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Gilmer County bus operator wins West Virginia Department of Education Award

GLENVILLE — A longtime Gilmer County Schools bus operator was recognized Tuesday as West Virginia’s School Service Personnel Employee of the Year.

“I am very honored,” said Susie Kirkpatrick, who has worked for the district for 36 years. “I have worked really hard, and I love the kids, and I love this job.”

The West Virginia Department of Education presented the service personnel and Teacher of the Year awards in an livestreamed ceremony Tuesday in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All nominees for awards called in remotely to be present for the ceremony.

Kirkpatrick called into the ceremony from football practice at Gilmer County High School, where she assists the team as their athletic trainer.

State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch expressed his gratitude for Kirkpatrick and her years of service, as well as his recognition for her efforts that went above and beyond at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last school year.

“Susie was one of the bus drivers driving around during the pandemic delivering meals and calling to make sure the children received the meals,” he said.

Kirkpatrick explained that she will sometimes check on students from her regular bus routes if she notices they are absent for an extended period of time.

“We are very rural here so we have to take care of each other, and we do,” she said.

Gilmer County Superintendent Patricia Lowther, who has worked with Kirkpatrick for 30 years, additionally expressed her gratitude.

“Susie is so deserving and outstanding,” Lowther said. “We have come through the ranks together, and she is by far one of the most caring individuals ever.”

According to a release from the Department of Education, Kirkpatrick has worked for the school district for 36 years. She is also an EMT and teaches first aid and CPR to school staff.

Also among the nominees for the award was Debra Dye, a supervisory aide from Wirt County.

Blennerhassett Elementary third-grade teacher Lisa Smith was a finalist for West Virginia Teacher of the Year. The award was also presented during Tuesday’ livestream and went to Erin Anderson, a fifth-grade teacher at Tennerton Elementary School in Upshur County.

Burch cited the challenges of poverty, the opioid crisis, the foster care system and the pandemic as key reasons why it is important to have unified and caring educators across the state.

“I congratulate them (the finalists) in every way and thank you for what you have done,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said as he called into the ceremony. “Congratulations on being heroes in so many ways.”

“The men and women we are celebrating tonight are the core of education … the heartbeat of our school system,” state Board of Education President Miller Hall said during the livestream.

Jenna Pierson can be reached at jpierson@newsandsentinel.com.

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