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J.H. Gunn Elementary teacher assistant wins district honor

Frances Stitt had just arrived at J.H. Gunn Elementary early Thursday when she was asked to go to the school’s media center.

Stitt, a teacher assistant at Gunn, admits she fussed a bit. She was eager to get her students ready for class, “to check on my babies.”

But school staff had a surprise for Stitt.

With televisions across the school turned to the morning announcements, Principal Monique Davis announced that Stitt had been named the 2012-13 Teacher Assistant of the Year in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The news left Stitt speechless for a moment, before she asked “Me?” then began thanking her colleagues. More words of gratitude and hugs followed as Stitt walked out of the small room where the TV broadcast is taped.

Stitt said she was overwhelmed by the honor. “I just do things because they need to be done,” she said. “... We’re just a team.”

Stitt, 51, started at J.H. Gunn six years after working at the Charlotte Housing Authority. Her sister-in-law recommended she become a substitute teacher.

Stitt did that for a year and has been a teacher assistant ever since. She works with third- and fourth-grade students who have special needs.

“I think for that reason she loves them all the more,” Davis said. “She knows that their needs are great and she comes to work charged every morning to serve them.”

Stitt starts her morning in the cafeteria, helping to make sure students have something to eat and are ready for class. Then she moves to her classroom where students go through reading, writing, math and other work during the day.

Stitt says she’s able to learn what students need through different assessments she gives. If someone needs extra help with reading, she’s there. If they’ve done something good, she tries to praise them.

And on Friday, she brings candy as a treat.

Stitt said she’s enjoyed working with children and seeing them mature as they get older.

“I love it,” she says. “I love to see that little bell and that light go off in their head when they get something.”

Stitt works alongside teacher Erika Rogers, who she said has been a major inspiration for her when it comes to teaching and in life.

Stitt is the second teacher assistant in a row at Gunn to win the district honor, which is presented by the local chapter of the N.C. Association of Teacher Assistants. Last year, Cynthia Corwin was recognized.

The district nod comes as teacher assistants across the state learn their fate for next year. Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget recommendation calls for cutting about 3,000 teacher assistant jobs across the state. His office has said the cuts would be offset by adding teachers.

CMS recently polled assistants and principals to see if they would support cuts to the number of hours and days that assistants work to help save jobs. The results could be released soon.

Stitt said she believes teacher assistants are “the backbones” of schools. “The teachers are teaching and we’re able to take small groups and teach one-on-one and make a difference in their lives,” Stitt said. “And I don’t think the governor understands that.”

Bethea: 704-358-6013. On Twitter: @AprilBethea
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