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(Editor’s note: Erwin High School social studies teacher Brian Gonzales was named Buncombe County Schools Teacher of the Year at a school systems banquet Sept. 15, the day this story appeared in the print edition of The Black Mountain News. At the banquet, Cathy Haughney, a teacher at Charles D. Owen Middle School, was named recipient of the Ruth Henderson Award, which recognizes “an altruistic teacher whose light shines for every student and gives of themselves unselfishly,” according to a school systems press release.)

Lila Downs Morel is in the final lap of the 2016 Buncombe County Teacher of the Year competition, representing the Owen district schools. She has made it to the district Teacher of the Year category and now is competing against five other outstanding district teachers. The county winner was to be announced Sept. 15 (check blackmountainnews.com to see if she won).

Morel is a librarian/media specialist at Black Mountain Primary School with five years of experience.

“It is an honor to represent my school and district in the competition,” she said. “I think it is great that Buncombe County Schools recognizes its teachers in this way.”

Classroom teachers have more impact than any other school resource, said Susanne Swanger, Buncombe County Schools associate superintendent.

“These outstanding teachers,” she said, “represent some of the finest teachers not just here in Buncombe County but in the entire state. While I congratulate the district winners, I also commend all of our educators who were selected as their school’s Teacher of the Year. Without question, each of these exceptional teachers is committed, skilled and passionate about educating our students every day. We are honored to have them as a part of the Buncombe County Schools family.”

Morel is surprised that she was selected as District Teacher of the Year.

“I was surprised that as a media specialist that I was selected,” she said. “Being a librarian today is so different than it was a few years ago. I wear a variety of hats. I act as technology support for the teachers, which means I have to be up-to-date on all their equipment. I also offer professional development for the staff and teach classes in the media center about learning to use the school library. (I) collaborate with teachers and act as an extension for what they are teaching in the media center. I also co-teach with many of the teachers in the media center.”

Morel is especially proud of the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) lab at Black Mountain Primary. The school received a $20,000 grant from the Black Mountain Kiwanis Club to help create the lab.

“I’m excited about (it) because it has been my ‘baby’ for at least three years,” she said. “I learned about the STEAM program at a special technology training session, brought the idea back to Black Mountain Primary and with approval started creating the program. The students love it. It is not direct instruction but rather built around interactive centers. They do such projects as build catapults, have marble runs and robotics.”

Malorie McGinnis, the principal at Black Mountain Primary School, is proud of Morel’s accomplishments.

“On a daily basis she is a team player who goes above and beyond the call of duty,” McGinnis said. “She is a leader in our school and throughout the county as she willingly shares her expertise, knowledge and innovative ideas with students and peers. Daily she integrates technology into her instruction and promotes 21st Century skills. She is an excellent role model for students and staff.”

Morel’s focus is to promote student innovators and teach students to think.

“Students no longer have to know how to use a website, but now they must (also) know how to build one,” she said.

Did she win?

Check our website, blackmountainnews.com, after Thursday to learn how Lila Downs Morel did in the Buncombe County Teacher of the Year competition.

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