Richard McCombs was teaching his science class Wednesday morning at Statesboro High when he was interrupted by an unexpected group of visitors.
Bulloch schools superintendent Lewis Holloway led the group to announce to the educator that he was the 2013 Bulloch County Schools Teacher of the Year.
“I believe one key to my success is in getting kids involved in their school through activities outside the classroom,” McCombs said. “It gives them a feeling of ownership that allows them to better enter a classroom and learn from you.”
McCombs is a four-time teacher of the year receiving the coveted accolade at all three schools he’s served during his 23-year career: Pahokee Middle Senior and Lake Worth Community High Schools in Florida and now twice at Statesboro High since he joined the staff in 2001.
He received the honor previously as the 2009 designee in 2007. He was also a top-three finalist for the SECME National Teacher of the Year. SECME is a national science, technology, engineering and mathematics education alliance for educators.
McCombs was selected for the Bulloch County honor from 15 nominees submitted by each school, who were judged by a group of community leaders from the Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee. The judges did not know the teachers’ names, but reviewed them objectively based on the nominees’ teacher certifications, commitment to the teaching field, evidence of respect from students, parents and peers, and their activities in the school and community.
“My first experience in teaching was not playing school nor seeing my mother do lesson plans, and I like to think I have maintained that bit of difference in my classroom today,” McCombs said. “I became a merit badge counselor with the Boy Scouts of America at Camp Bucoco, Pennsylvania, when I was a teenager.
“Teaching young people, some not much younger than I was, helped me understand the importance of building relationships quickly,” he said. “I later realized just how important this would be in my career.”
As a senior geology major at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, McCombs again had an opportunity to counsel others. He was hired as a tutor for underclassmen in entry level geology classes.
“I discovered that I had a unique ability to comprehend lessons that many students had trouble understanding,” he said. “I could breakdown lessons into simpler chunks so that students could grasp the material more easily.”
All these factors, including falling in love with a sophomore special education major, who later became his wife, led McCombs to realize he wanted to teach.
His passion for teaching is not confined to the four walls of his classroom or the eight hours of a school day.
“He’s the only person I know who can get more than 24 hours out of a day,” said Statesboro Principal Marty Waters.
McCombs coaches and travels with six different extra-curricular clubs and activities including Chess Club, Science Quiz Bowl, Science Fair, Science Olympiad, SECME and Odyssey of the Mind.
“My weekends are full, but the kids want to compete, and I enjoy watching them succeed,” said McCombs.
McCombs is a family man, Boy Scout Troop Master and National Guard veteran.
His wife Kathy is a special education teacher at Portal Middle High School. His son Ricky is a 2011 graduate of SHS, who actively competed in science events with his dad and is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. His younger son Jordan, a freshman at SHS, shares his father’s love of science as well and competes in Science Olympiads.
McCombs holds two bachelor’s degrees in geology and in education from Slippery Rock University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University. He succeeds 2012 Teacher of the Year Ashlee Mitchell of Stilson Elementary School.
He will go on to compete in the 2012-2013 Georgia Teacher of the Year program. Bulloch County had two Georgia Teacher of the Year finalists in the past four years, Tiffany Todd (2010) and Ashlee Mitchell (2012). Teachers of the Year from each school that were submitted to the system-level competition were the following:
Julie Chambers Brooklet Elementary School
Sherry Canty Julia P Bryant Elementary School
Lacey Toothman Langston Chapel Elementary School
Debra Phillips Langston Chapel Middle School
Angela Selph Mattie Lively Elementary School
Heather Martin Mill Creek Elementary School
Kimberly Meeks Nevils Elementary School
Tosha Johnson Portal Elementary School
Anita Hill Sallie Zetterower Elementary School
Robin Norton Portal Middle/High School
Joey Mitchell Southeast Bulloch Middle School
Sharon Pye Southeast Bulloch High School
Kelly Carter Stilson Elementary School
Vernetta Humphries William James Middle School.