Hillcrest’s Doolittle wins county Teacher of the Year award

May 7, 2014 / / News

By Rachel S. Karas News-Post Staff

Hillcrest Elementary School pre-kindergarten teacher Erin Doolittle says she falls asleep each night with one question on her mind: What have I done to be a champion for a child or a family today?

That devotion has earned Doolittle the title of Frederick County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, announced Monday at Hillcrest amid a flurry of smiles, applause and hugs from students.

It is a “phenomenal” privilege to be named the top educator in Frederick County, Doolittle said. But while Teacher of the Year is a great accolade for herself, she said, it’s even bigger for Hillcrest.

“I’m Teacher of the Year because of all of you,” she said. “Everybody here is a champion for children.”

The 33-year-old Ijamsville resident traces her love of the classroom back to age 5, playing “school” at home with her siblings. They were always the students; she was always the teacher.

Hired at Hillcrest 11 years ago, Doolittle sees early childhood education as the first chance to get students hooked on learning. Acting as the “welcome wagon” to the school is also a chance to win over new parents, she said.

“Kids are so excited to be here … to be part of a class,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to show them how fabulous school is.”

The future of our nation lies in early education, Doolittle wrote in her application essay, adding that young students deserve an adult who never gives up on them and demands their best.

Sixty teachers were nominated for the award; four finalists were chosen in April. Outgoing Teacher of the Year Karl Kidd, who served on this year’s selection committee, said Doolittle stood out from the other finalists for her enthusiasm and personality that screams, “I work with kids, and I love every minute of it.”

He added that her work with the school and community in numerous capacities shows commitment to Hillcrest and Frederick as a whole. Doolittle’s extracurricular activities include the Parent Teacher Association, Judy Center literacy nights, Leadership Frederick County and Hillcrest’s leadership team.

Former Hillcrest Principal Kathy Swire said meeting with families outside the classroom is common for Doolittle, as is giving a little extra TLC to students with difficult home lives. And as she nurtures, she pushes, seeking ways to move even the neediest children forward.

“She has fun when she teaches, and that’s what the 4-year-olds are attracted to,” Swire said. ”I’ve never heard her say, ‘My 4-year-olds can’t do this.’”

Co-workers said that since Doolittle began her career at Hillcrest, she has increased her rapport with parents and learned to juggle the daily tasks required of an educator.

“She’s such a great match for early childhood because she’s always willing … to make them feel special,” current Hillcrest Principal Kim Seiss added.

Sheyla Romero, a fifth-grade student whom Doolittle taught in kindergarten, credited her for making learning fun and fostering a love of knowledge.

“Two weeks ago, I told you if you didn’t win the award, you were our winner,” Hillcrest parent Raquel Rubio Tavera told Doolittle on Monday through a Spanish translator.

Setting high standards doesn’t stop at the classroom doorway.

“Whenever there’s a frustrating day for me as an administrator … I’m picked up and inspired by how she interacts with the children and how much she loves, loves her job,” Seiss said.

The big blue ”Home of the FCPS Teacher of the Year” banner now hanging at Hillcrest is a welcome recognition that hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.

“I just have such pride for my staff overall, and I do feel like sometimes they aren’t appreciated as much as they should be,” Seiss said. “To have Erin accept this award … certainly heightens the awareness of the magic that happens at Hillcrest every day.”