Classes at Pratt High School were interrupted Thursday morning when the Marching Greenbacks drum line showed off their skills in a parade through the halls. Students and teachers were invited to step out of their classrooms to appreciate their excellence.

What was really being celebrated, however, was excellence in teaching by the district’s Master Teacher, Rita Phillippi. As the announcement was made, the choir serenaded her with an a cappella version of “Stand By Me.”

Selecting this year’s Master Teacher was “a pretty easy task,” according to Mike Gripe, who chairs the committee made up of building site council members and last year’s honoree.

“Every person had a story about Rita,” Gripe commented.

“She is someone who is widely respected,” Principal Steve Blankenship said. “She is one of our pioneers, who will try anything in terms of making it work for all students.”

The buzzword in education is “differentiated instruction,” and Phillippi is differentiated instruction, he said, using a variety of strategies to help everyone understand math concepts.

Phillippi teaches math for grades 9 through 12 and is the National Honor Society sponsor at PHS. She is also the QPA (Quality Performance Accreditation) chair, a position Blankenship said requires that she not be afraid of change.

Master Teacher nominations can be made by buildings, departmental groups, site councils, even custodial and cafeteria staff. The only requirement is that the teacher has worked in the district for at least five years.

The district’s honoree has the opportunity to apply to become a Kansas Master Teacher by submitting what Gripe referred to as a “resume on steroids.”

The tradition at USD 382 is to make a surprise announcement. Administrators succeeded — only about five people knew why the band drummed through the halls and the real purpose of the event.

“I work with the best group of people and the greatest students,” said Phillippi, who was clearly surprised by the announcement.