Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship, an English teacher at Rising Sun High School, was named the 2012-13 Maryland Teacher of the Year at a gala reception Friday night.

She is the first Cecil County Public School teacher to earn the honor since Susan Higley, an eighth grade math teacher at Cherry Hill Middle School, did so in 1999.

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery made the announcement in a ballroom at Martin’s West filled with educators and dignitaries. Among those in attendance were Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Attorney General Douglas Gansler.

"Great education begins with outstanding teaching, and Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship is an exemplary educator," Maryland State Board of Education President Charlene Dukes said. "Her work, and that of all of our local Teachers of the Year, is heartwarming and inspiring. With teachers like these, Maryland students are in great hands."

Lowery said Maryland schools receive national accolades in large part because of the strength of its teaching force.

"Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship exemplifies what it means to be a Maryland educator," she added. "She's a tireless instructor, fully committed to her students and their academic progress. Her work reflects well on all of us."

Holmes-Blankenship teaches 10th and 11th grade students, helping them develop critical thinking and inquiry skills through the exploration of literature and the processes of writing, speaking, and listening. She writes county curriculum, is a member of the School Improvement Team, participates in professional learning communities, facilitates school and county professional development, and mentors student teachers.

The path to becoming Maryland Teacher of the Year was not always smooth. Holmes-Blankenship said she didn't always believe that education was important for her. She is from a large, working class family for whom economic and academic successes were elusive. Holmes-Blankenship credits several of her teachers with her transformation from a girl contemplating dropping out of school, to a girl desiring to go to college. She worked and borrowed her way through, becoming the first member of her family to graduate from college.

Holmes-Blankenship graduated Summa Cum Laude from Towson University in 1995, with a Bachelor of Science degree in English. She also holds a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from McDaniel College in 2005. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Holmes-Blankenship was one of seven finalists for the honor including Patricia DiLeonardi, Carroll County; Kerrie Seberg, Charles County; Lisa Young, Howard County; Bernadette Scheetz, St. Mary's County; Katie C. White, Talbot County; and Christina Hammer-Atkins, Washington County.

As the 2012-2013 Maryland Teacher of the Year, Holmes-Blankenship will receive cash awards, technology equipment, national travel opportunities, and a new car valued at more than $25,000, donated by the Maryland Automobile Dealers Association. Her school also will receive a $10,000 award from McDonald's Family Restaurants of Maryland.

She will go on to compete for the National Teacher of the Year Award, to be announced next April. Holmes-Blankenship will also spend the coming year as a speaker and advisor in Maryland. The Maryland Teacher of the Year will be honored by the President at the White House next spring, participate in several national meetings and conferences, as well as in National Space Camp with fellow State Teachers of the Year.

Look for an interview with Holmes-Blankenship on her historic honor in Monday's edition of the Cecil Whig.

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