Enshrining 'giants' of county schools

The Baltimore Sun

There are halls of fame for everything, from professional sports to fine arts and organizations.

So why not a hall of fame for educators?

Don Morrison, director of public information for Harford County's public school system, came up with the idea to pay tribute to longtime county educators.

"I thought it would be a great way to recognize people who have done great things for the school system," Morrison said. "I also thought it would allow current educators to see what the people before them have done. And that these great educators could serve as role models for them."

Morrison took his idea to schools Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas, who agreed that the project was worth pursuing. In October 2000, the Harford County Educators Hall of Fame was born.

Since its inception, more than 130 educators have been inducted.

Inductees are nominated by family, friends or community members, who fill out an application that includes two personal recommendations. Morrison approached the Harford County Retired School Personnel Association, a group that supports retired school employees, to act as a conduit for the nominations. The members agreed.

They created a nomination application. During the summer, a committee of their members -- all former educators or school personnel -- review as many as 25 nominations, from which they select the inductees for the next year, said Janie Robinson, committee chairperson.

"This program gives common teachers a chance to be recognized," Robinson said. "Almost all of them, when they learn they have been selected, say that they were just doing their job."

After committee members make their selections, the applications are sent to the superintendent, who sends them on to the board for final approval, Morrison said.

The educators are inducted during the second school board meeting of each month. They receive a wooden plaque that includes the county public school system seal, their name, the years they served in school, and the date they were inducted. They also receive certificates from the school board, the county executive, the County Council and the state delegation, and a gold lapel pin from Haas.

For the first five years of the program, two educators were inducted each month. Then for the past two years, one person per month has been inducted. To be eligible, educators must have 20 or more years of experience, some of which was in a county public school system classroom.

"We have many outstanding educators worthy of recognition," said Tom Owen, president of the Harford County Retired School Personnel Association. "This program gives us a chance to reach back a long time and remember the work of teachers from long ago."

Once the inductees are selected, Morrison researches their background and writes a biographical sketch on each person. Then the bio, along with a photo, is downloaded onto a kiosk in the school district's education building in Bel Air.

"We call them the giants on which we build our school system," he said.

Mary Berry, who worked as a teacher and librarian for 51 years in county schools, was the first to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

She was one of several teachers who helped integrate the county's schools. She started her career at the Bel Air Colored High School, and then moved to the Central Consolidated School in 1950.

Berry saw her years of service as her duty, she said. Being nominated was an unexpected surprise.

"I worked very hard," said Berry, 82, of Bel Air. "I had people around me who did a great job, and I wanted to do the same. I wanted to do the best that I could for the kids, and the school. Being recognized after all of these years means that people thought I was successful at what I did."

Another early inductee, Evelyn R. Walker, taught in the county public elementary schools for about 48 years. She started her teaching career at the old Greenwood School in Fountain Green in 1930, was transferred to Havre de Grace Elementary in 1932, and remained there until her retirement in 1978.

With 99 years in the county school system between them, these two educators were inducted into the Harford County Public School Educators' Hall of Fame in October 2000.

Ethel Sellman was inducted in December 2000, after teaching French at Aberdeen High School for 29 years. She was a pioneer in the use of foreign language laboratories in the school system, and in the development of foreign exchange programs.

Blanche Cox, who died in 2000 at the age of 95, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in May 2003. She started teaching elementary school in 1928 in St. Mary's County. Then she began teaching in Harford County in 1937 at the Central Consolidated School, and, in the final year of her career, at Hickory Elementary School from which she retired in 1966. While a teacher, she purchased essential materials, clothing and food for her students.

William Seccurro was inducted into the Hall of Fame in September 2003. For more than 34 years, he served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and then a supervisor for the county school system.

He said he felt honored when he learned of his nomination.

"I worked with some outstanding educators in my time," said Seccurro, who is president and CEO of the Harford County Chamber of Commerce. "It means a lot to me to be recognized for doing my job. It was an honor to be a part of something that has impacted the kids and the community."

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