Woodbridge teacher is first to gain top honor
By Lynn R. Parks
Emily Cannon had asked her daughter whether she should accompany her to the annual state teacher of the year banquet. Rita Hovermale, teacher of the year for the Woodbridge School District, had told her mother that it wasn’t necessary.
“I told her it was just going to be a long, boring program,” said Hovermale, who teaches family and consumer sciences at Woodbridge High School. “She didn’t ask about it again.”
On Thursday, Oct. 23, Cannon, 76, died. And just five days later, her daughter was honored as Delaware’s teacher of the year.
“It has been a very emotional week,” said Hovermale, Bridgeville. Through it all, “my mother was there,” she added.
Hovermale, who said the award came as a complete surprise, told the crowd at the state teacher of the year banquet that she dedicated her award to her mother. Cannon retired from the Woodbridge School District in 1988 after 20 years as a nurse in Greenwood Elementary School, Woodbridge Junior High School and Woodbridge High School.
“She never pushed me into any career,” said Hovermale. “But she taught just by example, and by keeping me in line.”
Hovermale, who has been at Woodbridge High for 17 years, is the first state teacher of the year from Woodbridge. She is the 40th teacher of the year since Delaware’s recognition program began in 1965.
John M. Hassman, principal at the high school, said he was elated when Hovermale’s name was announced as the winner. “Whenever you hear the words ‘teacher of the year,’ it conjures up an image of a teacher who is the ‘best of the best’ among
state educators,” he said. “When I heard Rita’s name announced, I knew that the judges had truly chosen the ‘best of the best.’”
“No one deserves this prestigious honor more than Rita,” said Kevin E. Carson, superintendent for the Woodbridge School District. “This is truly a great day, not only for her, but for all the students and staff at Woodbridge, the Bridgeville community and the state of Delaware.”
Hovermale received a bachelor of science degree in home economics from Shepherd College in West Virginia in 1979. After graduating from college, she began substitute teaching in order to supplement her income.
She found teaching to be “tremendously satisfying,” she said. She went back to school to earn her teaching certificate and in 1985 began teaching home economics at Sussex Central High School in Georgetown.
In 1986, she transferred to Woodbridge High School, her alma mater, to teach high school special education.
In 1990, Hovermale received a master of education degree in reading from Salisbury State University in Maryland. She began teaching family and consumer sciences at Woodbridge in 1991.
In 2002, Hovermale became a nationally board-certified teacher in career and technical education. She is one of 159 such teachers in Delaware.
She is the chairwoman of the Woodbridge High School Improvement Team, the career and technical department and the fine arts committee. She is a mentor to teachers seeking national certification, serves as a member of the early childhood education advisory board and is a student council advisor.
She is also active in the community. She serves as the organizational leader of the Bridgeville Live Wires 4-H Club and as president of Sussex County’s 4-H Leaders Association and sits on the board of directors for the annual Apple-Scrapple Festival in Bridgeville. She also served as chairwoman for a project to create a community-built playground. The Sanctuary for Kids project raised more than $100,000 and successfully built the playground on Market Street.
“Teaching offers a host of intangible rewards,” she wrote in her portfolio. “Sometimes those rewards are not realized until years later when a student returns to say ‘thanks’ or someone signs up for your class because a friend or relative made positive comments about you. Inspiring qualified teachers to pursue a career with children, knowing that in the process they will become better parents, is my most gratifying reward. I know that with great parents and great teachers the future looks brighter for all of us.”
The process of selecting Delaware’s Teacher of the Year is designed to find a teacher who is most representative of the entire teaching profession. The search panel uses in-class observations, portfolio reviews and videos produced by the candidates to make the decision.
Hovermale, who replaces last year’s selection, Sharon Crossen, will address community groups, business leaders, legislators and educational organizations throughout the year. She will also become Delaware’s entry in the national program sponsored by the Council of Chief State School officers and Scholastic Inc.
Hovermale will receive a $5,000 grant to use for the educational benefit of her students, as well two personal grants totaling an additional $5,000. The remaining 18 school district candidates will each receive a personal grant of $2,000.
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