The West Virginia Universal Pre-K Collaborative on Thursday honored Pamela Smith as its first Universal Pre-K Outstanding Teacher of the Year.
Smith, a preschool teacher at Buffalo Elementary in Putnam County, was selected from among 14 finalists from across the state.
"It is my distinct privilege to honor Pamela and also recognize the contributions of the other finalists," said state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares in a news release. "Their dedication to their students is evident by their actions in the classroom."
The award was presented at the West Virginia Department of Education's Pre-K Leadership Summit in Charleston by the West Virginia Pre-K Steering Team. The interagency advisory team includes members from the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the West Virginia Head Start Collaboration Office.
"Early childhood education, through Universal Pre-K, is one area where West Virginia is overcoming societal obstacles to help children start their academic careers on a firm foundation," Phares said.
West Virginia's Universal Pre-K program is credited with boosting preschool enrollment statewide. From 2002 to 2012, preschool enrollment of 4-year-olds increased from 24 percent to 62 percent. Across the state, about 16,000 children are enrolled in about 1,050 West Virginia Universal Pre-K classrooms. About 72 percent of classrooms are collaborative with community partners, including Head Start and private providers.