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Two teachers, but only one can be No. 1

Jay M. Robinson, Quail Hollow teachers up for award

by Morgan Smith

Linda Crownshaw reviews practice End-of-grade tests in one of her inclusion classes. Crownshaw was recently named Southwest Zone Teacher of the Year. Morgan Smith/SCW photo

Dedicated, passionate and committed are just a few of the words used to describe two south Charlotte teachers up for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Teacher of the Year honors.

Linda Crownshaw and Alycia Nikolaus already are zone teachers of the year, after being nominated by friends and colleagues at their schools. Crownshaw, the SouthWest Zone winner, teaches eighth-grade English at Quail Hollow Middle. Nikolaus, in the East Zone, teaches eighth-grade math at Jay M. Robinson Middle.

Now, it’s between them and three other district teachers for the grand title, to be announced May 20 at CMS Day at Carowinds.

Crownshaw is not your typical middle school English teacher – at least not here in the United States. Originally from England, Crownshaw and her family moved to the U.S. 14 years ago when her husband transferred jobs. She’s taught for seven years, and has been nominated for the teacher of the year before, but never made it this far.

“It’s an honor, especially when your peers chose you,” Crownshaw added.

Though the language is the same, the culture between here and there can be very different, Crownshaw said, leading her to leave behind her career as a prosecution attorney. She considered staying home with her three kids, but after a few years of volunteering in their schools she decided it was time to give back.

“If we had stayed in England, I would have continued (law),” she said. “It was only because coming to America, I had time at home with my own children and I wanted to do something to help the schools. I like English, I like reading and poetry – it really opened a new avenue for me.”

So Crownshaw went back to school, attending the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and then nailing a job at first as a sixth-grade English teacher at Quail Hollow. She also earned her National Board Certification in English Language Arts.

And now it’s been seven years and Crownshaw is still going strong at Quail Hollow, teaching eighth-grade inclusion classes for the past three years, where regular education and special education students are mixed, and one honors class, as well as advising the school’s Shakespeare Club. She said her favorite part about teaching is working with her co-teacher, Chris Thomas. “We’re like a married couple,” she said, speaking of their close-knit relationship that allows students to have a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom.

“The students get a lot more ways to learn when there are two teachers in the room,” Crownshaw added.

Quail Hollow Principal Rachel Neill said she’s not surprised Crownshaw has made it this far. In one word, Neill said Crownshaw is committed, and that’s why she’s so great.

She is committed “to making sure goals and visions will become a reality,” Neill said. “This is not a job – it’s a mission. She just loves it and you can see that.”

Neill said Crownshaw is an important staple at the school, as a leader, supporter and a team player.

“She really is a leader across the school, and her commitment is not only to her students, but all students at Quail,” Neill said.

Crownshaw said she owes her success to her teacher mentor, Patricia Glassen, a now-retired CMS teacher that worked at Quail Hollow when Crownshaw first started.

“She really was someone I looked up to,” Crownshaw added. “She was just a wonderful teacher and I learned a tremendous lot from her.”

(From left) Jay M. Robinson Principal Kathleen Fox, parent-teacher group president Stephanie Johnston, East Zone Teacher of the Year Alycia Nikolaus, selection committee member Julie Hill, East Zone Superintendent Kelly Gwaltney and Mojdeh Henderson, eighth-grade assistant principal, celebrate Nikolaus’s achievement through a surprise visit to her classroom. Photo courtesy of Jay M. Robinson Middle

Nikolaus has a similar story, although she moved to Charlotte after attending Marshall University in Huntington, W.V, not far from where she grew up. Tired of her home state, Nikolaus said she just needed a change and wanted to move somewhere with more opportunities.

She began her teaching career at Southwest Middle School, where she taught seventh-grade math for four years, and also was nominated for teacher of the year, but didn’t make it to the final round. Now she is the eighth-grade math leader at Jay M. Robinson and says it’s her true passion for teaching that really makes her who she is.

“I think the teachers see me as a good teacher, an effective teacher,” she said. “They see my passion for my work, my willingness to always help people. I just think they see I have a true passion for teaching.”

For Nikolaus, her top role models have always been her parents, she said, but as far as her career in education, Robin Henson, her mentor teacher from Southwest Middle, is at the top of her list.

“She was always that person you could always go to,” Nikolaus said. “I really don’t know if I would have stayed in the teaching profession if it wasn’t for her.”

Now, Nikolaus is a mentor herself, and leads a team of new eighth-grade math teachers.

“I try to do a lot of the same things (Henson) did for me,” Nikolaus said. “I think the first thing is really being that support person… if someone needs help with a parent conference, a difficult student or is just having a bad day and needs someone to talk to.”

Kathleen Fox, principal at Jay M. Robinson, said she’s not surprised her teachers nominated Nikolaus for the award.

“She has very strong leadership skills, she’s very knowledgeable… her students’ performances are consistently high. They are high growth, which means she is able to take the students where they are and demonstrate a year’s worth of growth,” Fox said.

Fox describes Nikolaus as dedicated, so much so that she nominated Nikolaus last year for the Leaders of Tomorrow program where Nikolaus is now earning her administrative degree.

“I’m very proud of her,” Fox said. “She certainly deserves this honor … there’s nothing more gratifying than to be nominated by her peers … and her dedication – that’s what it really takes. Not every child is going to have an easy pass – that’s a big challenge. You have to make sure that everyone is successful.”

Nikolaus said, overall, her favorite part of the experience is the support and kind words she’s received from her colleagues and students. With her name on the school’s marquee, she’s received congrats even from community members, past teachers and students, she said.

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