September 2018 Winner - Danny Alexander:(Lamar School)


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Meridian Star Article

When Danny Alexander left for college his plans were to become a dentist, but God had other plans for his life – to become a teacher.

So he changed his major to science education.

Alexander had no idea 50 years later he would be rewarded for doing the job he loves. His journey was highlighted when the Lamar High School chemistry and physics teacher was named September's Golden Apple Teacher at a surprise ceremony last week.

"I am overwhelmed, and it's such a humbling experience," Alexander said. "It's not because of what I've done in the classroom. It's the elementary teachers that get them ready, it's the parents that give them the values they need, so by the time they get to me, doing what I do is easy."

Lamar's Head of School Leigh Ann Ballou said Alexander is the ideal candidate for a Golden Apple award.

"He connects what he teaches in the classroom to real life so the kids quickly catch on – he pushes them and helps them understand," Ballou said. "They are prepared once they go to college, that's for certain."

In his 50 years in education, Alexander taught at Northwest Junior High, Meridian High School and Lamar. After 11 years at Northeast Junior, Alexander said he felt like he was burning out, but didn't feel like he was supposed to quit teaching, so he prayed.

"The next day I got a call from the superintendent of Meridian Public Schools to come to his office," Alexander said. "He transferred me to Meridian High School to teach chemistry and physics, that was 1980."

Alexander said in 2001 he was about to burn out again, and again he prayed. That afternoon he got a call from Lamar asking him if he knew anyone who was retired who could teach chemistry.

"I told them I didn't know anyone who was, but I know someone who can immediately," Alexander said. "I went to Jackson during Christmas break and got the necessary papers and in three days I was retired. I came right on to Lamar and never looked back.

"The atmosphere at Lamar with the faculty, administration, and kids we have – it is a pleasure to come to work every day. If you go where you are supposed to be it is fantastic."

Alexander said a teacher has to be more than just someone who spouts information.

"You have to be an example, and here at this school it is a Christian example," Alexander said. "These kids need not only what they get at home, but need it reinforced here, too. We have some of the finest teachers I've ever been associated with and the administration is top notch."

East Mississippi Electric Power Association CEO Randy Carroll, left, presents the September Golden Apple Award to Lamar School science teacher Danny Alexander.

Transition to technology

Alexander said technology has helped him in the classroom. Calculators and computers have helped because of access to more information quicker, but at the same time it cuts down on having to dig through files to find information.

Alexander explained he doesn't know if being able to get it quicker as the computers do is better or not. What concerns him is what if the power grid goes down, or the batteries play out. Are the kids going to be able to function as engineers – going back to pencils and slide rules? No, I don't think so," he said.

Alexander said he wants his students to remember him as firm but fair.

"I think if you can be fair, you can be firm in what you ask of your students, and these kids will respond," Alexander said. "If you put a goal in front of them, they will do their dead level best to exceed what you put out there, but they are not going to do that unless you're fair in the way you treat them, and they are not going to do that unless you respect them."

Seniors Sarah Pasha and Jake Ransier both agree Alexander is deserving of the Golden Apple Award, but more than that – he cares.

"He has taught me three science classes, and is part of the reason I am planning on going into an engineering field," Pasha said. "Not only does he teach about the subject matter, but how you can apply it to everyday life."

"He's a teacher who puts in as much effort as he can, and will stay with you after class if you need him to – he really cares about every single student he has," Ransier said. "Everything he has taught us he makes sure we can use it and go forward."

Pushing for the best

Alexander said his chemistry instructor at East Central Community College, Frank Cross, influenced him the most.

"He was one of the toughest people I have ever come up against, and when I got to college I didn't know there were any other letters in the alphabet except A – I quickly was taught several other letters," Alexander said with a laugh.

Alexander recalls the first quarter he made a B in chemistry, and couldn't understand why because he had a 94 average.

"I asked Mr. Cross what did it take to get an A, he replied a 96, I never did make it," Alexander said. "After I graduated I went back to see him and asked him what would have happened if I had made a 96, he said it would have taken a 98, you weren't getting an A. I had to teach you to study and stand on your own, now you are ready to be a college student."

Teaching science is the only course you can teach that man didn't write, Alexander said. There is nothing in my chemistry or physics book that is man-made. What he hopes his students remember: everything in those books is discovery, and it has been here all the time. That to me is the most fantastic thing, he said. Sir Isaac Newton once said, the more he studies creation, the closer he gets to the creator.

"In the '80s I was involved in a teachers and space program and got to see the actual building of the Hubble Space Telescope," Alexander said. "Seeing the things that Hubble telescope has discovered that had always been there, but nobody had ever seen, is just fantastic, and trying to get that over to your students, that is fun, too."

Alexander was one of 11,000 teachers across the United States who had applied for the Teacher in Space Project, which was NASA's program to send the first private citizen to space. On Jan. 28, 1986, Christa McAuliffe, the teacher chosen from Concord, New Hampshire, was one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

"I was in that program at that time in Huntsville, Alabama," Alexander said. "I understand I was 79th in the state of Mississippi when I got cut. I gave it all I had, even though I knew I probably wasn't going to fly, but I wanted to see how far I would get.

"Mississippi chose two ladies, which gave them a double shot. I am glad neither one of our ladies got that flight, because as you well know that flight exploded. When I saw that lift off it was like a kick in the gut. I had been there, I had seen and talked to some of those people, and was involved with some of the folks that were involved in the technology, that went up – it was terrible."

Final year?

Alexander said his plans are to retire in May 2019, but it depends on what the Lord and Ballou say.

"She has the final say so, but whoever comes in here I want them to be the best qualified there is, and I want them to be able to do a much better job than I have done," Alexander said. "If you go into something and don't improve on what you have inherited, you haven't done your job.

"I think I have made a difference here, and Meridian High School, but it may be time for someone else to come in and make a bigger difference. Maybe May, that's the plan anyway."

Alexander was born in Meridian. His father was the manager of H.S. Kress; a job that transferred him from store to store across the South. He went to 10 schools before he graduated at Beulah Hubbard in Newton County. He went to East Central Community College, the University of Southern Mississippi, then a few years later attended the Mississippi State Branch in Meridian where he received a masters degree. He is married to Patricia "Cookie" Alexander and will celebrate 50 years of marriage on Aug. 2.

Alexander received a laptop and desktop computer, as well as a Golden Apple Teacher of the Month Certificate, $300 cash award, and $1,000 continuing education voucher for MSU-Meridian, and $1,250 in school supplies.

The 10 monthly winners will be invited to the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year banquet and that winner will receive a special award on stage, a custom-made Teacher of the Year trophy, $2,500 cash to be used at their discretion and a $2,500 scholarship to be awarded to a deserving student in the teacher's name.