The Westerville City School District made a sweep of the ThisWeek Community News/Columbus Parent 2019 Teachers of the Year awards.
For this year's Teachers of the Year awards (the sixth year for the project), readers nominated educators from school districts all over central Ohio.
Nominations were taken online Jan. 2-30. The editorial staffs from Columbus Parent and ThisWeek reviewed all of the submissions, did some independent research and chose 15 finalists, who were voted on by the public March 7-27. Three winners were chosen: one each at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
This year's winners are Jim Ledford, Alcott Elementary School; Eric "Scott" Delligatti, Genoa Middle School; and Caitlin "Cait" Maloy, Westerville North High School. All will be recognized in the summer issue of Columbus Parent, which will be available in June.
In Ledford's first-grade class at Alcott, students are likely to learn a lesson from a puppet or be heard singing songs from "A Smile is Contagious," a CD the class produced earlier this year.
Ledford, 56, takes the standard curriculum up a notch, teaching his students through music and drama. The teacher, songwriter and guitar instructor from Westerville was the elementary school winner.
"I've taught first grade my whole career," Ledford said. "I am certified to teach first through eighth grade, but got my first job teaching first grade and have been here ever since."
He's been at Alcott since it opened 17 years ago and previously taught for 13 years at Westerville's Hawthorne Elementary School. Ledford spent the first two years of his career in his hometown of Cleveland.
"I feel like first grade is one of the most important grades in a child's life," he said. "They are learning so many important academic concepts that are crucial to success in these content areas as they get older, as well as social/character skills important in becoming good students. As a teacher, you can set a child up for success academically, socially and in so many other ways."
Ledford graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in 1986 and earned a master's degree in children's literature from Ohio State University in 1995.
"I got into teaching because my mom was a kindergarten teacher and I loved going into her classroom to visit," Ledford said. "I actually started out as a secondary education English major. I wanted to teach English and coach basketball. After being put in an elementary field experience my first year of college and really loving it, I changed my major to elementary ed."
Alcott Principal Earl Rahm said Ledford is one of the most creative teachers he has worked with, even dressing up on occasion to take on the role of a special "guest."
"Not only does he incorporate music within his lessons, but he uses puppets and brings in 'guest' teachers," Rahm said. "Mr. Ledford is always thinking of new ways to teach a lesson and provide learning opportunities that children will not forget."
Fellow first-grade teacher Marty Somerfeldt has taught with Ledford since Alcott opened and has known him for more than 25 years.
"Jim's style is to use his unique talents to make learning engaging and fun," Somerfeldt said. "His use of music, songs and puppets are pretty well known, but he is also a patient and perceptive teacher when dealing with the social and emotional needs of the young children in his class."
Alcott parent Jieney Sieck said her daughter, Josephine, adored being in Ledford's class this year.
"I was PTA president at Alcott a few years back, and I have known 'Mr. L' for years," she said. "He is such an exceptional educator. Anyone who spends a few minutes in his classroom will immediately understand why."
The Westerville Education Foundation nominated Ledford, writing that his positive nature, words of affirmation and recognition of students who do the right thing help reinforce and encourage positive behavior.
"In addition to holding events such as the Christmas concert and CD release party to grow each child's performance skills, he arranges for his students to 'open' a Mexican restaurant in which each child plays a crucial role in running the business," the nomination said.
Ledford was honored at an April 24 assembly attended by Superintendent John Kellogg and Barbara Wallace, the district's executive director of elementary academic affairs. Rahm staged a gathering to congratulate second-graders on completing state testing and asked Ledford and his students to perform a song to kick off the event.
"The students were so excited to be a part of the award, and they felt proud of me and themselves," Ledford said.
Ledford and his wife, Shelli, have two children: Zach, who is graduating this year with a degree in education from Ohio State, and Kayla, who is married and just had a baby, Violet.
A midlife career change took Delligatti out of the corporate world and into the classroom. When his company was sold, the engineer decided to take his passion for science and put it to use in a new way.
That passion, among other qualities, led Delligatti to be named the middle school winner..
The recognition took Delligatti, who teaches sixth- and eighth-grade science, by surprise -- though he said he was "thrilled" and "humbled" by the honor.
"It's one of those things," he said. "Humbled is the best word. The kids kept asking, 'Why don't you want to win?' When you work with great people, you don't feel deserving."
The Gahanna resident, 53, said he works among fantastic teachers at Genoa, whose staff he joined in 2008 to teach sixth- and eighth-grade science and math.
Fellow sixth-grade science teacher Jessica Meginnis said Delligatti devotes a lot of extra time to his job and genuinely cares about his students.
"He goes above and beyond, remembering things about them and their siblings, how they did in a particular quarter and encouraging them," she said. "He has a really high expectation for them with assignments and things, but he also supports them along the way. He makes certain they reach whatever goal they want to reach."
Meginnis said Delligatti always keeps parents in the loop and is enthusiastic about the topic he teaches.
"He has a real passion for science, and he wants the kids to enjoy it, too, whether that's their favorite subject or not," she said. "He definitely gets them thinking about it."
Meginnis, who was in her third year of teaching when Delligatti came to Genoa, served as his mentor.
"He has all kinds of ideas, and he will share them in a heartbeat and work with any of us on the sixth-grade team," she said. "Scott is very deserving of this award."
Delligatti was honored April 26 during a surprise presentation in his classroom, which was attended by Kellogg and M. Scott Reeves, the district's executive director of secondary academic affairs.
Principal Scott Gaddis recalls one of his first experiences with Delligatti when he joined Genoa a year ago.
"He was teaching summer intervention for our students," Gaddis said. "I got to see his passion for teaching and his creativeness and the interaction of the students with him." Gaddis said former students and families routinely come back to the school to tell Delligatti how much of an impact he has had on their lives.
Delligatti was nominated by an administrator, who wrote that his classroom is a safe learning space where students feel comfortable taking risks and learning.
"Mr. Delligatti is an extremely caring teacher who works tirelessly to help get his students to achieve their fullest potential. Former students are always coming back to check in and let him know how they are doing. This shows how strong of a relationship he builds with the students he teaches and their families," the nomination said.
Education wasn't the first career choice for the 1983 Gahanna Lincoln High School graduate. Delligatti got a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Ohio State University in 1988 and worked as an engineer at General Electric for many years.
"GE sold the business I worked for, and there was an opportunity to do something I was passionate about," he said. "I started going to school and ended up being a math and science teacher."
He earned a master's in education from Otterbein College, as the school was then known, in 2008.
"You teach for the kids," he said.
He said the students make the job fun, interesting, challenging and rewarding.
"The great thing about this age group is they're growing out of elementary age," Delligatti said. "They're becoming the person they're going to be. It's fun to watch how they grow."
Delligatti and his wife, Stephanie, have a son, Sam, who recently graduated from Ohio State, and a daughter, Emily, who is a college student.
Innovative, inspiring and exceptional are words colleagues use to describe Maloy, a Westerville North High School science teacher who was named the high school winner.
Maloy, 30, has taught science for seven years at North, and she's also known for spearheading the school's Recycling Club that collects paper and plastic materials each week throughout the building.
"All of Cait's students absolutely love her and respect her," said Erin Morckel, who also teaches science at North. "She has kids in her room all day long. A lot of kids seek advice from her. She's really relatable."
Even though she has been teaching AP environmental science for years, Morckel said, Maloy never does the same lesson twice.
"She's always striving to be a better teacher," she said.
Morckel collaborates with Maloy as part of a professional learning team.
"She inspires me to improve my lessons," Morckel said. "She's very inspiring in terms of her desire to get kids outside and get kids to care about the environment. She's always incorporating current events."
Maloy said she got into education initially because her AP biology teacher, who was also her basketball coach, helped her discover her passion for science.
"I found that teaching was a way I could incorporate many of the things that I enjoy doing: helping others, teaching about the environment and just being involved in general," she said.
A 2007 graduate of Geneva High School in northeast Ohio, Maloy earned a bachelor's degree in science from Ohio State in 2011 and a master's degree in education from the university in 2012.
During her student teaching experience at Westerville North, Maloy was mentored by Lyndsey Manzo, the high school science curriculum specialist.
"Without her early guidance, I would be nowhere near the teacher I am today," Maloy said.
Manzo said she has been fortunate to watch Maloy grow as a teacher.
"She has taken an environmental science program and really made it blossom throughout the school," Manzo said. "It's not just with the kids who take her classes, but also the other kids who join her for other projects."
If there's a new way to do something to help students engage with the course material, Manzo said, Maloy figures out how to do it.
"She really does a good job of making sure she can reach every student and help them all succeed," she said.
Maloy was honored at an April 30 gathering at the school, which was attended by Reeves.
Her nomination from the Westerville Education Foundation noted that Maloy runs a community-based composting program that draws upon local resources such as the city of Westerville, Otterbein University, Java Central and the Westerville Area Resource Ministry. In the past 18 months, the program has processed more than 20 tons of food waste.
"Ms. Maloy's unique style of teaching and social responsibility is not just good for students, but she is an asset to the entire Westerville City School District community," the nomination said.
Principal Kurt Yancey said Maloy is an exceptional teacher who was not afraid to take on the challenge of AP environmental science when a former teacher took a job in the district's curriculum office.
"She does an amazing job of finding ways to inspire her students to do their best, and they truly want to work hard for her," he said. "I am most impressed with the relationships she builds with each and every one of her students. This is the greatest reason for her success."
Maloy, a Westerville resident, said her favorite part of the job is working with the students and helping foster their appreciation for the planet.
"Being an environmental science teacher, I have the unique opportunity to actually get my kids outside and experience nature on an almost weekly basis," she said. "It's amazing to see the appreciation students gain for the environment over the course of a year."