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Local Business Partner Honors District Teacher & Support Staff of the Year

Ruby Marie Hallman, History Teacher at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler Middle/High, and Briana Berry, Computer Lab Assistant at Edisto Elementary, were named Orangeburg County School District’s 2021-2022 Teacher and Support Staff of the Year, respectively, at an intimate ceremony held at the District Office, with a live feed to each school campus on August 13, 2021. Local businessowner Marcus Johnson made the day especially heartwarming with a touching story and gifts aimed to highlight the enormous impact both teachers and support staff make in the lives of students and the community.

The announcement of District Teacher and Support Staff of the Year were previously planned as part of the District’s annual Convocation Back to School Event. Despite a late change in format and venue caused by coronavirus concerns, the energy and support for the honorees and top five finalists was seen, felt and heard virtually across the District as schools cheered on their representatives.

Ms. Rachel Wilson, 2020-2021 Support Staff of the Year, and Desiree Lewis, 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year, each spoke fondly about their experiences over the last year, including their work to establish Teacher and Support Staff Forums, before naming the new alternates and winners.

“I’m in awe. Words cannot express the way I’m feeling right now,” Briana Berry exclaimed upon being named District Support Staff of the Year. “I’m ready to continue to serve Orangeburg County School District. I’m ready to continue to encourage, inspire, and to continue making a difference in the lives of every child that I come into contact with.”

Berry has been the Computer Lab Assistant at Edisto Elementary for the past three years. She says that working in the computer lab, she has the amazing opportunity to work with each student at Edisto Elementary. She is able to support teachers and each child’s social, emotional, and intellectual growth and development.

Ruby Marie Hallman, the District’s 2021-2022 Teacher of the Year, has proudly served as a teacher for the past 35 years, all but two of those she’s spent at H-K-T. “I want my H-K-T family to know that this is our honor,” she said. “My students are my life, and they come first. Anything I can do to help them; I will be there fighting for them every step of the way.”

Hallman says the decision to become a teacher was a culmination of several factors. She had her first inkling to enter theeducation field while sitting in an English teacher’s classroom who had a knack for making all students feel special and excited about learning, but there were also thoughts of law school and even working for the FBI.

“God had a very different plan for me,” she laughed. “Before I knew it, I was a student teacher and have been teaching ever since.”

Marcus Johnson and a small team from Nissan of Orangeburg were among the few guests in the board room to congratulate the winners and honorees. Just after the announcements, Johnson shared a story about reaching out to

Orangeburg’s Superintendent as he felt it his duty as an entrepreneur to give back to the community. When Johnson heard about the Teacher of the Year and Support Staff of the Year Celebration, he began to think of his two mothers.

Johnson shared a beautiful story of gratitude for his mothers, both of whom were educators. His adoptive mother was a French teacher and school counselor, and his birth mother worked in the cafeteria at his school. Johnson declared his life blessed beyond measure for having the opportunity to know and love both of them, who each impacted his life and many, many students and families in his hometown of Beaufort, North Carolina.

In honor of his mothers and all teachers, school counselors, cafeteria workers, and others who work in education, Johnson surprised each of the top five finalists for District Teacher of the Year and Support Staff of the Year with a check from Nissan of Orangeburg for $500.

“You can never pay anyone their worth or their value, but here’s a little something to show you we are proud of you, and we appreciate you,” he said.

The surprises were not over yet. Johnson asked Hallman, Teacher of the Year, to give her check for $500 to Alternate Teacher of the Year (First Runner Up) Alexandria Booth Swearingen. As District Teacher of the Year, Hallman would receive a larger gift-a choice between a Nissan Altima, Nissan Titan, or a Nissan Murano, that were waiting for her just outside. The whole room was shocked and full of excitement; Hallman and her colleagues watching together at H-K-T were ecstatic.

That wasn’t all. Johnson also asked Berry to pass her check to Lois Preast, Support Staff of the Year First Runner Up/Alternate. Preast, who works in the Technology Department, was all smiles and a little teary-eyed in receiving $1000.

Johnson detailed the original plan-to give the Teacher of the Year winner a car to drive for a year, expense-free. “But after thinking about it,” he shared, “something just didn’t feel right.”

Johnson explained that in helping plan the surprise he began thinking more about his birth mother. She was not a teacher, but he remembered how hard she worked and the impact she made on so many students and all the people around her. He shared how proud he was of her, and that support staff should be appreciated and honored just like teachers.

In the simplest of terms, Johnson explained his tremendous surprise. “I don’t feel right honoring the Teacher of the Year with a car and not honoring the Support Staff of the Year with a car.”

The moment was touching and created a spirit of unity inside the room and throughout the District as social-distanced school families celebrated together.

Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Business and Community Partnerships Merry Glenne Piccolino wasoverwhelmed by Johnson’s generosity. “Generally speaking, car dealerships are among the most giving community partners,” she acknowledged. “I have not been able to find evidence that any other dealership ever has honored both a Teacher and Support Staff with a gift of this magnitude.”

In addition to the honor, financial gifts and vehicles, the District Teacher and Support Staff of the Year and Alternates each received plaques, celebratory signage, and rings (courtesy of Jostens, Rhodes Graduation Services).