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Conway teacher now eligible for national award

By Tammy Keith

This article was published October 15, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.

CONWAY — Randi House of Conway said life has been pretty calm since she was named in September as Arkansas Teacher of the Year in a surprise presentation at Theodore Jones Elementary School.

But it’s about to get busy again.

“After that day, it being on a Friday (Sept. 29), I had the weekend to let it sink in,” she said. “It’s back to normal, which I needed. The whole beginning of the school year was another step in the journey.”

The kindergarten teacher will meet this week with 2017 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Courtney

Cochran of Van Buren and 2016 Arkansas Teacher of the Year Meghan Ables of Stuttgart to get their help to submit her application for National Teacher

of the Year.

The National Teacher of the Year announcement will be made in the spring, House said, but she can’t even think about that now.

Although House’s tenure as the state honoree will officially start July 1, she has a couple of trips to make this school year, including going with other state winners to the National Teacher of the Year Conference at the end of January and the beginning of February in California. In the spring, she will go to Washington, D.C., to meet the president and tour the U.S. Department of Education.

House described being named Arkansas Teacher of the Year as exciting and a “mind-blowing opportunity.”

“When you’ve done something for 14 years, it’s going to be a huge change,” she said.

House, a native of Batesville, is starting her seventh year at Theodore Jones Elementary School, a high-poverty school with about 80 percent of its students on free or reduced-price lunches. She also taught in the Jonesboro School District and was hired to open the first preschool in the East Poinsett County School District, where she taught for two years.

She was named Conway School District Teacher of the Year, then one of 14 regional finalists and made the cut as one of four semifinalists before winning the title of Arkansas Teacher of the Year.

While House travels as

Arkansas Teacher of the Year, a teacher will be hired on a one-year contract to take House’s classroom. The year will be an adjustment for House’s daughter, Essie, who will be a fourth-grader

and in her last year at Theodore Jones. House’s husband, Travis, will hold down the fort and take care of Essie and the couple’s other daughter, Lottie.

“I’ll be keeping the road hot,” House said. In 2018-19, she will travel to school districts across the state to see various classrooms, serve on committees and be an ex-officio member of the Arkansas State Board of Education.

House said the purpose of the year is twofold, to learn and teach.

“Honestly, a lot of it is for me to learn, especially learn the business end of school, the politics end, how that happens at the Capitol. In the classroom, you don’t see that,” she said. “I’m going to be learning the nuts and bolts of education. Also, part of it is to share my story and share the successes I’ve had.”

Theodore Jones Principal Tammy Woosley has called House a phenomenal teacher and praised her innovative teaching methods.

“She is just that out-of-the-box thinker. The first thing she wants is to get to know her kids as people; then she knows how to teach them,” Woosley said.

One day last week, Woosley said, House read Goldilocks and the Three Bears to her students. When they were out of the classroom, “she messed the room up and said, ‘Y’all,

Goldilocks has been here,’” Woosley said.

Woosley said it is amazing to sit in House’s classroom and experience her teaching.

“All of a sudden, every kid is in the palm of her hand,”

Woosley said.

House wrote a grant to provide wobble stools and yoga balls for the students to sit on, and she said it’s made a difference in helping them sit and concentrate.

She also wrote and was awarded a grant for an Osmo gaming system, one for each kindergarten class. She said students play games that help improve their math skills and build words — there’s even a coding game on the system.

House’s students cook every other Friday, and they have a garden. She takes her students on virtual trips via the internet. They’ve toured the Sistine Chapel; then she had them paint under their desks to get an idea of what it was like for Michelangelo.

She also attends their soccer games and birthday parties whenever she can.

“She carries them in her heart,” Woosley said. The only drawback of House’s honor is being without her for a year, the principal said.

“We can’t wait for her to tell her story that, hopefully, will change the lives of so many kids and educators all over the state. And she will come back with such a wealth of knowledge of things we might not have thought of,” Woosley said.

At the end of House’s tenure as Arkansas Teacher of the Year, “I get my classroom back,” she said. “I think that’s where my heart is. That’s my plan, is to come right back into this room.”

And everything will be back to normal.

Unless she’s chosen as National Teacher of the Year, of course.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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