$10,000 Teachers: Two Frenship teachers earn Excellence in Education honors

Two Frenship teachers have won the Newton Excellence in Education Award from the Beaumont Foundation, which will award them $10,000.

Karen Conder, a physical education teacher at Crestview Elementary School, and Jim Crites, a science teacher at Frenship High School, will receive a crystal obelisk, a professional portrait and a check for $10,000 during the Beaumont Foundation’s Awards Gala on May 5.

Frenship had nine nominations for the awards. The nominees will receive a plaque.

When Conder started her college career, she intended to pursue an art degree. As a child in Iowa, she had never been involved in many sports because she had to go home to work on a corn and soybean farm.

But at York College in Nebraska, she decided to try out for the new volleyball team. Two years later, she transferred to what was then Lubbock Christian College, which started a volleyball program a year later, and so she was also on the first volleyball team LCC fielded in the late 1970s.

After graduation, she returned to Iowa, but got a call from Lubbock Christian University coach John Copeland to be the assistant women’s volleyball coach while she obtained her teaching certification. Upon her return, she met David Conder, the man she eventually married.

Ultimately, Conder taught elementary P.E. at Lubbock Christian School, where she also coached middle school sports and varsity volleyball.

After five years of coaching at LCS, she came to the Frenship district, first as a library aide at Casey Elementary School, and later as a kindergarten assistant at Crestview. When the P.E. teacher there retired, she became the P.E. teacher, and is in her 16th year in that role.

Conder said her teaching philosophy is to develop children’s physical and social awareness in fitness and health, to promote responsibilities during group and individual P.E. activities, to incorporate life skills and to establish positive social and behavioral skills.

Conder said it is also important for her to incorporate skills students are learning in other classes into P.E. Her experience as a library aide and kindergarten assistant in Frenship has given her a different perspective on educating children.

She also incorporates her love of art into her classroom, using her skills even in small ways to draw diagrams of games for young students.

Conder said she really appreciates the support she has received while at Crestview from the administration on down.

The P.E. teacher said she hopes to spend some of the $10,000 on herself and her husband, but she said she also plans to invest some of it in her P.E. program at Crestview.

Crites also started his college education without firm plans to be an educator.

He was mostly a city kid, but his father had owned some land and horses. He entered college and liked several science programs, so he got into the agricultural education program. After graduation from Texas Tech with a bachelor’s degree, he continued his education, receiving a master’s degree in ag ed from Tech. He was the research assistant for a small gas engine lab, and decided to give teaching a chance.

“I really enjoyed teaching that. That caused me to go ahead and try teaching and see how I’d like it,” said Crites. Now he has 31 years under his belt as an educator.

He taught one year in New Deal, then moved to Abernathy, where he taught in a program called vocational education for the handicapped, or VEH.

“The state was phasing out funding for that,” he said. But his principal, Charles Floyd, was a former science teacher and saw that in Crites’ free time, he was looking at birds, doing botany and had a strong interest in geology. He encouraged him to start looking at becoming a science teacher.

Soon, Crites was picking up a few science courses and found he really enjoyed it.

In 14 years at Abernathy, he spent nine as a science teacher. Then he spent nine-and-a-half years teaching at the Dunbar Science Academy, and has been at Frenship for the past six years.

Crites said he really enjoys his co-workers in the FHS science department, describing them as “outstanding.”

“You have to bring your ‘A’ game every day, or you’re not going to look good,” he said. Currently he teaches pre-AP biology, mostly to freshmen.

“They come in with a really good attitude. The vast majority of them come in wanting to learn,” said Crites. “These kids are really sweet.”

Crites said he believes everything he and his students do in class has relevancy in the real world.

His teaching philosophy is that everyone learns at a different rate, but everyone will learn if the material is presented in several different ways.

But he said he often sees the “ah-ha” moment when students begin to understand while doing hands-on lab work.

“We’ve done the paperwork, we’ve read about it, we’ve talked about it, but suddenly, they get it,” he said. “That’s why the labs are so important.”

In his free time, Crites still spends time looking at birds and plants, and is also involved in the Boy Scout program through his son, Jason, 18. He recently spent a weekend hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico, and is planning on spending two weeks backpacking at Philmont in June.

Crites said he wants to spend his $10,000 check on what bird enthusiasts call a “big year,” in which he will see as many bird species as possible within the state of Texas for one calendar year. This is a project he hopes to undertake after his retirement, but he is not planning to leave teaching for at least a few more years.

“Eventually, I’ll have to get another job. My wife tells me I’m too young to be retired,” said Crites. He and his wife, Mary, also have a daughter, Dana.

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