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CU honors excellence in Taylor, CIS and KCA teaching

By Scarlett Birge, student news writer, and Joan C. McKinney, director, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Campbellsville University’s 34th annual Excellence in Teaching Award Program Ceremony was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, 217 teachers received the Excellence in Teaching Award from 76 districts and/or private schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Twenty-two of the teachers have Campbellsville College or University degrees and nine teachers are National Certified Teachers.

Dr. Donna Hedgepath, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said, “The Excellence in Teaching program is one of our most meaningful tributes to Kentucky teachers.

“Teachers deserve recognition for pouring themselves into the lives of our P-12 students. Teachers not only serve students in the classroom, but they make profound impacts in their students’ personal lives and on their future.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to recognize the best of the best in education!” Hedgepath, herself a teacher and university professor for several years, would have been present for the ceremony, along with Dr. Lisa Allen, dean of the School of Education.

Allen said, “During this time of pandemic, teachers have had to be creative and flexible problem solvers in delivering relevant, timely instruction to their students.

“The teachers who are EIT recipients this year have and will continue to find innovative ways to lead, to teach and to help students succeed regardless of the learning challenges presented by COVID 19.

“I am sorry that this year, we are unable to have our usual celebration to honor them. I am proud of these teachers who continue to shape the future for all of us regardless of circumstances.”

A total of 4,163 Kentucky teachers have been honored since the program began in 1987 with assistance from Earl Aaron and the Ward, Cundiff and Aaron Memorial Fund. The purpose of the program is to recognize the quality teaching and learning taking place in the school systems throughout Kentucky.

The Excellence in Teaching Awards program is in partnership with Lexington’s CBS-affiliate, WKYT-TV.

The teachers are selected by their school districts in each grade level (preschool/elementary, middle and high school).

The 2020 Excellence in Teaching Award recipients include the following with their superintendent listed first:

Taylor County – Charles Higdon Jr., superintendent; Melinda Neal, Taylor County Primary Center; Leigh Ann Hays, Taylor County Middle School; and Casey Young, Taylor County High School.

Neal, of Elkhorn, Ky., has taught kindergarten at the Taylor County Primary Center since 1989.

She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Lindsey Wilson College in 1989. She earned her Master of Arts in 1994, as well as her Rank I in 1999, both from Western Kentucky University. She is a 1985 graduate of Taylor County High School.

She is the daughter of Nellie and Russell Cox of Elkhorn, Ky. She is married to Ken Neal, and they have two children, Ivy and Lily Neal.

Hays, of Campbellsville, Ky., teaches English language arts at Taylor County Middle School. She formerly taught 6th grade social studies at East Jessamine Middle School from 2003 until 2004, as well as 7th grade English at Lee County Schools from 2004 until 2006.

She received her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Kentucky in 2003. She earned her Master of Arts degrees from Campbellsville University in 2008 and the University of the Cumberlands in 2011. She is a 1998 graduate of Campbellsville High School.

She is the daughter of Judy Ford of Campbellsville, Ky. She is married to Philip Hays, and they have three children, Jackson, Grant and Harrison Hays.

Young, of Campbellsville, Ky., teaches social studies at Taylor County High School. He received his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education and Social Science from Campbellsville University in 2009, and he earned his Master of Arts in Social Science from Campbellsville University in 2014. He earned his Rank I from the University of the Cumberlands in 2017. He is a 2005 graduate of Paintsville High School.

He is the son of Sandy and Doug Young of West Van Lear, Ky. He is married to Cheris Young, and they have two children, Cayleigh and Caleb Young.

Campbellsville Independent – Kirby Smith, superintendent; Jena Piekarski, Campbellsville Elementary School; Jan Speer, Campbellsville Middle School; and Dale Estes, Campbellsville High School.

Piekarski, of Lebanon, Ky., teaches speech for kindergarten-5th grade at Campbellsville Elementary School.

She formerly taught preschool to 12th grade at Bright Horizons in Florida from 2005 to 2011 and at CHARMS Collaborative in Norfolk, Mass. from 1992 to 2005.

Piekarski received her bachelor of science and master of arts degrees from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1990 and 1992, respectively. She is a 1986 graduate of Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton, Mass.

She previously taught at Bright Horizons PK-12 in Broward County, Fla. from 2005 to 2011, and CHARMS Collaborative for PK-12 in Norfolk, Mass. from 1992 to 2005.

She is married to Michael Piekarski, and they have three children: Christopher, Kaye and Cara.

Speer, of Campbellsville, Ky., teaches 6th grade science at Campbellsville Middle School where she has taught since 2001.

She received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Campbellsville University in 1978 and her Master of Arts with an emphasis in middle school from Western Kentucky University. She is a 1974 graduate of Parma Senior High School in Parma, Ohio.

Speer is married to Robby Speer, and they have two children, Drew and Robbilyn Speer.

Estes, of Campbellsville, Ky., teaches physical education and health 9-12 at Campbellsville High School. He has taught there since 2000.

He received his bachelor of science degree and Master of Arts in Education degree from Campbellsville University in 2000 and 2007, respectively. Estes is a 1995 graduate of Campbellsville High School.

He is married to Erin Estes, and they have two children, Cameron and Cooper Estes. Kentucky Christian Academy – Alicia Riggs, administrator; Garnetta Murrell, Kentucky Christian Academy, elementary.

Murrell, of Campbellsville, Ky., teaches the 3rd grade at Kentucky Christian Academy. She formerly taught at Green County Elementary School from 1989 until 2002, as well as at Campbellsville Elementary School from 2002 until 2018.

She received her bachelor of science degree in 1989 from Eastern Kentucky University, and she earned her Master’s in Education and her Rank I from Western Kentucky University. She is a 1985 graduate of Taylor County High School.

She is married to Richard Murrell, and they have three children, Morgan, Miles and MaKenzie Murrell.

The 2020 Excellence in Teaching Committee included: Dr. Lisa Allen, dean of the Campbellsville University School of Education; Elizabeth Franklin, secretary to the dean, School of Education; Lisa Kirtley, data specialist; Natasha Nall, graduate secretary for the School of Education; Dominic Sanfilippo, early childhood program secretary, and Alice Steele, clinic support specialist.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university with more than 11,900 students offering over 100 programs of study including Ph.D., master, baccalaureate, associate, pre-professional and certification programs. The university has Kentucky based off-campus centers in Louisville, Harrodsburg, Somerset, Hodgenville and Liberty with instructional sites in Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Summersville. Out-of-state centers include two in California at Los Angeles and Lathrop, located in the San Francisco Bay region. The website for complete information is

Campbellsville University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award certificates, associate, baccalaureate, masters and doctoral degrees. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the status of Campbellsville University.

This story was posted on 2020-06-26 11:00:33
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