Richardson wins IRSD Teacher of the Year award

A love of reading at core of specialist’s work to help students

Date Published: 
May 5, 2017

Coastal Point • Laura Walter: The 2017-2018 Indian River School District Teachers of the Year pose in the Indian River High School auditorium.Coastal Point • Laura Walter: The 2017-2018 Indian River School District Teachers of the Year pose in the Indian River High School auditorium.“I love to read,” said Lisa Richardson, reading intervention specialist at Millsboro Middle School.

Richardson is the 2017-2018 Teacher of the Year for the Indian River School District. Her win was announced at a dinner on Wednesday, April 29.

Not only does Richardson treasure the worlds that can open through books, but she also has a keen understand of the impact the ability to read has on everyday life.

Richardson’ students come to her needing help meeting reading requirements. The main challenge of her job, she said, is “helping them catch up so they can be successful in their core classes.” If a students is struggling to read, she said, everything else in school becomes a struggle as well.

“You have to read in math,” she said.

She helps students with reading skills in three areas: Tier 2, in which students “need some help” meeting reading requirements; Tier 3, in which students “need intensive help”; and English Language Learners, which includes students whose first language was not English.

An educator for 23 years, Richardson said she has seen reading skills suffer as a result of children spending more time on video games, watching movies instead of reading books. Both have resulted in students with shorter attention spans and higher need for instant gratification, she said.

“It’s hard for them, with a book, because books take a long time,” she said.

To get her students interested in reading, Richardson starts with shorter “bites” of longer books.

“I like to do a lot of excerpts,” she said, “little snippets of things that get them thinking.”

When she introduced students to the Harry Potter series, Richardson said, students asked “Can we keep reading this?” — which, of course, was music to her ears.

Richardson came to teaching after a brief stint in the corporate world, which she now refers to as “trying to put a square peg in a round hole.” Standing in her classroom on a rare day without students, she said “I was born to do this.”

As a reading intervention teacher, when the number of students in her classes is smaller at the end of the year, that’s a good thing. It means fewer students need her help, Richardson explained.

The Tier 2 program “was kind of my brainchild,” she said, when she saw a number of students who could handle grade-level material but needed “scaffolding” to help them keep up.

At Millsboro Middle, Richardson teaches about 35 of the school’s 700 students. In order to meet each of their needs, she said, as a self-professed “rule-follower,” she has learned over the years “to be a lot more creative and flexible,” always looking for new ways to approach a challenge.

Now that she has more than two decades under her teaching belt, Richardson said she really enjoys seeing former students out in the community.

“I get so excited when I just see them being productive,” she said.

Richardson is herself a product of the Indian River School District, and she credited her own second-grade teacher, Tamara Toomey, with setting her on her eventual career path.

“She instilled in me the love of reading,” Richardson said. “I absolutely loved her.”

Later in her IRSD education, at Sussex Central High School, another teacher, Woody Long, helped her to see that there is a world outside of Sussex County, literally and figuratively.

“He’s the one who broadened my perspective, globally,” she said.

At the IRSD award dinner, surrounded by fellow educators and their families, Richardson said, “I am rendered speechless, and there’s a lot of people in this room that know me know that’s amazing.

“Thank you so much to my family for all their support, my mom for being such a great educational role model,” she continued. “There’s so many people in this room that I have went to school with and I have taught with that are amazing educators, and I just thank you all — every teacher, every administrator that I’ve ever worked with. You’ve gotten me here. Thank you so very much.”

“Teachers connect society. … We must cultivate and retain quality teachers in education,” Richardson said. “A highly-qualified teacher who can build relationships with students can move mountains.”

She encouraged teachers to “compartmentalize all the angst that’s going on in society, move forward and do what we do best.”

“Both inside and outside the classroom, Lisa is a role model for others. Every school and school district needs a Lisa Richardson!” wrote former principal and assistant superintendent Gary Brittingham in remarks prepared for the award presentation.