District Celebration 2023

Lawton, OK - Lawton Public Schools (LPS) held its annual “Celebration!” on Dec. 15 at Eisenhower Middle School, where the district announced its Elementary, Secondary and “First Class” Teachers of the Year, as well as recipients for two additional awards this year: Educational Support Person of the Year and Friends of Education Community Award.

This is the first year all district faculty were in attendance, as the event was held during the work day. This year’s Elementary Teacher of the Year is Gina Hinton, first grade teacher at Freedom Elementary School. 

“I feel completely overwhelmed and ecstatic, but it is true that iron does sharpen iron,” Hinton said. “We need each other now more than ever as educators. We've got to love each other and support each other, just as we love and support our students, and so I just consider it a true humble honor to get to represent such an amazing school district.”

Hinton has 21 years of teaching experience and has taught for Lawton Public Schools for the past seven years.  She serves as a mentor teacher, grade level team leader, and school curriculum representative. She believes that the most significant contribution to education comes from her heart. She can see potential in students.

The Secondary Teacher of the Year is Jeff Elbert, Lawton High School's math and media production teacher. Elbert previously won the district Rookie of the Year in 2019, now known as the “First Class” Teacher of the Year. In addition, he was chosen as a recipient of the LPS Champions of Children Award for his extraordinary service to the district in 2022.

“I never thought I’d be teaching and coaching, but God opened doors for me,” Elbert said. “The story is a long one, but I will spare the details. Long story short, I’m not supposed to be here. I was homeless just 10 years ago. I was an addict 10 years ago. I joined a gang here in Lawton when I was 14 years old. And at the end of this story, for all of my friends, it did not end this way. This one right here is for all of them.”

Elbert is also the head wrestling coach and sponsors the Gentlemen of LHS and Chess Clubs.  Outside of school, he serves as a youth pastor and is the president and founder of The Great 580 Association. He was also named Lawton Citizen of the Year in 2022. Elbert believes that his ability to communicate with young people effectively and in terms they can understand is a gift that must be used.

The “First Class” Teacher of the Year, recognizing an outstanding new teacher who has taught less than two years at the time of nomination, was awarded to Lincoln Elementary fifth grade teacher Kiyoko McCraken.

“Give it up for Lincoln, because we work so hard and I work with amazing people,” McCracken said. “I am who I am because they are who they are, so I am so grateful and excited to be at Lincoln.”

Teaching is a career McCracken chose later in life after working in retail for many years.  According to Lincoln’s principal, Oscar Castro, McCracken’s “enthusiasm, dedication, and unwavering commitment to education have a ripple effect throughout the school. She creates a positive and inclusive environment where all students feel valued and inspired to reach their fullest potential.”

The Educational Support Person of the Year, honoring support staff for their excellent service to their students and faculty, was awarded to Alicia Gouveia, Cleveland Elementary special education class assistant. Gouveia has supported students and schools at LPS for 49 years, and staff at Cleveland said “she is the epitome of patience and understanding with her students.”

The district recognized Comanche Nation Chairman Mark Woommavovah and Lawton Arts for All Inc. with the Friends of Education Community Award. The award honors “community members who lift those around them to the greatest possible heights.”

“It's leader to leader engagement, and we have so many Native students that are in a lot of public schools,” Woommavovah said. “As leaders we have to support our students, we have to support our community and our teachers. It's up to us to make effective change and our students will see that.”

In addition, Lisa Carson, executive director of the Lawton Public School Foundation, recognized the foundation’s Crystal Pillars awards to a business or individual who has greatly supported the LPS education community. The award was presented to Arvest Bank.

“I think it’s important when we are educators, and we are engrained in this community, that we realize the businesses and the individuals that are for us,” Carson said, “because we all know that you are asked for donations every single day. Arvest is for teachers, educators, our students and they are for the LPS Foundation. They serve on our board, they’ve given since the beginning of the foundation, and they are just awesome people.”

District winners were presented with gifts, in addition, each finalist received a certificate and goodie bag from community members and organizations.

In closing remarks, Superintendent Hime thanked the LPS staff and faculty for the incredible things they do for students. He also reminded them that as they reboot during the winter break to not forget “there is a child today that [they] are their teacher of the year to.” 

The “Celebration!” program can be viewed on the LPSTV Youtube channel, youtube.com/lpstv.