Warren recognized as MAIS teacher of the year

Starkville Academy English, speech and drama teacher Vicky Warren, right, helps senior JonHayden Hancock with an assignment. Warren has been named the MIssissippi Association of Independent Schools Secondary Teacher of the year. (Submitted photo)
Staff Writer

In her years of teaching at Starkville Academy, Vicky Warren has touched the lives of multiple generations of students, directed countless plays and watched the school grow exponentially.
Now, she is receiving one of the biggest recognitions of her career.

Warren has been named the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Secondary Teacher of the Year. During her 44 years at SA, Warren has taught English, speech and drama. In 1975, she founded the school’s drama program, with the senior class building a stage for the first production.

“I’d applied for it years ago, and I was not selected,” Warren said. “I thought ‘well, they probably don’t think English, drama and speech are very important,’ but I guess over the years I’ve built up a lot of different work and activities, directing musicals, one-acts and speech tournaments.”

Warren said her principal let the news be a surprise, telling her she would not be able to travel with her theatre students to a one-act competition at Mississippi State University, because she would need to be in Jackson as a finalist for the award.

“Well, they didn’t tell me that I had won,” Warren said. “They knew that.”

The prize includes plaques for both Warren and SA, and a $500 monetary award. A similar award went to the top MAIS elementary teacher.

“It’s been very positive,” Warren said. “There have been teachers and parents, and I’ve been getting some emails from former students.”

Warren said she plans to continue teaching for the foreseeable future. She said the biggest change to her job has been the addition of technology to her curriculum. She also said the school’s growth over the years had been a big change.

“I think one of the reasons I received it is because over the years I’ve changed and had to grow with (students) and with their demands,” Warren said. “When I first came here, I was hired to teach speech, but I didn’t have certification in speech, so I went to summer school to work on the speech. It’s been a continuing education for me. As the job changed, I would get more certifications for teaching advanced placement at the University of Alabama, or for teaching dual-enrollment with a master’s from Mississippi State. I just kept working on it, whatever demand it was, I went back and learned about it so I could teach it.”

Warren holds degrees from the Mississippi University for Women and Mississippi State University. Senior Rush Brown praised Warren’s ability to support and connect with her students.

“She is the type of teacher who always pushes her students to do their best,” Brown said. “She genuinely cares about seeing you succeed and does her best to challenge you.”

Warren said she hoped her classes would help students learn more about themselves and unlock new talents.

“There are several students that have been in our (theatre) program who are working professionally in theatre right now,” Warren said.

She said the sense of community and the support she has received at SA is the main reason she has stayed.

Warren described some of the support she received from the school and its alumni following her husband’s death in the fall of 2014.

“On Saturday morning, several of my students I had taught years ago showed up at my door with a stack of cash they had taken up at the ball game to help my son and me.”

The group of students asked Warren what she needed. She told them relatives were coming to town for the visitation, and her refrigerator wasn’t working.

“In two hours these two (former) students, these grown men were back with a refrigerator and a huge cooler full of soft drinks,” Warren said.

The same group also bought new tires for Warren’s truck.

“I knew that this lady must be special when, before I moved here from Brandon several years ago, a lawyer and SA alum from the Jackson area whom I did not know reached out to me through a mutual friend in order for me to tell Mrs. Warren hello and also that he had actually made something out of himself,” said Head of School Jeremy Nicholas. ”She carries that much respect from her former students, and through the blessing of having her at SA for 44 years, she is the tie that binds almost everyone together."

Over the years at SA, multiple generations of students have passed through Warren’s classes. She said in any given class, she will have taught a parent, sibling or other relative of at least 20 percent of the students.

Some of her past students include former Mississippi lieutenant governor Amy Tuck and Washington Post reporter Neely Tucker.

“Mrs. Warren stands out as that one teacher you remember having a tremendous impact on your life,” said Clark Beverage Group President Robert Clark. “It’s amazing to think she was at Starkville Academy when I entered first grade and God willing, will be teaching my third child next year.”

Warren said she hopes all of her students develop strong skills in reading, writing, thinking and acting while in her classes.

"Every one of them has a talent that they may not even know that they have,” Warren said. “That needs to be recognized.”