College awards Olmsted prizes

On June 7, the College will award Olmsted Prizes to four secondary school teachers, Seth Hersch, Robert Schurtz, Brian McDonald and Sara Barber-Just, who were nominated by members of the class of 2014. An Olmsted Prize recognizes high school teachers who have played an influential role in students’ lives.

The award was created in 1967 in honor of George Olmsted Jr. ’24. Recipients of the award receive $3000 and their respective schools receive an additional $2500.

Seniors at the College were asked to submit nominations by the beginning of Winter Study. The Olmsted Committee, which consists of faculty members and students, selected four finalists from this pool. The recipients of the prize will be flown out to the College for Commencement weekend.

Daniel Lee ’14 nominated his high school English teacher Barber-Just. Barber-Just teaches at Amherst Regional High School in Amherst, Mass., where she has been since 1998. “Mrs. Barber was just a really obvious choice for me, she’s been a life-changing role model and educator for myself and countless others,” Lee said. “She completely changed my worldview and is a big part of the reason I’m here at Williams.”

In 2002, Barber-Just developed a gay and lesbian literature class, the first one in an American public secondary school. In addition, Barber-Just teaches several other classes: Literature as Social Criticism and Oral Communication, Journalistic Writing, American Literature and Nature, African American Literature and individualized reading for English language learners.

Sara Kang ’14 nominated her high school history teacher Hersch, who teaches at history at Gwinnet School of Math, Science and Technology in Lawrenceville, Ga. Kang, who is now a history major, said, “Mr. Hersch was my AP U.S. History teacher during my junior year in high school and his teaching had an enormous impact on my decision to apply to Williams.”

“Public school teachers in Georgia also rarely ever get any sort of recognition and I really wanted to thank him for his guidance and tireless dedication to his students,” Kang said. Hersch teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History and Government. He also helps to organize a recitation contest each year during Black History Month and is the chair of the social studies department.

Lillianna Morris ’14 nominated McDonald “because he is a wonderful human being beyond being an excellent teacher.” McDonald teaches at Charles E. Jordan High School in Durham, N.C.

McDonald has published two books: Not the end, but the Beginning: The Impact of Race and Class on the History of Jordan High School and “Tell me, I’ll Forget. Show me, I’ll remember. Involve me, I’ll understand”: Bridging Instruction with Prior and Existing Knowledge.

“I’m not sure I appreciated his ability to initiate cross-cultural dialogue in a safe space about race, sexual orientation or really any minority group until I left his class but it is awe-worthy,” Morris said.

Charles Hermann ’14 nominated Schurtz, who is a physics and math teacher at the Hawken School in Gates Mills, Ohio. In his almost thirty years at the Hawken School, Shurtz has taught computer programming, chemistry, calculus, physics, differential equations and linear algebra. Shurtz also served as the coach of the U.S. Physics Team is currently the Hawken School Debate Coach.

In addition to awarding prizes to secondary school teachers, the College gives awards to local schools in the area. This year, the 2014 Bicentennial Olmsted Awards were awarded to Mt. Greylock Regional High School, Williamstown Elementary School and McCann Technical School. As part of the award, each school received $4300.

Mt. Greylock will use the funding for a choral festival, the restructuring of the ninth grade English curriculum and teacher instruction on developing websites for specific courses. Williamstown Elementary School will use the funding to create a new website and implement the Kindergarten Entry Assessment System, which is used to evaluate the progress of kindergarten students. McCann Technical School will use the monetary award to promote participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs.