Westfield resident named top educator in the state
Westfield resident Steve Perkins begins every Latin class at North Central High School the same – by saying “Salve!” (hello everybody). On Oct. 4, the last day of the first nine weeks, Perkins was barely past his first classroom salutation before his door swung open and a flood of cameras and bodies entered.
“This was an invasion. The first face I saw was my daughter’s and I immediately reached out to her,” he said. “It was shock and awe.”
State Superintendent Glenda Ritz announced that Perkins was named the new Indiana Teacher of the Year to a standing ovation from his students. Perkins then left his classroom and received more congratulation as students, staff and past Teacher of the Year winners lined the halls and stairwells of North Central.
“It was the students, seeing them line the halls, I’ll have my moment of crying later, I will tell you, because that, that meant everything,” Perkins said.
Perkins was selected in May as the Washington Township Teacher of the Year at the year-end celebration for the district. He was told he had a good chance at winning the state award but never put stock in it.
“I told my wife, ‘If I do win, I’d want it for the other people. To see how much it could mean for other people who have supported me. The school board members, students, parents, fellow teachers, custodians, councilors – I love this for them,’” he said.
Perkins said he comes from an education family. His mother taught fourth grade and his father was a principal and sixth grade teacher. He joked that teaching was in his blood since he was in kindergarten
“I had come home from school and one of my grandmothers had dropped by for a visit. I got out a piece of paper and made her a quiz. When she had finished I gleefully marked all the answers wrong. I thought that’s what teachers did,” he said. “I had wonderful teachers in elementary, junior high and high school. I had three fantastic teachers. I knew then I wanted to teach Latin.”
Perkins said he looks forward to several lessons each year – The Aeneid by Virgil for fourth year students, the war writings of Julius Caesar in second year and Roman orator Cicero for third year students.
“I have replica armor and I wear it to take on the persona of a Roman Centurion. I love that,” he said with a giant smile. “Great speakers are still modeling their speeches after Cicero.”
North Central offers seven foreign languages and Latin has the third highest enrollment behind French and Spanish.
“I love the students and the subject,” he said. “When there is a lot of enthusiasm in the classroom, people want to be around … This is where I want to be.”
Perkins’ enthusiasm and energy help him connect with students.
“He knows how to make kids feel welcomed. As soon as he opens his mouth you know you belong in his room. He really knows how to connect to people,” North Central senior Ashley Plonski said. “You grow into Latin. He knows your struggles before you even do.”
“I knew he could do it,” senior Graham Raby of Westfield said. “He brought Latin back to life. He’s so enthusiastic to pass on his knowledge to you.”
Raby started Latin as a freshman.
“I saw his replica Roman swords and thought, ‘This teacher is so much fun, I just want to try it out,’” he said. “He expects a lot out of you. He creates that personality where you want to meet his expectations. You don’t want to let him down.”
Perkins is the third MSD of Washington Township educator to be named Indiana Teacher of the Year. He is the first recipient at North Central.
“When I got the news I thought, ‘How do I keep a straight face?,’” North Central Principal Evans Branigan, III said.
Latin is offered to all North Central high school students and eighth grade students. Branigan described Perkins as “overly enthusiastic” and a favorite teacher among his students.
“Latin was a dying language at North Central before Steve Perkins. Now we’re running at full capacity. We’ve had to add additional Latin teachers,” Branigan said. “Most teachers teach five classes a day. Steve teaches six because of its popularity. He’s building good citizens, not just good Latin students.”
Meet Steve Perkins
Hometown: New Albany, Ind.
Education: New Albany High School; bachelors in classical studies and certification in secondary education, Indiana University; and masters in classics, University of Texas.
Family: Wife, Melissa, and children, Austin and Olivia.
Hobbies: Playing with his children, woodworking, writing fiction and nonfiction and hiking at Indiana State Parks.
If he wasn’t teaching, what would he be doing? Realistically – serving in a church somewhere; semi-realistic/semi-fantasy – be a mainstream author; complete fantasy – being lead guitar for an ’80s hair band covering Whitesnake all day.
Personal quote: “The Lord has given me an educated tongue to know how to sustain with a word the one who has grown weary,” Isaiah 50:4