Shawnee Mission P.E. and health teacher recognized as one of best first-year teachers in Kansas

Shawnee Mission Northwest physical education and health teacher Susan Specht, above, is a 2021 Horizon Award recipient. The recognition is for first-year teachers who have done outstanding work, and Specht is one of 32 teachers across the state to be honored. Photo courtesy of Susan Specht.

Susan Specht, a health and physical education teacher at Shawnee Mission Northwest, is one of 32 Kansas Horizon Award honorees for 2021, recognizing the best new teachers in the state.

The announcement came as a surprise during a Kansas State Board of Education meeting last week, when Commissioner Randy Watson shared the news virtually, Specht said. (Watch the video here.)

As a first-year teacher who started in August, Specht said she’s grateful for the veteran teachers and administrators who invested their time to help her be successful.

Specht’s first year of teaching posed its own challenges with COVID-19 and virtual learning, though she said the ability to adapt to what will best serve students is something every teacher signs up for. Now, she said she’s honored to be a recipient of the Horizon Award for what she refers to as her calling — not her job or career.

“It’s just a little bit of affirmation and confirmation in the fact that I’m doing work for someone bigger than me,” Specht said. “When I take my eyes off of myself and look at the person in front of me and love the person in front of me, we can engage hearts and we can transform the world around us.”

Horizon honorees come from across Kansas, and are recognized for outstanding work in their first year of teaching. Winners are invited to become part of the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network, and also receive a monetary award from The Capitol Federal Foundation.

Specht was the only teacher from SMSD to achieve the honor this year. Several other first-year teachers in Johnson County also made the list:

  • Sydney Clarke, Wheatridge Middle School, Gardner Edgerton
  • Molly Dugan, Spring Hill Middle School, Spring Hill
  • Kassidy Evans, Blue Valley Northwest High School, Blue Valley
  • Emily Mauer, Timber Creek Elementary School, Blue Valley

SM Northwest Principal Lisa Gruman said Specht values students individually and “teaches with great love in her heart because teaching is her calling.” Gruman went on to say Specht offers students a choice and voice in their learning, and she “creates a safe space” so each student can be successful.

“She builds self-confidence and resilience in her learners and the athletes she coaches,” Gruman said. “She models hard work, integrity and determination integral to life’s success.”