today had it not been for everyone who has impacted my life since I entered my profession. I wouldn’t be who I am without other people’s guidance, resources, advice – everybody molds us into who we are,” she said.

Perkins was initially nominated by Lisa Packer of Cape Fear Grange, and advanced as a national finalist after winning North Carolina State Grange’s contest. National Grange Community Service Director Pete Pompper said Perkins’ resume and nominating material was extremely impressive.

“You could just tell by looking at the nominating form and resume that she is an asset to her entire school district and profession,” Pompper said. “She’s the type of teacher you know is making an impact on students’ lives far into the future, and we’re very proud to name her Teacher of the Year.”

While she is tremendously grateful for the recognition, Perkins said that was not her goal. “I never set out to win an award. I just love helping people in my school district, and I love being a leader in our arts education department for my county.”