Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence


February 25, 2019 - 2019 Medal for Excellence-Winning Educators Announced

by OFE | 2019-02-25 13:16:09

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has announced the winners of its 2019 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence awards honoring five outstanding educators in Oklahoma’s public schools.

The awards will be presented at the foundation’s 33rd annual Academic Awards Banquet on May 18 at the Renaissance Tulsa Convention Center. Each of the five winners will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a glass “Roots and Wings” sculpture, designed by the late Oklahoma artist Ron Roberts and produced by Tim Brown of Edmond.

This year’s Medal for Excellence winners and their award categories are: Catherine Adams, a school counselor who teaches social-emotional learning and bullying prevention at Piedmont Elementary School, elementary teaching; Michelle Churchwell, English teacher and IKE Ignition Program coordinator, Eisenhower High School, LAWTON, secondary teaching; Dr. Rick Cobb, superintendent, Mid-Del Public Schools, elementary/secondary administration; Dr. Wayne Lord, professor of biology and forensic science, University of Central Oklahoma, EDMOND, regional university/community college teaching; and Dr. Keith Strevett, David Ross Boyd Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Oklahoma, NORMAN, research university teaching.

“We know that education is the best investment Oklahoma can make in its future,” said David L. Boren, founder and chairman of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in the state’s public schools. “By honoring these exceptional educators, we are sending a message that we deeply value excellence in public schools and the professionals who have given so much of themselves to enrich the lives of our children.”

Edmond resident Catherine Adams, winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Elementary Teaching, teaches social-emotional learning and bullying prevention as the school counselor for Piedmont Elementary School. A 30-year teaching veteran, Adams began her career as a special education teacher and became a school counselor after earning her master’s degree in 1990. She was a 2018 finalist for Oklahoma Teacher of the Year and two-time Teacher of the Year honoree for her school.

“Children often arrive at school each day carrying more than just their backpacks,” Adams said. “They are carrying traumas they have endured, poverty, emotional issues and varying degrees of learning challenges into their classrooms.”

Adams teaches students in small groups and works directly with classroom teachers to help students learn empathy, goal setting, coping skills and how to make responsible decisions. “I am building a foundation of essential building blocks that every child needs,” she said.

To teach bullying prevention and empathy, Adams uses literature to immerse students in someone else’s world and expand their vocabulary. She uses role-playing exercises to help students practice empathetic listening and how to stand up for themselves and others. She has created several small groups to help students navigate specific issues. Her Cool Kids Club teaches anger management, while the Chillax Club offers skills for coping with anxiety. Her Hero Huddle and Butterfly Bunch help students learn goal setting and gain confidence. This past fall, she launched Good Grief, a small group for students grieving the loss of a loved one.

Adams is the founder of two mentoring programs, Piedmont’s Awesome Leaders (P.A.L), which matches high school students with fourth-graders, and Developing Relationships, Encouraging and Mentoring (D.R.E.A.M.) Team, which pairs teachers with children in need of additional emotional and academic support. Adams also works with colleagues to help them understand the effects of trauma and its impact on learning. 

Courtney Lockridge, a parent and colleague, said she has seen first-hand Adams’ ability to help students overcome incidents that had a tremendous impact on their hearts and minds. When Lockridge and her young sons were injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, Adams spent countless hours listening to the boys’ fears and helping them cope and heal. “Because of her, I knew my family would be okay again,” said Lockridge’s son, Peyton.

Michelle Churchwell, winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching, teaches English literature and composition and is the IKE Ignition Program adviser at her alma mater, Eisenhower High School in Lawton.  Like her teaching mentors before her, Churchwell strives to instill a lifelong love for learning and service.

“My goal is for students to develop a love of literature and come to see it as the mirror it is for their lives, for our shared human experience,” Churchwell said. “I also want them to feel confident in their use of language as a powerful tool to tell their truth … to understand the critical literacy skills we practice in the classroom are crucial to active engagement in our democracy.”

Instead of assigning reading homework, Churchwell reads aloud literature to model phrasing, aid comprehension and encourage class discussion. “I love reading, and by reading with my students and enjoying the experience together, I am their mentor for developing what I hope is their lifelong love of reading.” In her composition classes, Churchwell focuses on rhetoric and persuasion, requiring students to seek out credible sources that don’t agree with their own stance on issues. She insists that their arguments are based on fact and reason versus emotion or partisanship.

In one of Churchwell’s favorite assignments, she reads students the children’s book “Something Beautiful” and shares items from her own life that have deep emotional significance, such as the Paddington Bear her father gave her as a child. In return, students pour their hearts out in their “Something Beautiful” essays, eager to share their own stories. Churchwell is surprised, humbled and honored by their vulnerability.

Churchwell is passionate about the importance of social-emotional learning for student success. She is advisor to several initiatives, including IKE Ignition, a program that matches freshmen with upperclassman mentors. The program engages students in community service projects and has raised more than $100,000 and donated more than 700 service hours to fight hunger in the community. Churchwell is also the advisor for Youth and Government, a program that prepares students as engaged citizens.

Student and IKE Mentor Samantha Cook credits Churchwell with teaching her to love reading and writing and for helping students use their voices to address social injustices, both locally and globally. “Mrs. Churchwell creates well-rounded students prepared to be productive citizens.”

The winner of the Medal for Excellence in Elementary/Secondary Administration is Dr. Rick Cobb, superintendent of Mid-Del Public Schools since 2015. From his leadership of the passage of a recent $130.6 million bond issue to implementing districtwide trauma-informed instruction, Cobb was praised for his servant leadership style and his inclusion of all voices in district policy-making, especially student voices.

When Cobb began planning for a much-needed bond issue, he reached out to students first. Their ideas for improved public spaces – auditoriums, stadiums, field houses – as well as the need for improved technology, school safety and instructional materials formed the framework for what would become the largest bond issue in the history of the school district. Cobb sought input from teachers, parents and community organizations in the planning process and rallied 75 percent of voters to approve the “One District, One Family, One Bond” campaign.

“Students are actively involved in the strategic planning for the district, just as Dr. Cobb is actively involved in their lives,” said Jami Rhoades Antonisse, president of the Mid-Del Public Schools Foundation. “His ‘office’ is wherever the kids are, and they are always welcome to snap a selfie with him or text him a question. Mid-Del students clearly see Dr. Cobb as an approachable, caring administrator and not just a ‘suit’ in the admin office.”

Antonisse said the best example of Cobb’s commitment to putting students first is Mid-Del’s adoption of trauma-informed instruction, which trains staff to recognize trauma and help students build resilience. More than 70 percent of the district’s 14,600 students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 13 percent are homeless. “School personnel are encouraged to look beyond a ‘discipline problem’ and see a child who is suffering,” Antonisse said. “By his example, Dr. Cobb leads the response … Perhaps the best measure of Mid-Del’s focus on the whole child was when one of our homeless students graduated as valedictorian. Dr. Cobb was there, leading the applause.”

Cobb was also praised for his support of teachers and communication efforts with families during the Oklahoma Teacher Walk Out. His blog, OKeducationtruths, which discusses issues impacting public education, has nearly 7,000 followers. Cobb’s advocacy efforts on behalf of public schools have earned him the Powerful VOICE Award from VOICE OKC and the Oklahoma Education Association’s Friend of Education Award.

Dr. Wayne D. Lord, the recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College, is a professor of biology and forensic science at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Prior to joining the UCO faculty in 2008, Dr. Lord worked 21 years as an FBI special agent, serving in a variety of investigative and administrative positions in the forensic and behavioral sciences. As an international expert in forensic science, he has been instrumental in the development of UCO’s Forensic Science Institute as one of the top programs in the country, said UCO College of Mathematics and Science Dean Wei Chen.

“Dr. Lord fully integrates his lifelong experience into his teaching,” said Dr. Chen. “He not only teaches his students textbook materials, but also introduces students to real-world scenarios in the fields of forensic science or in biological science. He advocates real-world problem solving through practice.”

Dr. Lord’s students range from biology and forensics students to law enforcement officers, forensic science professionals and attorneys seeking professional development. His courses are just as diverse, spanning from crime scene analysis and forensic interviewing to histology (the study of microscopic tissue structure) and parasitology. He serves as co-founder of UCO’s Center for Wildlife Forensic Science and Conservation.

“I routinely engage students in practical, collaborative scenario-based problem-solving exercises and small-group critical thinking assignments,” Lord said. In some courses, student groups may be given a symptom-based case history and assigned to make a diagnosis and treatment, or they may be assigned to participate in a realistic incident response or crisis-management scenario. As an initial organizer of the Forensic Science Institute’s Cold Case Support Initiative, Lord engages students in transformative case analysis experiences assisting Oklahoma cold case investigators.

Former student Adrienne Martinez recalls the excitement when she first met Dr. Lord. “He was the ‘real deal.’ He lived the life that every forensic science student dreamed of, including leading teams of behavioral analysts, performing homicide investigations and even being consulted on the film ‘The Silence of the Lambs.’” 

Under Lord’s mentorship, Martinez developed and co-taught a forensic interviewing and interrogation class, co-authored a paper on forensic psychology concerning child abductions, and pursued graduate studies in forensic psychology. Now a law student and Title IX officer, Martinez praises Lord for his constant guidance and encouragement. “He is a champion of excellence in teaching, mentorship and student support every day.”

The winner of the Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Research University is Dr. Keith Strevett, a David Ross Boyd Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Early in his teaching career, Dr. Strevett learned through trial and error that the best way to teach engineering was to provide a theoretical framework and then give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge to real-world problems. “Now, I like to say that I don’t teach problem solving, but rather I teach problem solvers,” he said.

His classes evolved from lecture-and-slide presentations to instructional videos that students can watch before class so that class time can be dedicated to robust interaction and problem-solving exercises. From there, Strevett also developed “show-me” videos to reinforce engineering concepts in action. The format became so popular that students use the show-me videos to prepare for their Fundamentals in Engineering Exam, a comprehensive exam given to all engineering interns. Through his laboratory-based courses, students design, build and test engineering designs to create potable water, build a self-propelled boat or devise a waste-water treatment system.

Former graduate assistant Kyle Walker recalls surveying Tar Creek, performing water-quality analysis of underground wells, and completing a soil erosion study as some of his learning experiences with Strevett. “This method of teaching brought out enthusiasm and encouraged us as students to want to learn more about each of our own areas of interest,” said Walker, now a professional engineering consultant. “In other words, he made it fun to learn!”

Civil engineer Ceara Parks described Strevett as “a mentor, a believer and a walking encyclopedia” who goes the extra mile to help students succeed. When she was a senior preparing for her Fundamentals in Engineering Exam, she confided in Strevett that she was afraid she would fail. “Without hesitation, he prepared a study plan for me. Twice a week for three months, Dr. Stevett promised to tutor me on the exam material – not because I didn’t know the materials, but because he realized I didn’t believe in myself.” When she passed the test, the biggest highlight of the day was telling Dr. Strevett.

The recipient of numerous teaching awards, Strevett also makes time to lead hands-on engineering programs for junior high and high school students to introduce them to careers in engineering.

In addition to presenting the Medal for Excellence awards, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence will honor 100 of Oklahoma’s top public high school seniors as Academic All-Staters at its May 18 banquet. The Academic Awards Banquet is open to the public, with admission priced at $50. For more information, call the Foundation for Excellence office at (405) 236-0006 or visit its website at