STONINGTON — At a surprise ceremony at West Vine Street School Friday afternoon, special education teacher Holly Shurtleff was named Educator of the Year in the Stonington schools.

Shurtleff has been a special education teacher for third and fourth graders at West Vine for six years.

“This time of year, teachers are so distracted with end of the year activities, they never see it coming,” said Mary Anne Butler, assistant school superintendent, as a group of teachers, staff members, family and well wishers waited for Shurtleff’s appearance to accept the award.

“Now the whole school knows how lucky we are to have you,” Principal Alicia Dawe told to Shurtleff after she accepted the award. “You mean the world to me, and I treasure and value you more than you know.”

Assistant principal Kathryn Irvine said, “You have made an impact on our school climate and everyone is so proud of you.”

Fourth grade math interventionist Kate Southard told Shurtleff that she had made her want to be a better teacher.

“You are just the backbone of everything we do,” Southard said. “You earned this, and we just love you so much.”

Director of special services Allison Van Etten praised Shurtleff for being “as creative a teacher as I’ve ever seen. We’d like to have 300 of you if we could clone you.”

Dawes said she has known Shurtleff for about 11 years, and hired her six years ago.

“She is far and above the most outstanding educator I’ve come across,” Dawes said. “She puts the children’s needs ahead of herself and works tirelessly for her kids.”

“She’s a very caring, supportive person who … meets students’ needs not only academically, but based on their interests,” Dawes said. “She gets to know the kids inside and out and the kids adore her, and the staff adores her … We’re very lucky to have her. I”m just honored to work with her day in and day out.”

Shurtleff, who said she was overwhelmed by the award, told the group that she “wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t have amazing staff.”

Shurtleff said later that she knew she had been nominated for the award, but didn’t expect to get it. She will teach summer school when the year ends and preparing for the speech she will give next fall as Educator of the Year.

Shurtleff was chosen by an Educator of the Year committee consisting of teachers, paraprofessional staff and former Educators of the Year within the Stonington school system.

Dawes in March was named Connecticut Elementary Principal of the Year by the Connecticut Association of Schools and the National Association of Elementary School Principal.

“It’s a wonderful celebration for this school, having the Connecticut Elementary Principal of the Year and educator of the year,” assistant superintendent Butler said. “It’s such a positive way to end the school year.”

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