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Class of 2017 inducted into Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame

Members of the ninth class of the Governor Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame were inducted March 8 in Frankfort. From left: Opal T. Sibert, Ron Skillern and Joe Westerfield. (WKU photo by Bryan Lemon)

Three new members of the Governor Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame were inducted Wednesday (March 8) during a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

Members of the ninth class, chosen by a statewide selection committee, were Opal T. Sibert, Ron Skillern and Joe Westerfield.

Sibert, who spent most of her 30-year career as a homebound teacher, special needs teacher and speech therapist in Laurel County, said she found satisfaction every day in helping children succeed.

“When I went to homebound I got as much satisfaction from helping the children as the parents. They were so thankful, appreciative,” she said.

Sibert, who retired in 1986, was drawn to a career in education from the age of 4 when a cousin who was a teacher lived with her family in Clay County.

“He taught me how to read and stuff, say my ABC’s,” she said. “He became one of my principals one of the first years I taught.”

Skillern, who teaches social studies at Bowling Green High School, has received numerous awards in a teaching career that has spanned more than 30 years, but he is quick to share the credit.

“As a high school teacher, I stand on the shoulder of giants,” he said. “Every preschool teacher, every elementary teacher that has laid the foundation for whenever we get those children.”

Skillern said he still enjoys making an impact on students’ lives and preparing them for the future. “From the time I walked into school, I’ve been hooked,” said Skillern, who was named the 2017 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. “It is such a dynamic day. No day has ever been the same.”

Westerfield, who taught social studies for 33 years in Daviess County schools, said he was thrilled and humbled by the Hall of Fame recognition.

“Just to be considered is an honor,” he said. “To be selected as one of the winners is mind boggling.”

Westerfield, who retired in 2002, said he was lucky to have a job that he enjoyed. “I knew from a long time ago that this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “I had a great career. I loved it.”

The 2017 class was inducted by Dr. Stephen Pruitt, Kentucky Commissioner of Education, and WKU President Gary A. Ransdell.

“On behalf of everyone in Kentucky, thank you for what you have done and continue to do in our classrooms,” Dr. Ransdell said. “What a special moment. I’m proud to be part of this ceremony.”

Sen. David Givens and Rep. John Carney offered congratulations on behalf of the Kentucky Senate and House and thanked the inductees for the impact they’ve had on thousands of students and their families.

“Because of the impact you had on them, they came out a different person,” Givens said.

“Thank you for your service to your communities,” Carney said, “and most of all to the children of the Commonwealth.”

The Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame was created in 2000 through a gift by late Gov. Nunn, who hoped to recognize the vital role that primary and secondary teachers in Kentucky play in the education of young people and the positive impact education has on the state’s economy. WKU was selected as the home of the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame because of its more than 100-year history in teacher education.

Nominations for the 2018 Class of the Governor Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame are being accepted. The deadline is July 15. For information, visit http://www.wku.edu/kythf/nominations.php

For information on the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame, contact Tammy Spinks by phone at (270) 745-4664 or by email at tammy.spinks@wku.edu.

More: Video from the 2017 induction ceremony.

Class of 2017 inductees

Here’s more information about the Class of 2017 inductees:

Opal T. Sibert

A native of Manchester, Opal T. Sibert began her life in education as a first grade dropout, but grew to become one of the most dedicated and influential educators in the Laurel County School System.

Sibert began her career in education in 1953 on the Clay County Board of Education, followed by teaching first and second grade students at the Franklin, Ohio, 2nd Street School in 1954-55. Sibert attended Sue Bennett College (1945-47, two-year teaching certificate), Eastern Kentucky State College (now Eastern Kentucky University, (1956-63, four-year teaching certificate), the University of Kentucky (1965-69, Certification, Speech Pathology), and Eastern Kentucky University, 1970-74, Certification, Supervision of Special Education).

In 1956, Sibert began her 30-year career in the Laurel County School System as a substitute teacher. She then became a homebound teacher from 1958-1968. From 1969-1970, she taught special needs children in a renovated school room, going on to work as a speech therapist in the Laurel County School System from 1970-1980. Sibert served as a special programs coordinator from 1980-1986. She retired in 1986, but has continued to be involved in her community and in education.

Some of the many initiatives developed by Sibert include a work-study program that prepared students for future careers, a pre-vocational training program for ninth and 10th graders, the securing of grant money through the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) that provided students with special needs opportunities to become successfully employed before leaving high school, and an after-school daycare program, which is still in operation to this day. Sibert also had a hand in starting the Laurel County Chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children, and in 1984 she was named an Outstanding Member of the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children.

Ron Skillern

Ron Skillern, a native of Bowling Green, has taught in Warren County and Bowling Green Independent schools for over 30 years. Currently a social studies teacher at Bowling Green High School, where he has been since 1996, Skillern has led an interesting and influential career. Skillern attended WKU (B.A., History & Political Science, 1978), Vanderbilt University (M.A. in Education, 1984), and also received his Rank 1 in Education from WKU in 1987.

His teaching career began in 1985 at Warren Central High School, where he taught 10th-12th grade social studies. Skillern then moved to Greenwood High School, teaching 10th-12th grade social studies. Also during this time, in 1992, Skillern began teaching a three-week intensive course in the summers for students in seventh-10th grades, titled Nazi Germany & the Holocaust, through The Center for Gifted Studies’ V.A.M.P.Y. program (The Summer Program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth). He has continued to teach this summer course to this day. Skillern began teaching 10th-12th grade social studies at Bowling Green High School in 1996.

Skillern has received many awards and recognitions over the years, including the Governors Scholars Program “Outstanding Educator Award” (numerous years), 1988 Teacher of the Year for Warren County Schools, 1997 Teacher of the Year at Bowling Green High School, a Distinguished Alumni Summit Award from WKU and The Center for Gifted Studies in 2015, and was also named 2017 Kentucky Teacher of the Year by Valvoline, Inc. and the Kentucky Department of Education.

Joe Westerfield

Joe Westerfield, a native of Hartford and a resident of Owensboro, spent 33 years as an educator in Daviess County schools before retiring in 2002. Westerfield has been, and continues to be, extremely active in political forums and activism over the years, serving on various related committees and registering over 5,000 students to vote. Westerfield earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky (1969), his master’s degree from WKU (1971), and his Administration Rank 1 from WKU (1973).

Westerfield began his teaching career in 1969 as a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher at Daviess County Junior High, where he remained until 1973. From 1973-2002, he taught 11th grade U.S. history and 12th grade American government at Apollo High School, with the exception of 1984-1985, when he served as Director of Instructional Support with the Kentucky Department of Education. At Apollo, Westerfield served as the social studies department chairman, was a member of its site-based council and sponsored many different clubs.

Westerfield also served four years as the Congressional District Contact Team Person for the National Education Association in the 2nd District, and was appointed to serve on the Governor’s Advisory Committee for Federal Funding for Education. Among his many awards and honors, Westerfield was chosen in 2004 as the winner of the Liberty Bell Award, which is given each year by local bar associations in conjunction with Law Day to honor outstanding citizens within the local community.

Contact: Kristy Ketterman, (270) 745-4020

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