Webster Goes to Washington

VINTON–Carol Webster, Roanoke County and Region VI Teacher of the Year, recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials from the United States Department of Education to offer her input on a new initiative called Project RESPECT. She and a group of her peers from Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, were invited to share their views on the future of education and the specifics of the proposed program.

Project RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), is a national conversation on a new $5 billion grant program that would challenge states and school districts to work with teachers, teacher unions, colleges of education and other education stakeholders to reform the teaching profession. The Education Department has developed the project, but it must be approved and funded by Congress.

“Our goal is to work with educators in rebuilding their profession—and to elevate the teacher voice in shaping federal, state and local education policy,” said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, at the launch of the RESPECT Project in February. “Our larger goal is to make teaching not only America’s most important profession—but America’s most respected profession.”

Webster supports changes in education to take the focus off of testing and back on teaching students “the love of learning”. While she supports accountability in education, Webster also sees firsthand the anxiety of students who are overtested—thoughts which she shared with the panel.

Webster, who teaches theater arts and English at William Byrd High School, was named Roanoke County Teacher of the Year in March of 2011, nominated by parents and fellow teachers; then chosen by a committee. She has been a teacher in Roanoke County since 1991.

Carol Webster, theater arts and English teacher at William Byrd High School and Director of the Burton Center for the Performing Arts, traveled to the Department of Education in Washington, D.C., in May to offer her input on a proposed initiative in teacher education, Project RESPECT. Upon her return, Webster began casting the fall production of "Annie", in collaboration with Jerry Franks (on right), who will direct the production, and Matt Bartley (on left), who will serve as music director and assistant producer.

In September 2011, Webster was notified in a surprise ceremony at the Burton Center for Arts and Technology (BCAT), where she also works as the Director of the Center for the Performing Arts, that she had been named Region VI Teacher of the Year as well.

Carol Webster seldom finds herself speechless, but she recalls that feeling last fall when she received the award.

“It was almost surreal,” said Webster.

School Board member Dave Wymer stopped by the Burton Center unannounced and removed Webster from her classes and students under the pretext of the need for a conference. Ultimately he steered her to the auditorium where her husband, sons, parents, Superintendent Dr. Lorraine Lange, Vinton School Board Representative Mike Stovall, and a host of her students, friends, teachers and other school officials awaited her. Webster was the first Roanoke County educator to receive the regional award, and one of eight in the Commonwealth of Virginia for 2012.

Upon receiving the honor, Webster received a call from Stephanie Doyle, the Roanoke City Teacher of the Year who went on to become the Virginia Teacher of the Year in 2009. Doyle founded a group called the Virginia Teacher of the Year Network to support teachers who receive these honors and to help prepare them for the next step in the process—the interviews for State Teacher of the Year.  That next level of competition requires another packet of documentation and essays; portfolios highlighting their accomplishments, educational philosophy, and community activities; an impromptu seven minute speech on an unannounced topic; and a peppering of questions from a panel of professional educators and members of the business community. The interview is followed that evening by a banquet where the State Teacher of the Year is announced.

Serving as State Teacher of the Year necessitates traveling the state for 80 to 90 days during the school year—absences that would have been very difficult for Webster who teaches on alternating days at WBHS and BCAT,  and always has a performance ongoing or in production at each.

“Children were the reason I got the award,” said Webster. “While being State Teacher of the Year is a big honor and allows the winner to travel the state expressing a personal vision for education, I was just as happy not to have to leave my students.”

Before she left for Washington, Webster had just wrapped up four days of performances of the musical “Grease” by the William Byrd Players. Upon her return she almost immediately jumped into auditions and casting for next fall’s production of “Annie”.

The musical will feature a cast of over 40 actors, including younger children and adults from the community. Webster will be assisted by Jerry Franks, who was her co-director for “Grease”. 

Franks is a well-known casting director who retired to the Roanoke Valley several years ago. Their collaboration will allow Webster to not only produce the play, but to take a main role, starring as Mrs. Hannigan. Usually the fall production is a children’s show and thus involves double-casting, not just the use of understudies. Cast A alternates performances with Cast B.

The William Byrd Players typically produce four to six shows each school year, at a cost of $5,000 to $6,000 per show, money which is generated through ticket sales and donations, and not funded in the school budget. As Director of BCAT, Webster always has a show in various stages of production or performance at both schools.

The fall production of “Annie” will run from October 10-14 in the William Byrd Playhouse at WBHS.

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