TORRINGTON – As school years across the country are winding down, accomplishment awards are somewhat the word of the day.
Teachers, students and administrators all are honored with scholarships, certificates of achievement and more. Perhaps one of the top honors which can be bestowed on the individuals who are arguably the hardest-working people in their districts is Teacher of the Year, a designation typically reserved for that single educator who’s at the top of his or her game.
This year, through a quirk of fate, Goshen County School District No. 1 has two people sharing that usually-singular honor.
Nyana Sims, a Title I teacher at Lingle-Fort Laramie Elementary in Lingle, and Steve Hart, eighth-grade social studies instructor at Torrington Middle School, will share the title of GCSD No. 1 Teacher of the Year. Through the nomination, interview and selection process, a committee comprised of district personnel, business people, community members and legislators, initially selected Sims, who was honored last week with a brief ceremony in front of the student body in Lingle. Hart was given the nod as runner-up for the honor by that same committee.
However – and here’s where the quirk enters the picture – Sims has also been pegged for promotion within the district. Beginning next year, she will take the helm as principal at Lincoln Elementary in Torrington. And that, according to the rules set forth for a candidate for Wyoming Teacher of the Year – the next step in the process to which district winners are automatically eligible – because she’ll be joining the ranks of administrator, Sims is ineligible to advance to the next level and, possibly, on to become Teacher of the Year for the entire country.
According to regulations from the Wyoming Department of Education, a state teacher of the year must commit to continue in their current classroom position for as much as two school years. Sims, by earning the promotion and the principal position she’ll assume in the fall, can’t make that commitment.
So, rather than strip her of the well-deserved accolades, the district and Superintendent Jean Chrostoski opted for a different solution – co-teachers of the year. Hart will be representing GCSD No. 1 at the state level and, if he becomes Wyoming Teacher of the Year, will compete against teachers from around the country for national honors.
“It was one of my hardest days yesterday to share with (Sims) that her decision to lead one of our buildings next year was keeping her from representing Goshen County in a vocation she has been devoted to for so many years,” Chrostoski said in an email sent to district personnel on Friday. Sims “is committed to positively impacting education as the leader at Lincoln Elementary next year. I am not sure sometimes if people realize how much an educator sacrifices to become a principal.”
Nyana Sims currently serves as the Title I Reading and Mathematics instructor at the L-FL Elementary School in Lingle. A Torrington High School alum, she’s been on staff at the Lingle campus for three years and has worked for GCSD No. 1 for 14 of her 29-years teaching, seven years of that time as an instructional facilitator for the district, helping with staff development and mentoring new teachers, she said.
The oldest of four children in her family, Sims said working with children has always been a calling she was attracted to.
“I never saw myself doing anything else,” she said.
This isn’t her first time being recognized as top teacher in a district. Almost 20 years ago, Sims was named Arizona Christa McAuliffe Teacher of the Year, the award named for the New Hampshire educator who died aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986 on her way to becoming the first teacher in space.
Of being named Teacher of the Year, Sims credited her high school science teacher, Verle Punke, as well as all the educators she works with every day.
“I am who I am today because of the people I’ve worked with,” Sims said. “The teacher who had the most impact on me was Verle Punke at Torrington High School.
“He had this spark for learning that made it fun,” she said. “I always thought, ‘I’m going to be just like him when I grow up.’”
Coming from a family of educators, it could be said Stephen Hart’s life course was charted from the beginning, he said recently.
His mother, Paula, is a nursing instructor at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls while his father, Daryl, is recently retired as a high school principal from Spokane, Wash., who started his career as a social studies teacher – the same discipline his son would later follow as his
“It was always up to me,” Hart said during a break between classes recently at Torrington Middle School. “It’s something I wanted to do by watching him.
“I wanted to be part of the school system and impact kids,” he said. “That’s what I grew up with.”
This is Hart’s 10th year in the Goshen County School District, all of it teaching social studies and civics at TMS. Prior to eastern Wyoming, he taught social studies at Kimberly Middle School in Kimberly, Idaho, for five years. Additionally, he serves as one of the sponsors for the school’s National History Day activities as well as head coach for the eighth-grade girls basketball team and assistant coach for the boy’s squad.
He’s also the voice of Torrington High School football, serving as play-by-play announcer for games since 2009. And Hart completed the process to become a nationally-certified social studies and history teacher from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards this past December, he said.
“It’s a difficult process to go through,” Hart said. “But it’s a rewarding process.”
Perhaps the best part of being named the district’s Teacher of the Year for both Sims and Hart is the recognition of the effort and work they put in every day in the classroom, they said.
“There’s a sense of satisfaction,” Hart said. “It’s an honor to be recognized and to be able to represent Goshen County at the state level.
“It’s nice to be recognized by my peers, my colleagues, for the work I’ve put in to growing students here at TMS,” he said. “Watching these kids do well in National History Day activities or other activities in the classroom is the greatest joy I have in my life.”
Sims agreed. For her, the validation and sense of accomplishment comes on a daily basis.
“Every day is a validation that I’ve done the right thing,” she said. “This is kind of a reflection on everybody.
“Teaching is a hard job with not a lot of affirmation attached to it,” Sims said. “I think of so many great teachers – I’m standing up for what