A culinary arts teacher who teaches students how to succeed both in the kitchen and in life and a school cafeteria manager whose staff has served more than 79,000 meals so far this school year were honored as Louisa County Public Schools’ top certified and classified employees. 

Louisa County High School culinary arts teacher Ben Howell received the 2021 William G. Thomas Educator of the Year Award, which honors the top certified educator, during the school division’s annual banquet on May 5 at Tavern on the Green at Spring Creek. Louisa County High School cafeteria manager Jessica Osborne was named the 2021 Wallace L. Tingler MVP of the Year, which goes to the top classified employee. 

Each of the six public schools was represented at the banquet by a classified and certified employee (the school division’s operations team is also represented by a classified employee). Each of the 13 honorees had received a #TeamLCPS MVP nomination during the school year. Then, each school’s employees held a vote to determine the individual winners. 

From there, an independent panel made up of representatives from the six schools collaborated to select the educator and MVP of the year. 

Both of this year’s winners went above and beyond the call of duty to meet the needs of students during a school year that was unique in its challenges.

Osborne, who has worked at Louisa County Public Schools for nine years, is known for her organization, positive attitude, and tremendous work ethic. In a portfolio she compiled for the judging panel, Osborne said she believes in the power of positivity and the value of a smile.

“I come to work with a smile because I know there may be one student, one employee, or one stranger who needs to see my smiling face,” Osborne said. “A smile is contagious and sets the tone for the day. When people see happiness, they want to be part of it.”

Osborne, who has served as the high school’s cafeteria manager since 2015, was part of a herculean effort this year by the school system’s nutrition team. She attributed part of that accomplishment to the school’s tightly-knitted bond and “one family” concept.

“It’s a community,” she said. “We are a small town with a big heart.”

Meanwhile, Howell’s versatility and ingenuity is well-known. During his four years at Louisa County High School, he has created a world-class culinary arts program and even took on the challenge of teaching classes online this year. Howell said he was amazed by the amount of support he received from students after being named educator of the year.

“I had students applaud when they walked by my classroom,” he said. “I had students who I hadn’t seen all semester track me down to say congratulations. I loved seeing our young adults showing true excitement. That tells me that we are getting through to them, and we are providing a strong and supportive environment for them.”

Along with operating the culinary arts program, Howell also helps maintain an on-campus apiary filled with thousands of honey bees. He works with students to collect and bottle honey.

In his portfolio, Howell praised school and division administrators for encouraging innovation at every level.

“We are encouraged to innovate in the classroom and keep our classes fresh and engaging,” Howell said. “I have worked places where the folks at the highest levels have said the same things, but then crushed our efforts when we were being too ‘radical’ even though our data showed success. It is a breath of fresh air to work somewhere we are actually allowed and supported when we do what is asked of us.”

Superintendent Doug Straley applauded the work of Osborne, Howell, and the entire group of honorees for their heroic efforts this year.

“Especially this school year, we have seen how valuable our educators are to this community,” Straley said. “You get to hear stories about how members of our staff are changing the lives of their students. I always say that people are your most valuable resource, and we have a team full of incredible people here in Louisa County. I’m just so proud of each one of them and it’s an honor to be their superintendent.”

“Our school division takes so much pride in the hard work of our team members, and these 13 individuals demonstrate what it means to truly love your job,” said Louisa County School Board Chairman Greg Strickland. “They are such a positive influence on those around them, and it’s hard to put into words how valuable that is. They are truly superheroes.”

 The school-level MVPs who were honored May 5 include:

Jouett Elementary School: Virginia Staudinger, instructional assistant

Moss-Nuckols Elementary School: Tabatha Smith, nurse

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School: Dawn Lipscomb, instructional assistant

Trevilians Elementary School: Carolyn Johnson instructional assistant

Louisa County Middle School: Karen Cassell, instructional assistant

Louisa County High School: Jessica Osborne, cafeteria manager

Central Office and Operations: Harriet Thurston, administrative assistant

The school-level educators of the year who were honored include:

Jouett Elementary School: Elizabeth Burchell, math resource teacher

Moss-Nuckols Elementary School: Amanda Hurd, technology coach

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School: Allison Waggy, reading resource teacher

Trevilians Elementary School: Megan Barrett, fourth-grade teacher

Louisa County Middle School: Kate Straley, technology coach

Louisa County High School: Ben Howell, culinary arts teacher

Louisa County Public Schools would like to thank The William A. Cooke Foundation and Old Dominion Insurance & Investments in Winchester for sponsoring the MVP Awards process.   

The Wallace L. Tingler Award is named after Wallace “Chuck” Tingler, a longtime member of the Louisa Education Foundation. Tingler also assisted the Louisa County community through his philanthropic efforts while serving as board chairman for the William A. Cooke Foundation and William A. Cooke, Inc. The William G. Thomas Award is named after Dr. William Thomas, who served as the superintendent for Louisa County Public Schools for 11 years. 

Contributed by Louisa County Public Schools

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