Skikila Smith: ‘Ms. Ski’ is Rotary Teacher of the Year

Susan EspirituEast Knox, Our Town Youth

At its April 4 meeting, the Rotary Club of Knoxville honored Susan Parker, a fourth-grade teacher at South Knoxville Elementary School, and Skikila Smith, a ninth-grade English and advanced creative writing teacher at Austin-East Magnet High School, as its 2023 Outstanding Knox County Teachers of the Year.

Each winner received a check for $500 plus a $250 gift certificate to A&W Office Supply. Lynne Fugate chaired the committee that evaluated the nominations.

“When you enter Ms. Skikila Smith’s English I or Advanced Creative Writing classroom,” wrote Austin-East Magnet High School Executive Principal Tammi Campbell in her nomination, “you will always witness our students highly engaged with the content, interacting through rich discussion, expressing powerful ideas through their writing, and authentically owning and excelling in their learning experiences. Ms. ‘Ski,’ as she is affectionately called by staff and students, leads and models for our students and school community through high expectations, unwavering love and compassion, and a relentless drive and pursuit to continuously improve and achieve.”

Ms. Ski (pronounced ‘sky’) began her remarks by pointing out that her path to teaching was nontraditional. “I have been teaching only five years,” she said. “I grew up in the Lonsdale community in a difficult situation. I became a single mom of three children at age 21. I went back to college when my daughters were adults and my youngest son was a freshman in high school.”

All of them encouraged her to become a teacher. She went to the University of Tennessee and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She completed her student teaching at Austin-East and has been on the faculty there ever since.

Ms. Ski said that her students are always on her mind. For many of them, education is a bridge to a better future. She pointed out impediments to education that many of her students face, including hunger, housing, other vital necessities and safety concerns.

And she described her own teaching approach as sometimes unorthodox and noted that she appreciated the flexibility afforded her by Principal Campbell. For example, Ms. Ski’s nomination letter noted that desks are permanently arranged in a circle in her classroom, encouraging students to participate as equals with each other and with the principal.

Principal Tammi Campbell concluded: “She is such a gift to her students and the entire A-E community.”

Susan Espiritu is the ultimate optimist who wants to share uplifting entertaining stories from your communities and youth! Send them to [email protected] Rotary Club member Brooks Clark provided information for this report. We’ll catch Ms. Parker f9r next week.


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