Winner, Judge's Award for Best High School Teacher

Susan Burnett: Winner, Judge's Award for Best High School Teacher

Intervention Specialist, Cruiser Academy, Groveport Madison Schools

Susan Burnett has taught in many different places - Kentucky, Texas and Ohio - following her minister husband. But the high-school teacher believes she truly has found a home in Groveport Madison Schools.

"I have loved every student I have ever taught, but Groveport Madison is where my heart is," said Burnett, a native of Harrodsburg, Ky. A few years ago, when her husband had the opportunity to return to Central Ohio for a hospice chaplaincy, Burnett, who just completed her 25th year of teaching, didn't hesitate to make her preferences known. She had worked in the Groveport Madison district before and wanted to return.

"The administration treats you right," Burnett said, "but the big thing is the students and the parents. I plan on retiring from here."

In 2011, Burnett received what has turned out to be a dream assignment: She is the intervention specialist at Cruiser Academy, a unique school within the district, which serves at-risk high-school students.

The school, located in converted office space just off Winchester Pike, has an 11-month school year and offers its students 24-hour online access to their course material and extensive support.

But, by all accounts, Burnett goes above and beyond the normal standards to support her students. Her friend Diane Dove noted that she "worked on Saturdays to help many prepare to pass the OGT (Ohio Graduation Test)." Bill Young, the principal at Cruiser Academy, wrote that Burnett "started giving out her cell phone number and encouraging the students to call her after school hours. (She) has been known to meet her students at the local library and help them on Saturdays and during holidays, just because they called her with an issue."

Burnett enjoys figuring out what makes her students tick and what helps them succeed.

"A lot of my students are here because there are too many distractions in a traditional (school) setting," she explained. "The noise, having to change classrooms each period. It didn't work for them."

By eliminating the distractions, Burnett believes she is able to help the students find their way. She does it with equal applications of kindness and persistence.

"A lot of times, they can't verbalize what it is that is causing them to act out," she said, "but I want to be that friendly voice, someone who doesn't take it personally, and figure out 'what is it you're trying to tell me by acting out?'"

Burnett originally began college studying music, but, as part of her degree requirements at Cumberland College in Kentucky, she had to volunteer in a classroom. She was assigned to students who had special needs.

"When I walked into that classroom, I just felt like I was home," she said and soon after shifted her major to Special Education. She later added a master's degree from The Ohio State University in Teaching and Learning Studies.

Judith Eisel, Burnett's colleague at Cruiser Academy, wrote that "many people talk about wanting to help. Susan doesn't just talk, she walks what needs to be done. She is totally dedicated to all students making maximum success."

And that dedication continues past graduation day. Burnett said she makes an offer to all her students, to come back and share with her what they've accomplished - over peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches. She keeps a jar of peanut butter in her classroom, she said, for when those visitors show up - and they do.

"So many of them are teachers themselves now," she said. "I have lawyers and doctors. It's just so wonderful when they come back and bring me pictures. The world may have told them 'you can't,' but my classroom says, 'you can.'

"I get to change my world one student at a time," Burnett added. "They may not remember my name, but they will remember there was someone who believed in them."

Something tells us her students do not forget Susan Burnett's name.

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