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Teaching excellence starts and ends with dedication to students, school and craft [Editorial]

Havre de Grace Elementary School fifth grade teacher Thomas Dennison takes a moment to thank the students and faculty after Dennison was named as the $25,000 winner of the Milken Award on Dec. 1.
Havre de Grace Elementary School fifth grade teacher Thomas Dennison takes a moment to thank the students and faculty after Dennison was named as the $25,000 winner of the Milken Award on Dec. 1. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

There's probably not a whole lot more to add to what's already been said about Thomas Dennison, the Havre de Grace Elementary School fifth grade teacher who received a Milken Educator Award last week.

Congratulations are certainly in order. These awards, known collectively as the "Oscars of Teaching," don't fall out of the sky. They have to earned, and that's no small feat. Dennison's award is just one of 35 given out this year by the Milken Family Foundation. That's not even one per state.

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If we had to pick out a singular trait that led to Dennison's selection, we'd say first and foremost it's his dedication: to his craft, his students, his co-workers, his family and his community.

Thomas Dennison, a fifth-grade teacher at Havre de Grace Elementary School, received the $25,000 Milken Educator Award from the Milken Family Foundation.

"This school is amazing; it's filled with the greatest thing, and that's hope," Dennison said, as an oversized check was presented to him on Dec. 1.

Dennison has spent 14 years teaching at Havre de Grace Elementary. He said he wants to be there 30 more.

"That's the plan, to be in these hallways for 30 years, to spend more time in this building than I will any other place in my entire life," he said.

Many people in and out of the Harford County public school system have said over and over and over again that hiring and retaining top quality teachers needs to be a public policy priority.

It's essential to the community's economic and social well being, Ryan Burbey, head of the local teachers union, is fond of reminding anyone and everyone who will give him a forum to say it. He's spot on.

Thomas Dennison obviously fits the bill. Not every teacher can win a Milken Award, nor should we expect them to. But, we should also want them to aspire to be the best they can be. From all indications, the latest Milken Award recipient from Harford County – and we've had a pretty fair share of them – is a role model for his peers who is revered by his students.

According the Milken Family Foundation's formal announcement of his award: "Former students have described Dennison as a teacher who changed their lives." Frankly, that testimonial is probably worth more to Thomas Dennison than the nice check he personally received from award co-founder Michael Milken.

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