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Teacher has local roots, international reach

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Tara Hefner, a teacher at Courtland Elementary School, is crowned by Carol Flenard, assistant superintendent of instruction for Spotsylvania County schools, in celebration of being selected as one of eight finalists for state teacher of the year on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. (GRIFFIN MOORES / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Spotsylvania County’s teacher of the year, Tara Hefner, is now in the running for the title of Virginia’s top educator.

Hefner is one of eight teachers chosen statewide as a candidate for state teacher of the year.

Hefner found out about her nomination Thursday, when principal of Courtland Elementary School Sherri Steele, Superintendent Scott Baker, her husband, her parents and other members of the division surprised her with balloons and a banner in her classroom.

“It was completely overwhelming,” Hefner said. “I was completely surprised. It was amazing having them there supporting me.”

She told her 21 second-graders that if she was chosen teacher of the year, they’ll be Virginia’s students of the year.

Hefner and Steele have a long history at the school on Smith Station Road near Courtland High School. Hefner, 26, attended elementary school at Courtland and Steele was her fourth-grade teacher.

“It’s very exciting,” Steele said. “You always wonder when they’re little what they’ll grow up to be like and do. She’s incredibly sweet and patient. Tara has a heart of gold.”

The finalists for teacher of the year were selected from candidates nominated by school divisions in each of the state’s eight superintendents’ regions. Hefner represents Region Three, which includes 17 localities in the Fredericksburg area, Northern Neck and some in the Middle Peninsula.

The candidates submitted portfolios highlighting their accomplishments, educational philosophies and community activities, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

A panel, including classroom teachers, representatives of professional and educational associations, the business community and 2013 Virginia teacher of the year Kathryn B. Galford of Chesapeake reviewed the portfolios and selected the eight regional teachers of the year.

The panel will interview each of the eight teachers next month to select the 2014 Virginia Teacher of the Year. The decision will be announced during an awards ceremony to be held Oct. 11 in Richmond.

If she is chosen as Virginia teacher of the year, Hefner hopes to make students in the state more globally aware.

She is the only teacher at Courtland who is fluent in Spanish and has taught in countries such as Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

Over the summer, she went to China and participated in a class to increase her knowledge of that country so she could better teach her second-graders.

“I want to bring awareness of a more global approach to education,” she said. “To embrace students’ cultures and to understand that they need special attention to bridge the gap between ESL and American [students].”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

 

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