CHARLOTTESVILLE — From helping students move forward in the school’s Future Farmers of American (FFA) program to organizing a community blessing box or teaching 4-H skills to kids, Eastern Hancock educator Sarah Williams is all-in for students and her community.

Williams was selected by district officials as the 2024 David Pfaff Excellence in Education award winner, making her the Educator of the Year for Eastern Hancock Schools. The announcement was made during a special ceremony Friday morning.

“I was definitely shocked,” Williams said. “It’s really kind of neat the way they read a bio on the winner and tell things about the winner, and we all kind of look around trying to figure out who it is. I just never expected myself to be the one to earn the title because I was not thinking it would be me.”

Williams, a Purdue University graduate, has been at Eastern Hancock for 12 years now and says she’s fortunate to work for a district who supports agriculture education.

 Eastern Hancock teacher Sarah Williams has been named the 2024 Excellence in Education recipient. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

“It really goes back to our administrators and our community because they find value in the work we do as well,” Williams said. “I really like what I do because it keeps me on my toes.”

Eastern Hancock High School and Middle School Principal Adam Barton said they had a number of teachers nominated for this year’s award, but Williams was chosen based on the impressive nominations from parents, co-workers and students.

“Sarah has the ability to foster both academic and personal growth in her students through FFA, 4-H and her classroom,” Barton said.

Barton said he likes how Williams collaborates with her colleagues across the district from elementary to high school to help with projects and share knowledge.

“She shares insights and resources without hesitation,” Barton said.

Williams is described as a teacher with a quiet force within the school community who has a passion for education evident in everything she does, from hands-on lessons to unwavering support for students both inside and outside the classroom.

“Her ability to collaborate across disciplines and with other educators speaks to her versatility and dedication to providing comprehensive learning experiences,” Barton said. “She’s not just teaching subjects; she’s helping students develop skills and values that will serve them well beyond the classroom.”

Williams said it’s a blessing to still be able to teach classes where students are learning the importance of 4-H and agriculture.

“As an Ag teacher, I know we have a lot of students who don’t come from an Ag type of background, and that’s OK because I always like to educate them so they can be more informed people who will have an appreciation for agriculture,” Williams said.

Barton went on to say Williams has a knack for engaging conversation, making people feel comfortable and valued in her presence.

“What truly sets Sarah apart is her humility and selflessness,” Barton said. “Despite her many accomplishments, she remains humble and always puts the needs of her students first.”

Whether she is staying late to help a struggling student or lending a listening ear to a student in need, Williams consistently goes above and beyond to ensure that every student feels supported and valued.

She was part of a group who put together a “Blessing Box” for the community where anyone in need of food or other items could get into the box and pick up a much-needed blessing.

“That was very rewarding to be able to help others in our community because any person can get help from that,” Williams said. “What made that project neat was our community continues to fill it and I rarely have to go to make sure it is stocked.”

Barton said Williams has spent countless hours coaching, mentoring and traveling with her successful teams and as an FFA Advisor, she has played a pivotal role in the growth and success of the district’s FFA chapter.

He also said Williams’ leadership and guidance have inspired countless students to pursue their passions and develop invaluable skills in agriculture and leadership.

“She continues to build our FFA program, tirelessly pouring hours into our students with great success,” Barton said.

Williams says it’s great being a teacher who gets to share life knowledge with students because it makes them better people.

“Learning about Ag life can help make students better members of society,” Williams said.

Overall, Williams said she feels honored to have been selected for the educational award, but noted there were many worthy candidates.

“I’d have to say I’ve had great mentors, from former Ag teachers to co-teachers, and I think the culture of our school is filled with great, great teachers where I can see what they’re doing in their classrooms, so I’d say I’m just a product of my environment seeing what other great teachers are doing,” she said.