Hickman-Mills school leaders surprise teacher of the year finalists, leaving them ‘floored’ and ‘flattered’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Teachers say theirs is a thankless job, most of the time.

That's not the case in one metro school district, as educators pay surprise visits to recognize three notable instructors.

It's a spur-of-the-moment celebration that takes on the air of a sweepstakes prize winner. On Wednesday morning, 10 members of the Hickman-Mills School District leadership team joyfully boarded a school bus, just before playfully barging into three classrooms. It was there, at three of the district's schools, they surprised three teachers, informing them they were finalists for the district's teacher of the year award.

When Hickman-Mills School District Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter throws open a door, teachers such as Mike McFarLand, an instructor at Smith-Hale Middle School, are caught off guard. Dr. Carpenter and his traveling entourage burst into the room, delivering balloons, flowers and warm embraces.

"I'm completely floored," McFarLand told FOX 4 News, amid a thunderclap of laughter. "I'm completely floored and absolutely flattered and completely humbled."

Using one of the district's school buses was part of the plan. Dr. Carpenter explained how riding the big yellow taxi is meant to keep educators in the same space as their students.

"Riding the bus is intentional. It gives us a feel for what we work toward every day," Dr. Carpenter said on Wednesday.

For educators, such as Ruskin High's June Hollowell, party favors, like the flowers, are cool, but the recognition is special.

"I give God the glory," Hollowell shouted, waiving her hands in the air, as her class cheered.

"In this district, we have so many great educators. I say there's a difference between a teacher and an educator. In my mind, there's a difference. There's just a difference."

Burke Elementary's Amber Paine-Ingals also welcomed the outstanding outburst from Carpenter's caravan, the final stop on his ride of appreciation.

"It pays off. Not only do they get recognized by their colleagues but they get recognized by a dedicated group of community members who came in to score this process," Dr. Carpenter said.

All three teachers are worthy of the prize, according to Dr. Carpenter, but the winner will be announced at a special banquet in May. Dr. Carpenter will soon move to the Lee's Summit School District, where he'll become that school system's superintendent, after working with Hickman-Mills for four years. Yolanda Cargile, who has worked as an assistant superintendent since 2015, will take over after his departure.