Worthington News

Compassionate teaching

Bluffsview's Payne earns Gary Smith award


A teacher who is described as "a petite whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm" has won the 2013 Gary Smith Compassionate Teaching Award.

Julie Payne, who teaches at Bluffsview Elementary School, accepted the award Monday morning, Aug. 19, at the school.

Nicole Gnezda, widow of Gary Smith, made the announcement during the Aug. 16 convocation.

The award is given annually in honor of Smith, who taught and coached in Worthington for 31 years until his death in 1998.

He was known for bringing out the best in students who were falling through the cracks of the system.

"Gary believed in caring about kids, and that meant paying attention to them as unique, important people," Gnezda said.

Smith's family gives the award annually because teachers who work above and beyond an expected effort and school hours are rarely recognized for their effort, Gnezda said.

Payne was chosen based on nominations from the community. She knows each student learns differently so she tailors educational plans to individual students, developing creative solutions for children, Gnezda said.

Payne volunteers to run a social skills group on her lunch hour and has made calls from the hospital room of a loved one to also take care of her students, according to nominating forms.

"She amazes colleagues daily, not only with her compassion and concern for her students but (also) for all who cross her path," Gnezda said.

She urged the teachers at convocation to go into their own classrooms aware of their importance to each student. She said she hopes students might recognize their teachers' importance, as well.

"Be awesome and have fun," she told the teachers.