By Traci Chapman
For the second year in a row and only the third time in Mustang Public Schools history, a district educator has been named as one of 12 nominees for Oklahoma State Teacher of the Year.
Mustang High School teacher Chad Harper was in March named as the district’s 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year. On Monday, Harper and 11 others were advised of their inclusion as 2018 state nominees; the announcement came during EngageOK On the Road, an Oklahoma State Department of Education summer conference, held at Yukon High School.
Canyon Ridge Intermediate special education teacher Tiffany Massie was a finalist for the statewide honor last year. According to district officials, it was only the second time a Mustang teacher was a state finalist. No Mustang educator has ever been named Oklahoma Teacher of the Year and only one Canadian County teacher, Jane Kennedy of Yukon – in 1986 – has been given that honor.
A Mustang High School 1991 graduate, Harper was selected for the honor, clearly overwhelmed to be named district TOY.
“One of my professors said, ‘You’ll have a good life and you’re going to really enjoy your job if you’re meant to do it, but you’re never going to get rich, so don’t even try,’” Harper said at the time. “‘Don’t let money worry you – you’ll have a lot of rewards along the way you can’t put a price on.’
“I completely agree with that,” he said. “I have never looked back – not one day.”
On Monday, Mustang Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel was on hand in Yukon for the morning announcement. McDaniel cited Harper’s example of hard work and integrity, providing inspiration not only to his students, but to everyone he interacts with.
“He embodies all that is good about teaching – he genuinely cares about his kids and his colleagues and connects well with his students,” McDaniel said.
After working a variety of jobs after his high school graduation, it was in 1994 Harper decided that teaching was what he wanted to do. Parlaying his English education degree into secondary education – where he could also coach athletics – he took on a temporary position as construction communications teacher and never looked back. In the process, he dealt with kids with behavioral issues, family problems or other barriers to school success.
“I went in with the approach that I’m okay; you’re okay,” he said. “You’re going to get a clean slate with me and you’re probably going to get a clean slate every day.
“Yeah, I had to get on to you yesterday, but hey man, it’s all good and give me a high-five today,” Harper said.
Over the years, Harper’s class evolved, adding auto mechanics and small engine repair, as well as engineering design and STEM classes. He’s been part of the football coaching staff and can relive his love of the sport with those students, he said.
“I’m not on the field with them, but I do get to live part of that with them,” Harper said.
Other Oklahoma Teacher of the Year finalists are:
• Jill Andrews – Claremore Public Schools
• Neeli Boyd – Putnam City Schools
• Sarah Carter – Drumright Public Schools
• Rob Davis – Yukon Public Schools
• Betty Deen – Oologah-Talala Public Schools
• Donna Gradel – Broken Arrow Public Schools
• Janet Johnson – Sand Springs Schools
• Dionne Liebl – Deer Creek Schools
• Shala Marshall – Jenks Public Schools
• Christine Mueller – Moore Public Schools
• Laura Smith – Byng Public Schools
District Teachers of the Year submit admission packets to the state for consideration, which are reviewed by a panel comprised of educators, legislators and nonprofit and business representatives, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said.
The state 2018 Teacher of the Year will be announced during a Sept. 19 ceremony set at State Fair Park in Oklahoma City. The 2018 honoree will assume full-time state TOY duties beginning July 1, 2018 and will travel around the state for speaking engagements and serving as teacher ambassador, “encouraging others to enter or remain in the profession,” Hofmeister said.
No matter what the final outcome might be, Harper’s family – and his work family, as well – on Monday celebrated the MHS teacher’s selection and his accomplishments, McDaniel said.
“Chad Harper is a fantastic choice to represent the State of Oklahoma as Teacher of the Year Finalist,” the superintendent said. “We are all so proud for Chad and his family and for our entire district.
“We are excited for him and wish him the best as he competes for the State Teacher of the Year,” McDaniel said.