McAlester Public Schools will announce the 2018 MPS Teacher of the Year award winner during the “Celebration of Teaching” ceremony beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday morning at the Lucy Smith Center.

The award will be decided between four district finalists: William Higgins, Diana Taylor, Wendy Mitchell and Michelle Cole.

The nomination process began in Fall 2017 with 16 candidates selected from all the district sites — larger sites had more candidates than smaller sites, all of which were selected by colleagues.

Candidates wrote essays that were read by the MPS Professional Development Committee, which selected four finalists.

The four finalists went through an interview process to determine the winner, which will be announced on Monday.

“We are so proud of each one of the finalists,” MPS Elementary Curriculum Coordinator Janice Parrott said. “It gets really tough when it gets down to this because all are superb teachers.”

Parrott added MPS appreciates all of the finalists and their willingness to be in the spotlight.

“I think the finalists would say it is a humbling experience to be selected as a nominee — we appreciate them stepping up and representing our district,” Parrott said. “We invite you to come celebrate with us on Monday.”

The event begins at 9 a.m. Monday and will include Oklahoma Teacher of the Year Jon Hazell as the keynote speaker and a video presentation by 2015 MPS Teacher of the Year Ryan Walters.

The following is some information about the four finalists:

Diana Taylor

Taylor grew up in Atoka, where she graduated from Atoka High School in 1989 as the Salutatorian. After graduating high school, she went on to attend Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant and graduated magna cum laude in December 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in education with an endorsement in Early Childhood Education.

Taylor has worked in education for 19 years. She began working in McAlester Public Schools in August 1998 as a preschool teacher’s assistant at Washington Early Childhood Center. In August 2000, she was hired to teach transitional first grade at Emerson Elementary School. She taught transitional first grade for three years and first grade for one year at Emerson. She then transferred to Washington Early Childhood Center, where she taught kindergarten for 11 years. She currently teaches kindergarten at William Gay Early Childhood Center.

Taylor said she feels fortunate to work in a school system where hands-on professional development is offered and encouraged. She has attended the following professional development opportunities: Great Expectations, Love and Logic, Structured Language Basics, Navigate Reading Readiness, LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) Training and LETRS Modules 1, 2 and 3 Training. As an educator, Taylor understands the importance of being a lifelong learner.

In June 1994, Diana married Larry Taylor, who currently teaches at McAlester High School. They have three daughters; Madison, Emily and Lauren. Madison is currently teaching first grade at Will Rogers; Emily is a senior at East Central University majoring in marketing; and Lauren is an eighth grader at Puterbaugh Middle School. Taylor said she has had the privilege to work with amazing and talented teachers, especially her school family at William Gay. “They are truly remarkable educators,” Taylor said.

Wendy Mitchell

Mitchell grew up in Buffalo Valley, where she graduated high school as Valedictorian. She attended Southeastern Oklahoma State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in acting and directing — making the Dean’s Honor Roll three semesters and the President’s Honor Roll one semester. She earned her teaching certification from Northeastern State University and a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in Early Childhood. During her time at Northeastern State University, she was on the Dean’s Honor Roll one semester and the President’s Honor Roll four semesters. In May 2017, Mitchell received an Elementary Principal certification from East Central University.

Mitchell has worked in education for 15 years, working in the area of special education for all 15 years. She has taught at Parker Intermediate Center for the past seven years teaching the multi-handicapped class, but she has been teaching at McAlester Public Schools a total of 10 years. Mitchell also teaches adult education classes two nights a week at Eastern Oklahoma State College through McAlester Public Schools.

Mitchell married her college sweetheart, Daniel, in 2003. They have two children: Justus, who attends Emerson Elementary; and Loralei, who attends Jefferson Early Childhood Center. Mitchell is the author of one book and is currently working on a children’s trilogy. She is the oldest of nine children and enjoys spending time with her siblings and extended family. Mitchell said she feels blessed to work at Parker, which houses some of the district’s finest teachers, and to have the blessing of working with a superb group of paraprofessionals. Mitchell said she is deeply thankful that parents entrust her with their most precious gifts — their children.

William Higgins

Higgins was born and raised in McAlester, attending McAlester Public Schools from kindergarten through high school. After high school, he attended Oklahoma Baptist University, where he earned degrees in elementary education and early childhood education. He will graduate in May from East Central University with a master’s degree in educational leadership. Higgins has taught pre-K at MPS for eight years, six years at William Gay ECC and two years at Jefferson ECC.

While teaching at MPS, he has served as a building and district technology mentor and has taught professional development courses both inside and outside of the district. Higgins’ passion in pre-K is incorporating technology into lessons and teaching computer programing. In 2015, he was the Southeastern regional and state winner of the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives SKIE Award for innovative technology use in the classroom.

Higgins has been married to his wife, Megan, for 12 years and they have three children: Avery, Clark and Brady. Outside of being active in his church, he spends most of his time cheering on his daughter Avery, who is a member of the McAlester Stars Diva Cheer team and watching Clark and Brady at gymnastics. Higgins is an avid runner and loves to cross the finish line with his kids in tow.

Michelle Cole

Cole was born and raised in McAlester. At 17, she and her family moved to Antlers, where she graduated from Antlers High School in 2003. She earned a bachelor’s degree with an emphasis in chemistry education for Northeastern State University. Cole was on the President’s Honor Roll, Dean’s Honor Roll, is a lifetime member of the Rho Theta Sigma Honor Society, and graduated magna cum laude in Fall 2007. She was also awarded the Martin DaVinci Scholar Award for her work during her final internship in college. Cole received the Academic Achievement in Chemistry award in 2006 and 2007 from Northeastern State University. In May 2015, she earned her Master’s of Education in School Counseling from East Central University.

Cole has 11 years of experience in education. She began her teaching career at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. At the end of that school year, she accepted a job at Eufaula High School and spent the next seven there teaching chemistry, physical science, forensics, and environmental science. Michelle was also the sponsor for several organizations — including Student Council, Academic Team, and National Honor Society. She was selected as the 2012 Eufaula High School Teacher of the Year. In 2015, she accepted a position at McAlester High School, where she still teaches Pre-AP Chemistry I, AP Chemistry II, and Forensics. She is the Varsity Academic Team Coach, Science Department Head, Science Club Sponsor, and a member of the Tech Cadre. Michelle spends part of her summer working for the Choctaw Nation Summer School Program at Emerson Elementary teaching STEM lessons to K-3 students. She was selected in 2016 to be part of the year-long Texas Instruments Teacher Leader Cadre and will be co-presenting this March at the Texas Instruments T3 International Conference in San Antonio using TI-nSpire technology and lessons from her classroom.

In 2009, Michelle’s life changed when she welcomed her daughter, Abigail, into the world. Abby is currently a third-grader at Will Rogers Elementary, an avid dancer and crafter, and a momma’s girl. When she isn’t at work, Cole likes to travel, read a good book and cross things off her bucket list, like learning to crochet. She loves teaching and her students, past and present.

“It is an incredible experience to get the chance to be a part of each of her students’ lives and watch them work hard to achieve the goals they have made for themselves,” Cole said.

Contact Lacey Sudderth at lsudderth@mcalesternews.com

Contact Lacey Sudderth at lsudderth@mcalesternews.com