WALKER – “I’m going to bring the old principal out,” retiring Superintendent Rick Wentzel warned those who attended the Livingston Parish Public Schools Teachers of the Year/Principals of the Year Awards Ceremony on Tuesday.

Wentzel gave directions to more than 300 people at Revival Temple in Walker on how the two buffet lines would work and later how teachers would come on stage to be recognized.

And teachers were the focus of his attention.

“This event is proving our educators are committed to providing a quality education for our children, which is what it’s all about,” Wentzel said.

“We wouldn’t be here if not for the teachers and principals here. It’s a group effort.

“I know we are competing with Lane Hardy tonight,” Wentzel said about the “American Idol” finalist who came home to French Settlement and had a parade to a concert at the Livingston Parish Fairgrounds.

“He did a great job at French Settlement,” Wentzel said. “He told students, ‘See what you can become.’ And that’s what we’re all about.”

“I want you to know I’m retiring but I will always be your biggest cheerleader,” he said.

A total of 45 elementary, middle school and high school teachers were honored. The district’s top teachers of the year were:

• Elementary Teacher of the Year: Candace Shaidaee, Live Oak Elementary,

• Middle School Teacher of the Year: Shannon Graham, Frost School.

• High School Teacher of the Year: Vickie Eaves, Denham Springs High.

The principals of their respective schools introduced each winner, along with a former student of the teacher.

 Live Oak Elementary Principal Michelle Wheeler called Shaidaee a “teacher leader” who always strives to do her best.

“She is very approachable and not afraid to take risks,” she said.

Also speaking was former Live Oak Elementary Student of the Year Carson Jones, now a freshman at Live Oak High.

He described the fourth-grade teacher as “caring, a problem solver. I am forever grateful to have flourished under her guidance.”

Frost School Principal Stacey Wise said Graham has spent 23 of her 34 years in education in Livingston Parish and was previously honored as Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Wise said she witnessed Graham taking a class of student who were near the bottom in test scores and bringing them to the top of the test scores.

“That’s a good relationship,” between teacher and students, Wise said, “It creates excitement and a desire to learn.”

Cailey Smith, who will graduate this month from French Settlement High with a 4.0 GPA, recalled having Graham as her fourth-grade teacher.

“She always treats us like family,” said Smith, who battled health problems as a young child. “She was a blessing in my life.”

Smith had four surgeries before she entered kindergarten, she said, and her mother decided she needed to repeat the fourth grade with Graham.

“My first year, I struggled, but she never gave up,” Smith said. “The second time, I began loving school.” 

Denham Springs High Principal Kelly Jones said Eaves will do “anything I can push her way. She never has too much on her plate.”

“Denham Springs would not be as successive as we are without her,” he said.

After beginning her educational career in Ascension Parish, Eaves retired, Jones said, but nine years ago she came back to teaching.

She is head of the English Department, teaching AP English and serving as English test coordinator.

Her efforts this year resulted in 200 students earning college credit in English, Jones said.

Student Peyton Watson said she had a love of English, but it was not until she had Eaves for a teacher that she expanded her understanding of language.

Watson credited Eaves with inspiring her to seek to become a college professor.  

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