PEARCY -- Jil'lana Heard, Lake Hamilton High School library media specialist, says she is "honored" to be one of the 12 regional finalists for the Arkansas Teacher of the Year award.
Library media specialists have only been included in the Arkansas Teacher of the Year within the last two years.
"Being able to be one of the library media specialists that's included in it is super exciting," Heard said.
Heard said it was an honor, not only to be chosen by the high school and the district, but to be the Dawson Educational Co-op's finalist. "It's an honor, especially during this time, during the pandemic, when education has really been on the forefront and asking teachers to do things that are kind of out of their comfort zone to make sure that we're meeting all the needs of kids. So, this year, especially, is an honor," Heard said.
Heard was selected as the high school teacher of the year, then chosen as the district teacher of the year, and now is a regional finalist. Each of the 12 educational cooperatives in the state has a regional finalist. Lake Hamilton is in the Dawson Ed Co-op.
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Heard said one of the things most important to her is early literacy, so that was part of the platform she chose for her application for the award, because educators have found that children are coming into kindergarten and primary school without the early literacy skills they need.
The lack of skills is "putting them behind as we continue to try to teach them, so skills that they normally would have, like in third and fourth grade when they're transitioning from learning to read, to reading to learn, where they take in that information as their learning process, and they don't have the necessary skills to do that," Heard said.
Heard said she sees kids coming to her without the necessary skills they need to be literate adults.
"That's very important to me that we address those early literacy skills so that we can make sure that we're meeting the needs of students early enough so that they can make that transition to where they're starting to digest all that content. So, therefore, when they get to the secondary levels, they know how to read, so as they're reading science and technology, and they're reading their English novels, that they're able to then comprehend what it is that they're actually reading," Heard said.
"I had a wonderful foundation. My education has brought me to the point where I am today," said Heard, a Lake Hamilton graduate.
The one person Heard credits her success to is Diane Hughes, who was Heard's mentor as a library media specialist. She said Hughes was the one who showed her what it truly was to be a librarian and to build a culture of reading,
"I took a lot of what she taught me and what I learned, and then have continued to grow and instill some of those things that I learned from her," she said.
Education and reading are critical because it's going to determine the success of a student, she said.
"It is proven if a student can read, the opportunities that are open to them are endless. (There are) job possibilities, career and college choices," Heard said.
Last year, one of the finalists was a library media specialist, which was exciting for her profession.
"Being chosen as the winner would be phenomenal. Not only would I get to represent Lake Hamilton School District and the community that raised me to be the person that I am today, but I would also get to represent all the library media specialists across the state, as well as other phenomenal educators during this extremely difficult year of the pandemic," Heard said.
"On behalf of the Lake Hamilton School District, I offer our congratulations to Mrs. Jil'Lana Heard for earning her position as a regional finalist for Arkansas Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Heard is an outstanding representative for our district and community. Her enduring commitment to excellence, along with her passion and energy for her profession, make Jill a great choice for the Arkansas Teacher of the Year. We are excited to wholeheartedly support Mrs. Heard as she continues through the next round," Lake Hamilton Shawn Higginbotham said in a congratulatory post on the district's Facebook page.
"Congratulations to our own, Jil'lana Heard, on being named a regional winner in the Arkansas Teacher of the Year competition. Jil'lana is passionate about students mastering the most fundamental academic skill: reading. She is an exceptionally dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled teacher. She is a published author and an expert who guides and inspires students and adults of varying backgrounds and abilities to learn. She is respected and admired by her students, colleagues, and the Lake Hamilton School District Community. She demonstrates leadership and innovation both inside and outside the walls of the traditional classroom. I cannot imagine a person fitting the mold of Arkansas Teacher of the Year better than our Lake Hamilton High School library media specialist, Jil'Lana Heard," LHHS Principal Donald Westerman said in the post.