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‘Education goes beyond the classroom’: WKU inducts four into Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame

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Photo provided by WKU

WKU inducted four teachers into the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame on Friday, Dec. 1. The Hall of Fame was established in 2000 through a gift from former Gov. Louie B. Nunn.

Current Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former educator, explained the creation of the hall of fame as an effort by Nunn “to recognize the vital role that teachers play in students’ development and in their lives.”

Coleman described the induction as one of her favorite events and explained the significance of education in her personal and professional life. Coleman also spoke of WKU’s long history of producing accomplished and empathetic educators.

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“Education is the main driver to make Kentucky a better place for everyone,” Coleman said.

Inductees included Jesse Brown, the late Helen Russell, Kimberlea Embry and the late Donna Smith. The four inductees are alumni of WKU, or Western Kentucky State College as it was previously known, with at least three decades of teaching experience.

WKU President Timothy Caboni honored the four individuals being celebrated, along with WKU’s century of commitment to teacher education.

“WKU is proud to continue our longstanding commitment to changing the world… one teacher at a time,” Caboni said. 

Caboni remarked on the state and nationwide teacher shortage and illustrated how WKU is combating this need.

“Nothing inspires rising educators more than those who did it best,” Caboni said. “Those who demonstrate profound devotion to developing young minds, transforming lives and shaping our future.”

Corinne Murphy, dean of the WKU College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, shared testimonials and highlighted the impact these teachers have made in their schools and districts. 

Brown taught history at Glasgow Independent Schools for 30 years, but Murphy noted retirement has not meant the end of his teaching career, as he has served as a substitute teacher for 12 years and counting.

Brown is considered a staple of his school district, and he was also involved in the Kiwanis club and the academic team he formed.

Embry teaches at Butler County while also serving in various other ways. 

“Her current principal says he’s never met another teacher that takes on so many impactful roles,” Murphy said.

One of these includes her involvement in Butler County High School’s Family, Career and Consumer Leaders of America (FCCLA) program, which Murphy described as being considered one of the best in the country. 

Russell taught social studies and history in Barren County schools, along with serving as an instructional specialist and curriculum coordinator. A former student had described Russell as the heartbeat of Barren County High Schools. Murphy read from a letter that read, “In her classroom, you were heard, valued and respected.”

 Smith was a math teacher in all grades at Allen County Scottsville High School and was heavily involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, continuing to serve as a huddle coach in her retirement. She was described as radiating joy.

 “Her leadership and spirit positively impacted the culture of the entire school,” Murphy said. Murphy then read from an interview where Smith said, “The core of teaching is loving your kids.”

Caboni ended the induction by addressing teachers with appreciation. 

“The work you do, it matters,” he said. “Your investment in your students matters. And your crucial role in our society matters. Because you believe in our youth, we can believe in our future.”

News Reporter Lindsey Coates can be reached at [email protected]

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