Wendy Burkitt, a seventh-grade teacher at Heritage Middle School, was the last of 17 teachers in the Hilliard City Schools to be recognized during the 2007-08 Educators for Excellence Awards banquet held at Darby High School on April 23.

Wendy Burkitt, a seventh-grade teacher at Heritage Middle School, was the last of 17 teachers in the Hilliard City Schools to be recognized during the 2007-08 Educators for Excellence Awards banquet held at Darby High School on April 23.

Starting with Alton Darby Elementary, Hilliard Alumni Association President Tom Calhoon worked his way alphabetically by school through the list of elementary teachers who were recognized with educator awards at the building level.

Rebecca Bowers, an art teacher, was presented with a certificate, followed Nancy Richter, a fourth-grade teacher at Avery; Marianne Sullivan, an English Language Learner (ELL) teacher at Beacon; Debbie Taylor, a unified arts teacher at Britton; Debbie Yontz, a reading teacher at Brown; Jane Koch, an art teacher at Darby Creek; Julie Keefer, a first-grade teacher at Hilliard Crossing; Judy Gandee, a media specialist at Hilliard Horizon; Susie Alexander, a media specialist at Hoffman Trails; Lisa Hughes, a K-5 special needs teacher at J.W. Reason; and Lynnette Gregory, an intervention specialist at Washington.

Andrea Fogt, a teacher at Hilliard City Preschool, was also recognized, before Calhoon moved on to wrestling coach Dominic Disabato at Davidson High School.

Scott Foster, a guidance counselor at Hilliard Station Sixth Grade School, Kathy Anderson, a resource room teacher at Tharp Sixth Grade School, and Jean Shackle, a seventh-grade teacher at Memorial Middle School, were recognized at the building level before Burkitt, a teacher with 31 years of experience at Heritage Middle School, was called to the front of the room.

Burkitt thought nothing of it as she stepped in front of the audience to accept her certificate.

Then Calhoon announced that she was being recognized as the districtwide Educator for Excellence.

Heritage Principal Suzanne McCoy, who nominated Burkitt, was tipped off a day or two earlier that her staff member would receive the district award, but she kept it to herself.

Burkitt has great ideas for interdisciplinary learning experiences, McCoy said, which involve a Caribbean cruise and murder mysteries involving the FBI, forensic experts and crime novels.

The mystery of who would be the Educator for Excellence was solved when Burkitt stood before the audience.

Burkitt said she grew up in the Hilliard community and has watched as buildings grow and multiply.

Two teachers from her years as a student in the district served as her inspiration, she said: Kim Shepherd and Norm Puntenney. She said they had so much passion for teaching that it made her want to make a difference in the lives of students.

All of her classes over the years have touched Burkitt in one way or another, but she will never forget the students who were with her during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The total innocence," she said. "The overwhelming shock and how we had to deal with it as a class."

On the day of the attack, Burkitt said, she was in the classroom teaching and had no idea anything disastrous was occurring in the world outside her door.

Building officials made the decision not to share the news with the students, so the staff was expected to carry on as they normally would even after they learned of the lives lost that day.

"The strange part was I was teaching a unit on conflict," Burkitt said.

Since she started teaching, Burkitt said, she has had her students write letters to themselves while they are in her class. Five years later, as they are graduating, she returns the letters they composed.

She has not gotten this year's graduating class' letters mailed yet, but the students will receive them before their Graduation Day later this month.