2021 Teachers of the Year: Kevin Sheets of High Point Elementary School
Throughout his 35-year-career, the Gahanna resident has strived to forge connections in the classroom.
When he received a call telling him that he’d been named the elementary school winner in the Columbus Parent/ThisWeek Community News 2021 Teachers of the Year awards, Kevin Sheets was at a small-college football game cheering for an athlete he had formerly coached.
Being there for his students is almost second nature for Sheets, a fifth-grade teacher who has spent 33 of his 35 years in education at High Point Elementary School in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public School District.
Sheets, like most educators, had to get especially creative when interacting with his students in the 2020-21 school year, particularly when the district was doing 100 percent distance learning.
“It’s been extremely difficult on everybody,” Sheets says. “It’s been a challenge, and with me being 57, I’m used to chalkboards and those types of things. Especially from September until March, when we came back full time, every time I asked parents anything, they were there for me and the kids. As difficult as it was, we’d start out every morning with the pledge and then we’d do some jokes. We’d also say a quote and discuss the importance of that quote. The kids would say names of people they wanted to think about and care about.”
For this year’s Teachers of the Year awards (the eighth year for the recognition program), we received a record 152 nominations from school districts all over Central Ohio. Educators were nominated by their peers, administrators, parents, students and family members. Nominations were taken online from Dec. 10 to Jan. 14. The editorial staffs of Columbus Parent and ThisWeek reviewed all the submissions, did some independent research and narrowed the list to 15 finalists. Readers voted from Feb. 24 to March 24 to determine the three winners.
Sheets, who lives in Gahanna, is originally from Arlington in Northwest Ohio, where he met his wife of 33 years, Kathy Sheets. They attended Capital University together and have three adult daughters.
While studying to earn his elementary education degree at Capital, Sheets regularly attended Gahanna Lincoln High School football games. He began teaching at High Point when the school opened in 1988 under former Principal Tony Piehowicz. “The culture at High Point Elementary is outstanding,” says Sheets, who has seen numerous iterations of technology through the years. “When I first started teaching, I’d make a ditto and put it through a ditto machine, and if it ate my paper, I’d have to come up with a new lesson plan. Then we went to copy machines and kids listening on tape players, and now we have Chromebooks. We wouldn’t have been able to get through this pandemic without virtual classrooms.
“Schools have changed a lot, but the kids have not. They want to be cared about, and they want to learn. It’s all about making relationships, and if you make relationships, they’ll run through a wall for you.”
Sheets, who has been an assistant football coach at Westerville North High School the last three years after spending 25 years coaching at Gahanna Lincoln and two years each at Bexley and Bishop Ready, also is in charge of High Point’s safety patrol.
He was nominated for the Teachers of the Year honor by Steve Grobben, whose son is in Sheets’ class. “Through sitting in the same room due to distance learning earlier in the academic year, I could see and hear how engaged the class was every morning,” Grobben says. “He stays late after school recording videos of his math lessons so kids can watch and learn at their own pace, often showing up on video with a [funny] hat or mask just to make them smile. … The energy and enthusiasm he puts into his lessons is inspiring.”
Since students have been back in the building full time, Sheets and other teachers have made it a practice to sit in the cafeteria every day during their lunch. “We talk with the kids, and it’s been amazing,” Sheets says. “In the past, we’d always go into the teachers’ lounge, but sitting with the kids in the cafeteria, we let them know we care. If we go back to the old ways, I might miss it a little bit.”
Principal Kathy Erhard says Sheets is “one of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with.”
“He is so kid-centered and kid-focused,” Erhard says. “He just is all about energy and really pumping kids up to be the best of who they are. He’s got one of those positive mindsets that’s contagious. He puts those kids under his wing and just walks through the year with them.
“When the kids were in virtual, he tried to stay connected by making videos and he would Google Meet with them all the time—morning, noon and night. He’s going to leave a legacy, that’s for sure,” Erhard says. “It’s a fabulous school, and it’s because of teachers like Kevin.”
Jarrod Ulrey is a reporter for ThisWeek Community News.
This story is from the Summer 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.