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Cunningham Named Region 9 Secondary Teacher of the Year

WFISD Secondary Teacher of the Year Nabs Regional Title
Carrigan welding teacher Gary Cunningham progresses to state competition
On April 14, Carrigan Career Center welding teacher Gary Cunningham earned the distinction as the best secondary teacher in Wichita Falls ISD when he was named WFISD's Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Now he has another feather in his cap: Region 9 Education Service Center gave him top billing in its 37 North Texas districts. The regional service center announced Friday that he is their 2017 Region 9 Secondary Teacher of the Year.
From here, Mr. Cunningham moves on to state competition in Austin, TX, on Oct. 13.
The win shines a light onto his welding program and the new WFISD career and technical education program of which it is a part.
"I am very honored because there are so many great teachers out there," said Mr. Cunningham Monday. "I'm honored for the CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs. I'm not just saying this. I wish people could see that we've got some other fantastic teachers out here. Maybe (this win) does bring us attention to the new CTE center. The old days of what people perceive as a shop class are gone."
Currently, WFISD is introducing high school students to 32 career fields through its expanded career training programs, which include Mr. Cunningham's welding program. The district is also building a state-of-the-art Career and Technical Education Center that will open Fall 2017.
Reaching beyond WFISD 
As a 26-year teacher, Mr. Cunningham has won many awards for his teaching expertise. His wins include the IDEA Grant, the Tech Prep grant, a West Foundation scholarship and $57,000 in grants from local entities that support his programs.
His influence already extends far beyond WFISD. When state leaders needed to write learning objectives for welding coursework, they turned to Mr. Cunningham. He also wrote lesson plans for the University of North Texas that were used statewide and wrote test questions for the CTE teacher certification test.
He's also influential on the welding textbook selection committee and is the Texas Education Agency's regional trainer for manufacturing TEKS. He teaches the teachers, creating training sessions that certify teachers in welding.
Even the Texas Parks and Wildlife uses Mr. Cunningham as an instructor for its welding seminars.
Promoting career programs
Mr. Cunningham is a staunch believer in career programs like the one he teaches to high school juniors and seniors at Carrigan Career Center.
"Career programs allow kids to test out their career ideas," he said. "Is that what I want to do? Do I love it? Do I hate it? Or is it something I could just do on the side for the rest of my life? Or could it be a hobby? All kids need this certainty."
Many of his students get their first exposure to welding in his class and soon taste success for the first time, he said. In his classroom, Mr. Cunningham is just as concerned that his students learn to give a hearty, "Good morning," and a firm handshake to one another as he is that they perfect a tig weld.
Final judging
As a 2017 Region 9 Teacher of the Year winner, Mr. Cunningham will be honored at an awards ceremony and luncheon scheduled for Friday, Oct. 14 in Austin. Region 9 also chose Rhonda Birdwell, a John Hardin Elementary teacher in the Burkburnett ISD, as its 2017 Region 9 Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Both winners were submitted to the state for semifinalist judging, according to Region 9 Teacher of the Year Coordinator Debbie Cummings. Two panels of judges - one for elementary and another for secondary - will meet in Austin to review applications. They will select three finalists for elementary and three for secondary, which the Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) will announce the week of Aug. 22.
Final interviews and judging are scheduled for Oct. 13. The panel of judges will include representatives of educational administrator associations, a State Board of Education member and previous Teachers of the Year. The panel will choose the two state winners and designate one to represent Texas in the National Teacher of the Year Contest.