Aycock graduate named Duplin County's top teacher
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 26, 2007 1:53 PM
KENANSVILLE -- With gifts from area businesses and the Duplin County Education Foundation, the Duplin County Board of Education honored Connie Harrell and Kenneth Houston as the 2006-07 Teacher and Principal of the Year, respectively, at a special reception held recently at Kenansville Elementary School.
Mrs. Harrell, an English teacher at East Duplin High School, was chosen for the award over 12 other nominated teachers based on her submitted portfolio and an extensive interview process.
Entering her 17th year in the classroom -- her fourth at East Duplin -- she said she was surprised when she found out that she had won.
"It was something I wasn't expecting," she said. "I was definitely surprised and humbled and proud I could represent my school and my county."
Originally, though, Mrs. Harrell didn't even plan on teaching. She had simply gotten her degree in case law school didn't work out.
"But when I did my student teaching I just found it was something I really enjoyed," she said.
This recent honor wasn't Mrs. Harrell's first teacher of the year award.
She also won in 1993 while working in Sampson County at Union High School.
"I just try to establish a rapport with the students and make their learning relevant to their lives," the 40-year old Charles B. Aycock High School grad said. "I don't try to be their friend, but I try to make myself friendly and accessible.
"I like my students, and I'll do whatever I can to help them achieve their goals."
And it's that attitude, East Duplin Principal Ben Thigpen said, that makes her such a valuable addition to his school.
In fact, he added by way of example, she even agreed this year to step up and teach a section of freshman English.
"She's as solid as she can be in the classroom. She's just a really good positive influence on the campus both inside and outside the classroom," Thigpen said. "She doesn't really seek a lot of recognition for herself, but she does a lot."
The same could also be said for Houston, who was selected principal of the year by his counterparts in the other schools.
"He has done a good job as principal," Duplin school superintendent Dr. Wiley Doby said. "I appreciate all his hard work in improving education in Duplin County.
"He's an outstanding educator who cares deeply about his students and his teachers. He's a real asset to our school system and our community and that's reflected in the fact he was named principal of the year.
"When you're elected by your peers, that's a real honor."
Houston, 47, has been involved in education for 22 years.
He spent nearly 16 of those as a school social worker before moving up to assistant principal at James Kenan, then principal at Warsaw Middle and now principal at James Kenan.
"I just wanted to try something different," he said about his move from social work to administration. "I just figured I could impact more students' lives in a positive way being a principal."
This is his first year heading up the high school that he graduated from and where his daughter, Lauren, just happens to be a senior.
"It's good," he said of the dynamic created by him overseeing his daughter's school. "The sad thing is, though, I don't see her -- just at home before school and after school and maybe at lunch."
Receiving this honor, he continued, was something of a surprise.
"I was shocked. I just try to be firm, fair and consistent. I try to be supportive of my teachers and I try to listen to my students," Houston said. "It's an honor to come back to your alma mater.
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