CLAY COUNTY – Teacher of the Year and School-Related Employee of the Year were selected last week and both educators are ecstatic to take home the award.
Lindsay Burghart is the Teacher of the Year and Cassandra Broughton is the School-Related Employee of the Year. Burghart works at Middleburg High as an intensive reading teacher for juniors and seniors, while Broughton is a behavioral health assistant at W.E. Cherry Elementary in Orange Park.
Teachers do a lot of work. Their schedule is far more involved than grading papers, reading essays, preparing lesson plans and determining how best to make their students excel. What isn’t unseen is how those late hours affect the lives of students each and every day.
“This distinguished honor is well deserved as both employees have worked tremendously hard and also garnered the admiration and respect of the students, parents and staff in Clay County,” Superintendent Addison Davis said. “Mrs. Broughton and Mrs. Broughton act as models for everyone in our profession. I am proud that both of these individuals will represent our district and I look forward to seeing how they continue to elevate Clay.”
Burghart remembers hearing her name called on stage at the Night of Stars event earlier this month and leaning forward to look at the picture of the winner.
“I was shocked,” Burghart said. “I leaned forward to make sure it’s my picture to make sure it actually was me.”
Burghart didn’t necessarily discount her chances of winning, but it was the excellence of everyone on stage that had her shocked.
“From talking with the finalists and getting to know them during the process, it was just so humbling to realize how much they all do for their students and for their profession,” Burghart said. “You realize it could be anybody up on the stage because everyone steps up to positively affect the lives of children.”
Burghart has been at Middleburg High for six years but has taught in Clay County schools for all 13 years of her teaching career. She doesn’t see a future where she’s not teaching. She said if offered any job in the world, she’d pick teaching every time.
Burghart believes that what got her on stage and ultimately accepting the Teacher of the Year award was her relationship with her students. Because they’re seniors and juniors, they’re basically adults which means they need to be treated like adults to succeed, Burghart said.
“They need to be treated like adults because when they’re treated like adults, they act like adults,” Burghart said. “Once we’re all on the same wavelength in the classroom, everything clicks into space.”
For Burghart’s students to graduate, they have to pass the ACT or SAT which adds a level of pressure to her job in the classroom. These students have to excel so they can get a diploma, Burghart said.
“When they fail, I take it personal,” Burghart said. “That’s a failure on me and I can’t accept failure. I don’t want to see a student walk out of my classroom without a diploma so I give them my all and I expect them to give their all in return.”
Her secret trick is the use of her strategies used when teaching elementary school. That means small group sessions and a constant use of technology. Burghart said her melding of elementary strategies with high school lesson plans is what makes her students so successful.
“Above all else though, I take people for how they are,” Burghart said. “You can’t create a perfect student but you can create a perfect situation for them. My goal is to create that perfect situation.”
The award is a proud moment for Broughton because it’s recognition for the impact she has on people. At her position at W.E. Cherry, Broughton works in an ESE classroom and helps students perform to the best of their abilities at school.
She started in the cafeteria as an assistant five years ago when she realized she had a connection with the students she was helping.
“[Before this], everyone would say I worked well with kids and that I should be a teacher,” Broughton said. “I always said, ‘no way, I’m not taking care of other people’s kids.’”
The job taught her that this line of work isn’t about taking care of other people’s children.
“These aren’t other people’s kids,” Broughton said. “They’re family.”
Broughton works to get inside the minds of her students to figure out how best she can help. A nonverbal student might show signs of discomfort. It’s Broughton’s job to figure out that the discomfort is stemming from a shoe worn by the student.
“We’ll get that student a different shoe or take their shoe off to make them feel comfortable again so they can focus on learning,” Broughton said.
Broughton isn’t a teacher and she doesn’t have plans to be one. While she admires the profession, she prefers her position because it gives her more hands-on time with the students. A teacher grades papers and builds lesson plans, Broughton said, while she gets to spend every minute of her job talking and working with the students to help them excel.
“My job is to constantly be with these kids and I really think I just want to focus on that,” she said.
Broughton’s passion isn’t fueled by moments in the spotlight. She wants to impact people’s lives in a positive way.
“To be recognized by my peers and have all of the family and friends’ support I had there...it was an overwhelming feeling,” Broughton said. “What my job is about touching the lives of others that’s what the past five years of this job have been about for me.
“It’s what it will always be about.”