Searcy School District Superintendent Diane Barrett and McRae Elementary School Principal James Gurchiek surprised Christyn Henderson, a third-grade teacher at McRae Elementary School, with a visit to her front door steps Thursday to inform her that she was named the district’s 2020-21 School Teacher of the Year.

Barrett, during a Facebook live report, said Henderson will be Searcy’s representative in the state competition for teacher of the year. She presented Henderson with flowers during their visit.”Oh my goodness,” was Henderson’s immediate response.

Barrett told Henderson she was “innovative” and that’s what the district is looking for. Barrett said Henderson works very hard, even on weekends, to help other teachers.

“Thank you so much, wow, wow,” Henderson said.

Being open to all different sorts of technology, especially during the COVID-19 protocols, Barrett said Henderson is willing to try anything new and always supports her fellow teachers.

Gurchiek said Henderson started her teaching career at McRae Elementary School and has been there for four years.

“She’s just one of those teachers with a lot of ambition that wanted to make a difference with the students that came into her classroom,” he said. “She likes to do a lot of hands-on activities; just to where the kids, whenever they can experience the education, they’ll retain it so much better than just answering questions on a test or a worksheet or something like that. She wants her kids to be actively involved with the lessons that she does.”

The third grade each year does a living museum and Gurchiek said Henderson is actively involved with that.

“The kids learn all about research by researching a character (in history) and they also just find some personalities of that individual,” Gurchiek said, adding that the students even learn about the clothes those characters in history were wearing back then. “After they get all their research done, they kind of like write a paper and then also create a poster about this individual and therefore the activity of the living museum, they stand up on a stool, still, with the poster they have created and people will go up and touch the student on the shoulder and that kind of activates them to talk about the individual they are representing.

“She (Henderson) wants the kids to experience the learning process with things like this.”

Gurchiek said this activity is usually held in the spring but will probably be moved to November, if school starts normally in the fall.

The third grade class Henderson teaches is a “self-contained” class, where she teaches math, social studies, literacy, science, etc.

“She collaborates with the other third-grade teachers where they are all kind of on the same page as far as what’s going on in each classroom,” Gurchiek said. “Each teacher kind of has their own personality. They have that freedom to do different activities.

“Anytime I ask for anyone to volunteer or research something to try a program that we’re looking at possibly adopting, she’s always one to jump right in there. Sometimes I kind of have to ask other people so she’s not always the one volunteering. All the teachers do their part. She has a passion to give these kids what they need to be successful.”

Henderson is also good when it comes to conflict resolution, Gurchiek said. “Whenever she is out at recess, she kind of gets the kids to talk about whatever conflict they might be having so the kids see both sides of the conflict and makes sure they work through it rather than just saying, ‘You guys are in trouble, you’re going to sit out for 20 minutes or whatever.’”

McRae is a national showcase school for the program Capturing Kids’ Hearts, which Gurchiek said embodies Henderson’s philosophy that she uses in the classroom.

Henderson also is involved in recognition programs for students and staff members.

“She is just really a good, solid team player,” Gurchiek said. “She looks out for all the kids. She started her teaching career here and we are hoping to keep her for a good, long time.”

Henderson, a 2012 graduate of Searcy High School, said she has wanted to be a teacher ever since she was a little girl.

“Both of my parents were teachers, growing up. My dad doesn’t teach any more but my mom (Cheryl Simmons) has been an art teacher at Westside. She teaches K-4 and goes to the middle school some, too,” Henderson said. “We spent lots of summers playing with my mom’s stuff at school. My sister and I would play school and I never saw myself doing anything else. My dad (Reid Simmons) taught history and coached at the high school.”

Henderson graduated from Harding University in December 2015 and did her student teaching at McRae Elementary School and said she really liked the teacher, school and administration. Henderson said there are about 25 kids to a class in the third grades.

Getting to know the kids and families is something that Henderson said she enjoys. “My second year, we had almost a whole team of new teachers and that was really fun, and I had my first student teacher last year, That was a really good feeling.

When teachers got the word that schools would be closing on site for COVID-19, Henderson said they were obviously really stressed at the time on how they “would navigate all of that, but everybody came together for sure; my team, my school.”

“We used Arkansas PBS online, what they sent out, so that was neat because a lot of kids don’t have the internet connection so watching from a TV is really helpful,” she said.

Henderson said she knows students being schooled at home “is stressful on parents who work and have multiple children but after this semester, quarter I guess, I just feel pretty good about how we’ve handled it. Whatever happens, hopefully we will do whatever is best for the kids and Will be able to learn even though people aren’t together. The classroom is much better for sure.”

The Arkansas Teacher of the Year announcement is expected in June.

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