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University of Pikeville honors distinguished educators

October 19, 2016 12:00 AM
Pikeville, Ky.
When the Pikeville Collegiate Institute established a training school for teachers in 1901, the institution’s founders had no way of knowing the fruits of their labor. Since that time, hundreds of University of Pikeville graduates have made the classroom their life’s work. The Distinguished Educators Hall of Fame was established in 2010 to honor those whose contributions to learning have inspired generations of students and made a significant impact in the field of education.

This year’s inductees include Carol Grizzard Browning of Pikeville, Vivian C. Carter of Hazard, Christina Crase of Wayland, Lesley E. Cunningham of Pikeville, Nikki Gearheart of Minnie, Christine Higgins of Hatfield, Susan Huffman of Pikeville, Retha Nell Baldwin Hunt of Belfry, Tammy L. Mills of Pikeville, and Nell Ruth Spears of Virgie.

University of Pikeville professor emeritus Carol Grizzard Browning, Ph.D., taught at the university for 23 years until she retired in 2011 due to illness. Former students remember her remarkably sharp wit, wisdom, humor and passion for teaching and religion. Browning also served as an advisor to UPIKE’s academic team and published scholarly articles including “Kingship in Israel” with Marvin Tate in the Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, the study notes on I and II Samuel in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, and “Life, the Universe and Everything: Medieval Spanish Judaism Dealing with Aristotle and Sacred Texts” in Cuaderno Internacional de Estudios Humanístticos y Literatura.

Vivian Carter has been described as the epitome of what true educators should represent. She serves as the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative district innovation coordinator for Hazard Independent Schools. Prior to her current position, she spent time in elementary and middle school classrooms before serving as principal at Roy G. Eversole Elementary and Hazard Middle School. Focusing on the strengths of each student, Carter tries to instill a love of learning. Realizing that success is relative, her goal is that every student strives for personal success.

Every year, Christina Crase gives the same speech to her students: “Give me a chance. Forget what you have experienced in the past and just give me a chance.” Given the right learning opportunity, she believes that every student can learn to like math. Crase has been teaching secondary math education at Betsy Layne High School since 2004 and serves as department chair. Although she teaches some of the toughest high school mathematics courses, she strives to inspire students. Her innovative approach to learning was recognized by the Gates Foundation. Crase is always looking for ways to enhance her classroom. She received grants from Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) to develop a project-based unit and to “flip” her classroom to maximize student achievement and increase student interest and engagement.

Lesley E. Cunningham retired after 37 years of teaching at Pikeville Elementary School but with her passion for teaching she didn’t stay out of the classroom for long. Following retirement she returned to the classroom to help kindergarten, first-, and second-graders with math. She is currently involved in an after-school tutoring program at Pikeville United Methodist Church. The longtime educator engaged students by gearing activities and assignments to students’ levels of learning. She encouraged students to use critical thinking skills to problem solve and incorporated technology in the classroom. More importantly, she also instilled the life skills of appropriate behavior, in and out of the classroom, manners and personal responsibility.

Nikki Gearheart is currently in her 18th year as an educator in the Floyd County School System teaching fourth and fifth grade math and social studies at James A. Duff Elementary. “She has a genuine concern for her students and their learning,” said Belinda Martin, principal at Duff Elementary. “She is constantly looking for new and exciting ways to teach her students. She truly believes all students can learn at high levels. She is a role model for her colleagues and has a great rapport with students, staff and parents. She is an excellent teacher.”

A devoted educator, Christine Higgins is in her 52nd year of teaching in the Pike County School System and currently teaches first-grade at Bevins Elementary School. Despite obstacles, Higgins continues to faithfully serve her students. “She has more grit than anyone I know,” said Amy Swiney, principal at Bevins Elementary School. “I have witnessed Mrs. Higgins teach struggling students to read. A student entered our school at age eight or nine that had never attended school. By the time the child exited her class, Mrs. Higgins had taught the child to read well. She has a special way with students that can motivate these children.”

A Pikeville native, Susan Huffman began her 25th year of teaching at Pikeville High School this fall. She teaches English, fine arts, journalism and yearbook. Huffman works tirelessly to ensure that students not only receive a quality education, but also a memorable high school experience. She is instrumental in creating special moments in the lives of her students at events, including homecoming, prom and graduation, and documenting those memories in the school’s yearbook. As a proud Pikeville High School alumna, infusing spirit into the school environment is important to Huffman. She has also spent the past 25 years teaching in the Upward Bound program at UPIKE.

Retha Nell Baldwin Hunt knew from a young age she was meant to be a teacher and felt she was led to the profession. Throughout her 27-year career in the Pike County School System, she impacted the lives of countless students as a mathematics teacher and yearbook adviser at Belfry High School before retiring in July 2016. She was a member of the Belfry High School Leadership Team for more than two decades and served on multiple committees, task forces and teams throughout her career. Hunt not only shared her leadership skills at Belfry High School, but on the district and statewide levels as well for serving on various committees and also conducting professional development sessions for fellow faculty.

Tammy Mills has taught mathematics in the Pike County School System for 25 years. Mills taught algebra and geometry at Johns Creek High School for two years before the school was consolidated to become Pike County Central High School. At Pike Central she teaches algebra I, algebra II, accelerated algebra II, geometry, accelerated geometry and a dual-credit early college education course for Morehead State University. Outside the classroom, she serves as KEYs Leadership Summit committee member, Pike County Central School Leadership team member, National Honor Society co-sponsor, Pike County Central mathematics department chair, member of the district wide EOC practice test committee, program review committee member, and peer observer.

Nell Ruth Spears enjoyed a career in education that spanned nearly four decades, despite getting a late start. After having five children and being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years, she worked seven years as a teacher’s aide, a job which inspired and allowed her to go to college on nights and weekends to become a teacher. At age 44, she started her career as a teacher in the Pike County School System. She taught 21 years at G.F. Johnson Elementary School, most of it in third- and fourth-grade language arts. Spears retired from full-time teaching at age 65, but returned to work almost immediately as an ESS tutor and substitute teacher, teaching for 10 more years at schools throughout Pike County. She specialized in helping young children raise their reading comprehension skills.


Pictured are members of the University of Pikeville Distinguished Educators Hall of Fame Class of 2016. The Distinguished Educators Hall of Fame was established in 2010 to honor those whose contributions to education and to learning have inspired generations of students. Front row, from left, Christina Crase, Christine Higgins, Tammy Mills and Lesley Cunningham. Second row, from left, Susan Huffman Vivian Carter, Nikki Gearheart Retha Hunt Nell Ruth Spears and James Browning.

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