Rosemary Winters: "I want to make a difference in the lives of the children we work with everyday." (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Almost no one at Downtown Elementary School was surprised that Rosemary Winters was named the 2019 Teacher of the Year by Citizens For Better Service (CFBS), an advocacy group supporting public transportation and those who use it.

“The truth is that none of us was really surprised that Ms. Winters captured the honor,” said Principal Debra Martin Gates. “She is just such a woman, an excellent teacher that continues to distinguish herself among both students and colleagues, alike.

“Ms. Winters is our instructional resource, teaching students with intellectual disabilities. She not only builds their life skills and confidence, but she loves them. They know she cares enough to challenge them. Truly, Ms. Winters lives out our school motto each and every day, ‘We rise above the rest.’”

Winters learned she had been chosen Teacher of the Year when the CFBS President Johnny Mosley released the names of honorees for the 26th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Awards just before the new year.

“I was surprised, but I am so grateful,” said Winters. “I don’t just want to be a teacher. I want to make a difference in the lives of the children we work with each day. I have been able to do so because our principal, Ms. Gates has built an incredible collaborative of teachers and resource staff. We make lesson plans for each of our children, according to their specific needs.

“Education for children who have some other issues has changed over the years. They are integrated in the general education population. We pull them out for more intensive concentration on building their skills in certain areas. They take standardized assessment tests just like the other students. Many of them score at the basic level for their grade, and some even score sufficient.”

Winters developed a heart early on for students in public school who had to grapple with other issues. She saw her niece struggle in public school. With the necessary resources and tools to address each child’s specific needs, Winters believed that some children could be permanently reintegrated back into the general student population. For 18 years, she has proven her theory.

“I started teaching at Dunn Elementary School, and every year, I have enjoyed a five-star teaching assessment,” said Winters. “That is the highest rating a teacher can receive. About 11 or 12 of the students I have taught over the years made such incredible improvements in their learning skills that they are no longer classified as ‘instructional resource.’

“I give my first principal, Mrs. Willie Mae Willett, much of the credit at Dunn for challenging me to strive for excellence and exceptionalism. I love and appreciate her guidance so much.”

A taste of success with special needs children has driven Winters to work even harder.

“I work even harder with the teachers I collaborate and co-teach with to prepare our students to improve classroom performance and standardized testing,” said Winters. “More than 70 percent of our students showed a marked improvement in both math and reading skills. Those are huge gains and we couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Mosley said that nominees for Teacher of the Year were all excellent classroom instructors and results-driven professionals, but Winters most epitomized this year’s program theme.

“‘I Am The Dream’ reflects Ms. Winters commitment to her students and her profession,” said Mosley. “Working with our children, caring for their needs, and doing the best job she can in preparing them to take care of themselves is the perfect embodiment of living Dr. King’s dream.

“He always quoted the words to one of his favorite songs, ‘If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.’”

This year’s awards program, scheduled for Jan. 13 at 3 p.m., will be held at Bloomfield Full Gospel Church, 123 South Parkway West and is open to the public.

The program will feature a keynote address by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, and a number of outstanding students from all over the city will also be honored, along with the following awardees:

  • Principal of the Year – Dr. Willie  C. Williams, Principal, Manassas High School
  • Student of the Year – Mr. Julian Cross, High School Senior, Central High School
  • Pastor of the Year – Elder/Bishop Linwood Dillard, Pastor, Citadel of Deliverance C.O.G.I.C
  • Choir of the Year – Citadel of Deliverance Church of God in Christ Choir
  • Choir Director of the Year – Adrian Maclin, Director, Cordova High School Choir
  • Rosa Parks Courageous Award – Carolyn McLemore, Mobile Support Operator, Shelby County Schools Central Nutrition Center
  • Missionary Cleola Mosley Humanitarian Award – Ron Nelson, Director, Boys and Girls Club
  • Shining Star Award – Hattiloo Theatre
  • Lifetime Achievement Award – The Bell Singers
  • Man of Honor – Pastor Lee Salter, Pastor, Anointed Faith World Outreach Ministries
  • Woman of Honor – Dr. Doris Riley, Director, Shekinah Global Ministries
  • Community Leader of the Year – Dr. Sharon Griffin, Chief of the Achievement School District
  • Community Role Model of the Year – Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner Jr.
  • Golden  Voice  Award – Ms.Curtanya Smith, Gospel Soloist
  • The Mountaintop Award – Emily Yellin, Director, Striking Voices, a multimedia production on the 1968 sanitation strikers and their families