Flagstaff High School photography teacher Joe Cornett will be celebrating with his parents and his students after winning the 2018 Coconino County Teacher of the Year award.
“This is a huge win for (Career and Technical Education),” Cornett said after accepting his award. “I don’t think I could teach if I couldn’t teach photography.”
Cornett’s parents, who were teachers, were in the audience to see their son accept the award and said they were immensely proud of him.
About eight of Cornett’s students also voiced their glee at him winning the award with cheers from their table near the middle of the room.
Cornett started teaching at FHS about six years ago. He teaches photography full-time at FHS and is an adjunct instructor at Coconino Community College. Over the years, he has added a photography III class to the schedule and teaches an average of 150 students a year. The Skills USA photography team he coaches took first and third prizes in a competition this year. Many of his students have been published and have won awards at the statewide Congressional Art Competition, Arizona Light Photo competition and the Youth Art competition.
“There’s just a wonderful, awesome community at FHS,” Cornett said.
Principal Tony Cullen has made the school a welcoming community for both teachers and students. He gives teachers the ability to grow their programs in ways they see fit, Cornett said. His students inspire him every day and the support he receives from his fellow CTE teachers makes it all worthwhile.
The Coconino Teacher of the Year receives a new car leased for one year from Findlay Toyota with a $1,000 donation from Findlay to offset any insurance costs for the vehicle. They also get a $2,000 award, the opportunity to apply for the Arizona Teacher of the Year, a three-credit course from Coconino Community College, a season ticket to Theatrikos, a spot in the Flagstaff Fourth of July Parade and a three-minute keepsake video.
The runners up, or Ambassadors of Excellence, for the Teacher of the Year were Louise Durant from Williams Elementary Middle School and Kelley Smith from Coconino High School. They each receive a $1,500 cash award, the chance to apply for Arizona Teacher of the Year, a three-credit course from CCC, a season ticket to Theatrikos and a spot in the Flagstaff Fourth of July Parade.
“Any teacher who is nominated for the teacher of the year is a winner,” Cornett said. “It’s easy to become pessimistic. We need to recognize all of the good things that are happening in our classrooms, too. We need to promote the positive.”
New at this year’s ceremony was the 2018 Rookie Teacher of the Year award. Flagstaff Unified School District Director of College and Career Development Dave Dirksen explained that the new award was designed to recognize the newer teachers who are also doing an outstanding job.
One of the drawbacks to the Teacher of the Year award is that only teachers who have been teaching for four or more years are eligible for it, he said. That leaves out a lot of excellent teachers who are just starting their careers.
The first Rookie Teacher of the Year award went to Catherine Kowalski, a teacher and coach at Williams High School. She teaches geometry, pre-calculus and personal finance. She has also started a math team, coaches basketball, is sponsoring the junior class and started a hiking club.
The Rookie Teacher of the Year receives a $1,000 cash award, one three-credit course from CCC, a season ticket to Theatrikos, two lift tickets to Arizona Snowbowl and a spot in the Flagstaff Fourth of July Parade.
The runners up for the Rookie of the Year, or Rookie Ambassadors, were Heather Horner from Kinsey Elementary School and Alexa Frechette from Mount Elden Middle School. They each receive a $500 cash award, a season ticket to Theatrikos and a spot in the Fourth of July Parade.