A Howard County high school teacher who was raised in a family of educators and turned to the profession as a second career was named the state's Teacher of the Year Friday.
Jody Zepp, 54, of Owings Mills, was born in Baltimore and grew up in Westminster, the youngest of four. She worked in the entertainment industry, including as a box office manager for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, before returning to Maryland to teach at the age of 38.
"It was a vocation and a calling," said Zepp, who graduated from McDaniel College and holds a masters degree in political science from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. "I sort of ran away toward home."
At Hammond High School, where she has worked for five years, Zepp teaches between 130 and 140 students in grade 10 to 12, who range from those with special needs to those in Advanced Placement courses.
"Jody is not only an educator who has the highest standard for all of our students, but she is able to engage students at all ability levels and help them become the best students and best people they can be," said Hammond High School Principal Marcy Leonard.
The state selected Zepp from seven state finalists, citing in part her work helping to increase minority participation and proficiency in AP classes. She wins a car donated by the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association valued at $25,000, among other rewards. Her school will receive $10,000 from the McDonald's Family of Maryland.
"I'm still processing that," said Zepp, a government and psychology teacher. "It's extraordinary."
Zepp's father, Ira Zepp Jr., was a professor at McDaniel College, and her mother, Mary, was an elementary school teacher. Her sister Karen teaches music at Bryant Woods Elementary School in Columbia and one of her brothers, Alan, is an English teacher at Westminster High School and former Carroll County Teacher of the Year.
Zepp is the lead adviser for several student extracurricular programs at Hammond High School, including the C-SPAN StudentCam competition, Stock Market Game, and Model UN. She also serves as coach of the Hammond HS EconChallenge Team, which has captured three consecutive state championships, school officials said.
"Very little significant happens in the classroom apart from relationships," Zepp said, adding that teachers need to do more than meet students at the door with an iPad. "When students know you actually care ... there is a bond."
Zepp now competes for the National Teacher of the Year award, to be announced in April. Maryland teachers have won the award three times since 2006 — including most recently in April, when Sean McComb of Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts in Baltimore County received the honor.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Blair Ames and Joseph Burris contributed to this article.