A fifth-grade math and science teacher, a middle-school band director and a high school social studies and robotics coach walked across the stage Wednesday night at Baton Rouge Magnet High School to collect plaques proclaiming them East Baton Rouge Parish teachers of the year.
The three — Joy Watson, of Woodlawn Elementary; Andy Pizzo, of Sherwood Middle; and Daniel Eiland, of Woodlawn High — learned they had won the parishwide competition months ago so they could then compete in the state’s Teacher of the Year competition.
Semifinalists were announced in February. Statewide winners will be announced in July and honored then.
Wednesday’s ceremony also recognized the school system’s three principals of the year: Sharmayne Rutledge, Greenbrier Elementary; Herman Brister Jr., McKinley Middle; and Howard Davis, Scotlandville High. Rutledge is a semifinalist for statewide principal of the year for elementary schools.
The three teachers recognized Wednesday came to their particular slice of the teaching profession through different paths.
Watson had not decided to go into education when she graduated from Baton Rouge High — “It was surreal walking across the stage again,” she said — but decided soon after in college. After graduating from LSU in 2006, she took over as a fifth-grade teacher at Audubon Elementary and quickly figured out that’s what she wanted to do.
“Teaching is such a joy,” said Watson.
She has stayed a fifth-grade teacher and loves the age.
“They’re older kids, but they haven’t yet hit puberty,” she explained.
She followed her principal, Susan Kornuta, in 2009 to launch a new school, Woodlawn Elementary. In 2012, though, Watson shifted from focusing on English and social studies to math and science.
“I’m able to do a lot of physical activities and a lot of project-based learning,” she said.
Pizzo wasn’t an automatic for teaching either. He is a musician, having picked up a trombone in fifth grade and hasn’t set it down since.
After graduating from LSU in 1999, Pizzo thought about teaching high school band, but realized that middle school would allow him to continue performing in the evenings, which he still does with his nine-piece band Phat Hat.
At Sherwood, he recently led the school’s jazz band to a first-place finish in a statewide competition. “We’re very competitive; we treat it like sports,” he explained.
He brings in professional musicians to work with his students and to reinforce what he’s teaching.
Pizzo also uses music as a way to teach other subjects.
“There is a lot of science, history and a lot of foreign language in music,” he said.
Eiland had family members who worked at Central High, where he graduated in 1999, and his mom later became an English instructor at LSU.
Still, he tried different fields before settling on education, including a short stint working at a bank.
“I learned I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day,” he said.
Eiland tried middle school for a year, but found Woodlawn High, where he started in 2009, a better fit. He said he is not a strict disciplinarian. With high school age students, he said, he can develop a bond of trust.
“I haven’t had to write up a student in three years,” he said.
He teaches social studies to students in the gifted program as well as Advanced Placement social studies.
He also started the school’s active robotics team. He said robotics is a great motivator and he has students go on to do well in science fields in college as a result.
Still, he has a special love for social studies and wishes it received similar appreciation in education circles.
“To me the most intelligent and well-rounded students are those that have a strong base in the humanities,” Eiland said.
So what’s next for these three?
Watson is in a training program to be a school leader and hopes one day to be a school principal.
Pizzo is seeking to maintain and expand on the excellence he’s already achieved by finding musical connections to more and more things.
Eiland said robotics needs to be more widespread.
“My major goal is to bring it to every school in Baton Rouge,” he said.