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2019 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence winners announced

By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – 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 33rd annual Academic Awards Banquet on May 18 at the Renaissance Tulsa Convention Center.

Medals are awarded annually to outstanding Oklahoma teachers, one each at the elementary, secondary, community college/regional university and research university levels. The foundation also presents a Medal for Excellence to an exceptional administrator from the elementary or secondary level.  :

Catherine Adams, an Edmond Resident, school counselor and social-emotional learning and bullying-prevention teacher at Piedmont Elementary School, is the winner of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Elementary Teaching,

“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.

Michelle Churchwell, an English teacher and IKE Ignition Program coordinator at Eisenhower High School in Lawton, is the winner of the Medal for Excellence in Secondary Teaching.

“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.”

Dr. Rick Cobb, superintendent at Mid-Del Public Schools in Oklahoma City, is the winner of the Medal for Excellence in Elementary/Secondary Administration.

“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,” Jami added. “Mid-Del students clearly see Dr. Cobb as an approachable, caring administrator and not just a ‘suit’ in the admin office.”

Dr. Wayne Lord, a professor of biology and forensic science at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, is the recipient of the Oklahoma Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Regional University/Community College.

“I routinely engage students in practical, collaborative scenario-based problem-solving exercises and small-group critical thinking assignments,” Lord said. 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 said of 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.’”

Dr. Keith Strevett, a David Ross Boyd Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Oklahoma in Norman is the winner of the Medal for Excellence in Teaching at a Research University.

“I like to say that I don’t teach problem solving, but rather I teach problem solvers,” Strevett said.  Dr. Strevett’s classes evolved from lecture-and-slide presentations to instructional videos that students can watch before class so that class time can be dedicated to direct interaction and problem-solving exercises.

Learning experiences under Dr. Strevett included surveying Tar Creek, performing water-quality analysis of underground wells, and completing a soil erosion study recalled former graduate assistant Kyle Walker.  “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.”

Each of the five medal 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.

“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.

“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.”

In 1985, under the leadership of then U.S. Senator David Boren, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit organization, was the established to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. The foundation is supported solely by private contributions with an annual operating budget of nearly $1 million.

“The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence sends a message – strong and clear – that we in Oklahoma value great educators and outstanding students,” said Boren,

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, visit the Foundation for Excellence website at

The 2019 Oklahoma Medal for Excellence winners are Catherine Adams, Michelle Churchwell, Dr. Rick Cobb, Dr. Wayne Lord and Dr. Keith Strevett. Photo provided.


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