An instructor at the Early Learning Center was honored this past weekend as the 2019 Outstanding Teacher of the Year in the Washington School District.

Erin DeClue, a prekindergarten autism teacher in her 15th year with the district, received the WINGS Foundation Award for Educational Excellence during the Hall of Honor Gala Saturday night at the Washington Knights of Columbus Hall.

DeClue is now eligible for the Regional Teacher of the Year, which will be awarded in June. The Regional Teacher of the Year will then be in the running for the State Teacher of the Year.

The award, established in 1993, is given each year to recognize a longtime, outstanding teacher in the public school district. It is sponsored by the WINGS Foundation, school district and The Missourian.

DeClue received a plaque and $1,000 from The Missourian and two anonymous Washington High School donors.

Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer said it’s always an honor to announce the Teacher of the Year finalists and the winner.

“They all work so very hard and are all worthy,” VanLeer said. “Erin is to be commended for her dedication to our earliest learners, and our students with special needs. She is an asset to the district and she will represent the district so very well.”

Other finalists for the Teacher of the Year award recognized Saturday night were:

Kaycie Schulte, third-grade teacher at South Point Elementary;

Lindsay Kober, sixth-grade teacher at Washington West Elementary;

Julie Trentmann, special education teacher at Washington West Elementary; and

Adam Meyer, physical education teacher at South Point Elementary.

DeClue said she decided to become a special education teacher because of her son Ryan who was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum at the age of 3.

“Ryan started preschool in the Washington School District and made such tremendous progress,” she said. “They did such amazing things with him, and I knew I needed to become a special education teacher, too. I needed to give back to the school district what they gave to me.”

DeClue said the teachers taught her son to say “I love you,” as well helped him learn to read.

“They helped him make friends,” she added. “They gave him a place where he felt he belonged, and, in 2016, they helped him earn his diploma.”

DeClue was nominated by fellow Early Learning staff members Nanci Simmons, Heather Patty, Danika Thibault, Jennie Godefroid and Kristy Lauer.

On the nomination form, they stated: “Erin displays many characteristics that make her, what we believe to be, the best candidate for this award. She shows up to work every morning with a smile on her face, a positive attitude, and ready to take on the challenges that may arise when working with preschool students who have autism.

“Erin displays extreme patience in difficult situations while still providing learning opportunities. She gives the students a voice and a way to communicate when they are unable to do so on their own. She also goes above and beyond to meet the needs of not only the students, but their families as well. Erin’s patience and dedication to her students make her deserving of this award.”

DeClue said what she enjoys most about her job is finding the key to unlocking her students.

“Finding that one thing that gains their trust and allows me to enter their world, which is really the most amazing thing in the world,” she said.

This is the second year the Teacher of the Year award has been presented at the WINGS gala instead of the district’s end of the year program.