ROANOKE RAPIDS — Exceptional Children Teacher Srinivas Pannela was named the 2020-21 “Teacher of the Year” by the Council for Exceptional Children.
The national recognition publicly took place during a virtual program in March, where Pannela, employed at Northwest Collegiate and Technical Academy, was honored for his work.
Pannela said it is an honor and a blessing to receive the prestigious award on the national level.
“It was extremely unexpected,” he said on Wednesday. “I never even thought about it in my dreams. I sincerely appreciate the attention of CEC for recognizing my efforts in teaching and nurturing children with special needs.”
Professional Development Chairwoman Amanda Bock of the N.C. Chapter of CEC and the past president said in a video their chapter is proud of Pannela for all of his work.
“He’s very worthy of recognition, and we are so excited that he’s being recognized,” Bock said.
The chance for the N.C. chapter to get to know Pannela was not until after he received state recognition from the N.C. CEC with the “Excellence in Teaching Award” in 2018, Bock said.
“He was attending the conference as an award recipient, but he asked us how he could help, and he’s been helping ever since,” she said.
With talent and ideas to bring to the table, Bock said it was not long before Pannela was asked to join the Advisory Board of the N.C. chapter as the communications chairman. She also said that Pannela will soon be inducted as a vice president on the Board of Directors of N.C. Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities. However, Bock said Pannela makes time for his students despite how busy he is with the chapter.
“Srinivas is a wonderful teacher, colleague and friend,” she said. “And we in North Carolina are so fortunate to have him as an active member of our chapter. He’s a leader in our field, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.”
Principal Steve Hunter of Northwest Collegiate and Technical Academy said Pannela is an amazing exceptional children teacher within the nearly three years he has known him. Hunter said he had the opportunity to observe classrooms virtually, including Pannela’s classes.
“He does an amazing job of teaching students with different ability levels from one end of the spectrum to the other,” he said. “Mr. Pannela provides a family atmosphere with his students and parents. In his class, students are learning academically, and they are preparing for life out of high school due to Pannela’s leadership and teaching skills.”
Claude E. Cooper Jr., a member of the HCS Board of Education, said it is an honor to say a positive word about Pannela.
“Mr. Pannela — simply stated, is purely awesome,” Cooper said.
Cooper said he was a principal for 22 years at Halifax County Schools and worked with all kind of teachers from the elementary and middle school level, including assistant principal at a high school.
“Ive never seen a more qualified, more dedicated and a more loyal employee than Mr. Pannela,” he said.
Though Pannela is referred to as an exceptional children teacher, Cooper said he would prefer to phrase Pannela as an “exceptional teacher of children.”
“My phrase used to be, ‘Better because he wants to be,’ ” he said. “Well, that clearly describes Mr. Pannela. If I were still a principal, he would have to be a member of my staff. If I were still a coach, he’d have to be a member of my team.”
Kimberly Worley, a parent, congratulated Pannela and thanked him for his help as an educator over the past year in helping her son, Zacchaeus, transition to high school last year. Worley highlighted how it was rocky at the beginning, but Pannela’s collaboration with her helped figure out what worked best for Zacchaeus.
“Thank you for pushing him to his full potential,” she said. “I have seen such growth and continue to see growth in Zacchaeus. He loves to go to school. He never cries or frets when he has to go. Thank you for your help throughout this pandemic and these troubling times.”
Pannela said the national recognition had reassured him in his teaching style, to which a special education job is no easy task.
“Somebody has to show passion and a kind heart toward children, especially during this COVID-19 dramatically changing the parents and students,” he said. “The flexibility to change and innovation have helped me in the development and maximizing of learning competencies.”
Pannela gave thanks to the CEC, NCCEC, Halifax County Schools board members, school staff, the parents and students for their support. He also recognized and noted that April is National Autism Awareness Month.
“Finally, I would like to thank my family for their love, encouragement and support,” Pannela said. “An anonymous person once said, ‘Until you have taught a child with special needs you have no idea of the depth of your strength, tenacity and resourcefulness.’ ”