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Waverly Elementary/Middle English teacher with 'infectious' energy named Baltimore City Teacher of the Year

Mr. Kyair Butts, 6th grade English language arts teacher at Waverly Elementary/Middle School is the Baltimore City Schools' 2019 Teacher of the Year. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)

An English teacher at Waverly Elementary/Middle School known for his passion for language arts achievement and equity in the classroom was named the 2019 Baltimore City Teacher of the Year on Monday.

Kyair Butts, who began teaching middle school English at Waverly last year, choked back tears as city schools CEO Sonja Santelises presented him the honor in front of his cheering students and coworkers, as well as members of the media.

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“This is the best surprise!” Butts said while holding a framed honorary certificate.

The district recognized Butts for his work with students at Waverly and Calverton Elementary/Middle School, where he taught previously. Butts also works with Urban Teachers to educate his peers about how racial justice issues affect the classroom and teaching workforce.

He and LaQuisha Hall, last year’s city teacher of the year, both spoke about their shared goal to recruit more African-American teachers on a panel in November.

Hall joined Santelises, Waverly principal Dr. Tanya Green and two of Butts’ former colleagues at St. Mary’s County Public Schools, who drove more than two hours to be at Waverly, to present the award.

Santelises, who referred to this annual award as “the best time of the year,” said she got to know Butts through his work on literacy projects throughout the district. She noted his active presence on social media, through which he frequently comments on local education issues and aspects of his work within both in his classroom and the city.

Kyair Butts, an English language arts teacher at Waverly Elementary/Middle School reacts to the 2019 Teacher of the Year award presented by Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises during a surprise visit to his classroom Monday morning.
Kyair Butts, an English language arts teacher at Waverly Elementary/Middle School reacts to the 2019 Teacher of the Year award presented by Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises during a surprise visit to his classroom Monday morning. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

“Any teacher that tweets out their students’ reading and writing gains throughout the year automatically catches your attention,” she said. “His true energy and drive comes from just a belief in Baltimore City and our kids, and it’s infectious.”

Butts, whose students call him “Mr. K,” credited his colleagues, students and the city with helping him grow as an educator.

“Even though Teacher of the Year is a single distinction, it’s not really about one person, it’s not about any one person,” he said. “This is not exactly the easiest place to teach, but it has certainly become home for me. I feel like when I’d probably given up on myself [in the past], the city of Baltimore didn’t, and there were a lot of people, my students included, who made me feel like it could be home. So Baltimore is home, Baltimore is family.”

Butts’ award comes with a cash prize and classroom supplies through the Fund for Educational Excellence’s Mayor Kurt L Schmoke Endowment Fund. He also will throw the first pitch at City Schools Orioles Night on May 22 and advance to the Maryland State Teacher of the Year competition.

This year’s city finalists include Butts, Baltimore Design School’s Meghann Harris and Thomas Johnson Elementary/Middle School’s Rebecca McClure — all three of whom collaborate with one another on district-wide projects.

Butts’ win in such a competitive group “signifies the depth of our top [teacher] bench in Baltimore City,” Santelises said.

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