Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award
Goes to Christy Duncan

Christy Duncan, the ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher at Mayfield Elementary is this year’s winner of the prestigious Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award. Announcing the award at the opening session of Cleveland City Schools on July 30, Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald emphasized, “Christy’s professionalism and advocacy is a well-balanced blend of competence, passion, cordiality, creativity, kindness, sincerity, and caring.”

(Above) Dr. and Mrs. Rodney Fitzgerald, Christy Duncan and her family

Receiving awards for her passionate teaching is not foreign to Mrs. Duncan. Named twice as Mayfield’s Teacher of the Year, the Perseverance Award winner at E. L. Ross and the 2013 Regional Teacher of the Year for Pre K – 4 in Southeast TN, this teacher is currently a Finalist for the TN Department of Education’s 2013 – 14 Teacher of the Year Award.

Christy Duncan is proficient in both French and Spanish so it was natural for her to assume the position of an ESL teacher. Timing was everything as the demographic of Cleveland and Bradley County was changing. Joining the Cleveland City Schools while its ESL program was in its infancy, she assisted in choosing curriculum and technology appropriate for ESL students. She mentored new ESL personnel, working closely with classroom teachers to enable them to better understand how to teach these special students. Under this teacher’s leadership, the ELL (English Language Learner) program has flourished from 40 students in the city school district to a current number of 370 students.

Mrs. Duncan not only teaches reading and math but is a translator (using body language), a parent advocate and counselor. She keeps 73 Mayfield Elementary School ESL students who speak 10 different languages focused on learning to read and write English proficiently. In 2012, 95% of her students made gains on the ELDA test.

Because of the reputation of her successful program, parents request their children attend this school. Mayfield Elementary School currently has more ELL students than any other local school, including the middle and high schools, in part, because these particular students and parents have found an advocate in Mrs. Duncan.

Considering her greatest contribution the relationships she builds with the students’ families, she says, “While teaching their children to find their voice in English, I have given the parents a voice in an environment where they would otherwise have been silent— a contribution I believe that will impact these families for many years to come.”

Her future plans include instruction for parents to learn English and staff development for teachers struggling to teach ESL students in the regular classroom.

Christy Duncan’s commitment to students, their families, her teaching team and the process of education is evident in the principals upon which she bases her educational philosophy:

Every child can succeed
While her students might find it takes longer to master a concept, she continues to motivate them to find the keys to unlock the learning not allowing the students to say “I can’t do it”. Through her encouragement in a positive classroom environment, she coaches them and gives them the tools to figure out the answers on their own.

Every child should enjoy learning
She wants her students to look forward to coming to her classroom believing that “if I don’t enjoy a lesson, then most likely my students won’t either!” So, she looks for activities that are engaging and appeal to a variety of learning styles incorporating technology, songs, games, crafts and seasonal fun. You might observe her students dancing to a Flocabulary rap or playing a heated game of vocabulary basketball.

Every child deserves the educational opportunities that my own children had
Observing the excitement in her own children as they learned in their individual classrooms made Mrs. Duncan realize that for all the differences that exist, it is the similarities that matter the most for all students who come to school full of expectations of what they might learn that day!

Congratulations to Mrs. Christy Duncan for receiving the prestigious Lillie F. Fitzgerald Excellence in Teaching Award and the $3000 prize. Also with great appreciation for her exemplary role as teacher, mentor, advocate, encourager, and friend.

(above) Dr. and Mrs. Rodney Fitzgerald and Mrs. Christy Duncan