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McConnell named Kansas Horizon Award winner
Posted 1/5/23

Sunset Elementary third-grade teacher Carla McConnell was called into principal Teresa Tosh’s office early on Thursday, January 5 and was told USD 373 Superintendent Fred Van Ranken had some questions regarding a program she completed.

It was all a ruse, of course, as the true reason to get McConnell into Tosh’s office was to receive a call from the Kansas Commissioner of Education, Dr. Randy Watson, who informed McConnell that she is a winner of the Kansas Horizon Award.

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, the mission of the Kansas Horizon Award Program is to recognize exemplary first-year teachers who perform in a way that distinguishes them as outstanding.

McConnell was recognized as the USD 373 nominee for the award last semester, but says she had “no idea” she was selected as an award winner.

McConnell’s history at Sunset Elementary goes beyond the past year and a half of teaching, though. Principal Janet Weaver hired McConnell as a Sunset building aide in 2000. 

After 20 years as a building aide, McConnell says she was looking for a new challenge.

“I found a program from Wichita State that I could continue working as a para and aide and work on my bachelor’s degree at the same time and that made it possible,” McConnell said.

The Teacher Apprentice Program, or TAP as it is commonly called, is an online degree through Wichita State. McConnell worked on her degree while working full-time for the school district during the COVID years. 

Then-principal Debbie Watson was supportive of Carla’s decision to return to school while working as an aide and para.

“She’s a big part of this,” McConnell said.

Upon receiving her degree, McConnell taught 4th grade for one year. She now teaches 3rd grade and enjoys teaching kids beyond academia.

“We do a lot with kindness and respectfulness. I like teaching that, it’s important life skills,” McConnell said.

As a Horizon winner, McConnell is one out of a possible 32 teachers, four elementary classroom teachers and four secondary classroom teachers from each region, who will be individually recognized during a luncheon at the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network (KEEN) conference in February. 

“I have so much admiration for someone going into the profession as she has done and the stories about her effectiveness in the classroom, not only as a para but also as a teacher, shows she is worthy of this award,” superintendent Fred Van Ranken said.

Education runs in the family. McConnell's husband, Mike McConnell, is a welding technology teacher at Newton High School.

Carla McConnel and Teresa Tosh talking and smiling
Sunset 4th Grade teacher Carla McConnell visits with Principal Teresa Tosh after being notified she was a KS Horizons Award winner.