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Fort Thomas teacher one of the best in Kentucky

Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-07 05:00:25-05

FORT THOMAS, Ky. -- Highlands Middle School teacher Rick Rafferty earned the distinction of being one of the top educators in the state.

The sixth-grade social studies teacher was one of nine semifinalists for the 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Award. Finalists were announced Oct. 20, in Frankfort, where Rafferty finished just behind a middle school teacher from Daviess County. Rafferty was recognized for his high ranking by the Fort Thomas Independent School Board at its meeting Nov. 9. 

Despite being named one of the top three middle school teachers in the state, the recognition belongs to his school and community, he said.

“I just happen to be somebody that was chosen to be recognized,” he said. “It could have been many other people in this building.”

Modesty aside, he wouldn’t have received the designation from the Kentucky Department of Education and Ashland, Inc. had it not been for some supportive colleagues.

Ginger Webb, assistant superintendent for Fort Thomas Independent Schools, nominated Rafferty for the award.

“I think because the students know he loves what he’s doing every single day, it makes them love that class and love him as a teacher,” Webb said.

Didn’t Feel Worthy

Rafferty was one of 24 nominees selected as Ashland Teacher Achievement Award winners. He then had to apply to be considered for the Kentucky Teacher of the Year Award.

“The truth is I didn’t even want to apply,” he said. “I didn’t feel I was worthy of that kind of consideration and that recognition.”

If not for former Highlands Middle School Principal Mark Goetz’s encouragement, Rafferty may not have gone through with the process. 

“I talked to the principal about it, and he said I had to apply to validate the person who had nominated me,” he said.

Engages With Students

Nine applicants were selected as semifinalists – three each from the elementary, middle and high school levels. After observing the semifinalists in action, the pool was narrowed down to one teacher from each grade-group level, one who was named Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

Highlands Middle School Principal Michael Howton, who is new to the district this year, said Rafferty’s “willingness and his desire to go beyond the general expectation,” are to thank for his high placement.

“He pulls students in and helps them engage and learn the value of community service,” Howton said.

From Rafferty’s perspective, he’s simply trying to keep kids engaged.

“I try to be upbeat,” Rafferty said. “And sometimes that’s not easy, but, I want them to see my best face, and I want them to enjoy what we’re doing.”

How ‘We’ Do It

“I want them to see their place in this larger world and prepare them for their future in it.”

While Webb nominated Rafferty because of his student-centered nature and enthusiasm, these characteristics are a reflection of the middle school and the district as a whole.

“He’s one of many who would be equally deserving of any award,” Webb said.

His fundraising partnership with a fellow social studies teacher, who spearheads efforts to help build schools in Africa, stands as testament to this. 

“It’s important that (people) don’t hear this is how I do it,” Rafferty said. “This is how we do it.”