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franklin county times

RCS Education Foundation honors excellence

With schools now back in full swing and students and faculty hard at work on another year of learning and growing, it’s a good time to remember the accomplishments of others in the community, in particular, this year’s honorees at the annual Russellville City Schools Education Foundation Banquet, held April 24 at the A.W. Todd Centre in downtown Russellville.

Evening activities, in addition to recognitions for honorees, as well as a total of $40,000 awarded to 29 scholarship recipients, included dinner and entertainment, as well as silent and live auctions.

Honorees included Jerry Groce, Lela Ray and Dr. Wayne Ray and Cindy Coan, who received the Dan C. Hindman Star Polisher award. Created in honor of a former RCS principal, the Star Polisher award “celebrates exemplary educators dedicated to the success of RCS students.”

Coan taught home economics/family and consumer science at Russellville High School for many years, recently moving to the position of director of the Child Nutrition Program.

“It was a complete surprise,” Coan explained, describing the experience as “emotional and humbling.” Coan said while she didn’t “need” the recognition, that it was “validating” to see her efforts acknowledged. “Teachers receive a lot of negative feedback, but not often a lot of positive feedback,” she added, explaining her philosophy that everyone is important regardless of their background or learning abilities. “I didn’t need the recognition, and if I had never gotten it, I would have been fine, but it was very nice to have,” Coan said.

Groce is a 1974 graduate from Russellville High School and holds master’s degrees in social work and business administration. He is the executive director of Easter Seals of Northwest Alabama. He served on the Russellville City Council from 1988-2004 and currently serves on the executive committee for the Northwest Council of Local Governments, Cramer Children’s Center Board, Trustee Board for the University of West Alabama and the Council of Business Advisory Board for University of North Alabama.

He has also served the community as the director of the Franklin County Department of Human Resources, been the district administrative specialist for the Alabama DHR, served on the RCS Board of Education for several years, served on the advisory board for Bank Independent and been an adult education instructor for Shoals Community College.

A member of the 2023 Leadership Alabama Class XXVIII, he has been married to Benetia (Buckner) Groce of Florence, Ala. (an employee of Northwest-Shoals Community College) since 1981. They have two children, Evan and Alayna, both RHS graduates.

The Rays married in August 1965. Both newly hired, he began serving his position as an assistant football coach as well as biology teacher and head baseball coach at RHS. She was also a new teacher and was placed teaching fourth grade at College Avenue Elementary, later teaching at RHS. In 1970, she was full time there when approached about playing a role in the already-in-progress integration of the schools. She began teaching a half day at Reedtown High School while remaining at RHS for the other half.

Over the course of her career, Lela Ray  taught art and drama to many students, traveled, founded the Franklin County Junior Arts Council to assist with the restoration of the Roxy, worked with community theatre, lead fundraisers and special art and theatre projects. She continues to be an ardent supporter of the Miss RHS pageant and Distinguished Young Women scholarship program, formerly known as Junior Miss.

Wayne Ray, a native of Hackleburg, played all the sports available at the school from 1957-1961. He continued his football career after receiving a scholarship from UNA, then known as Florence State College, playing center and linebacker. Over the years, he has been recognized for a number of athletic and academic accomplishments and received other honors. In total, he spent 44 years in service to RCS.

“We were both so honored and surprised,” explained the Rays. “Over half our lives, we’ve been in Russellville City Schools, and this is just an outstanding award for us. We’re so privileged to have worked our entire careers in Russellville, and we were just thrilled to have this recognition.”

RCS Education Foundation scholarship recipients included Kaitlyn Balding, Preston Seth Burns, Jaiden Calvert, Kimberly Campos, Taylor Crumpton, Elias Francisco-Matias, Kate Grissom, Jennifer Gutierrez-Gamarro, Braxton Hipps, Jhony Jimenez, Silvie Miller, Ashlee Moon, Kara Moore, Sarah Morgan and Selena Pounders.

Dr. Faye Wilson Next Step Memorial Scholarship recipients included Tara Cummings, Anna Beth Oliver and Oliva Gann.

Other awarded scholarships included:

  • Wayne Ray – Felicia Mitchell
  • Flanagan/Hellums – Brayden Malone
  • Heidy Monterroso Memorial – Hadie Andres-Juan
  • Hispanic/Latino heritage – Hannah Figueroa
  • Judy Pounders memorial – Jared Davis
  • Lanny Norris – Connor Warhurst
  • Lexie Glass memorial – Myriam Garcia
  • Paul Foster memorial – Allie Scott
  • Wayne Collum memorial – Bailey Bishop
  • Wells/Samuel – Jayden Golladay and EJ Jones

The Foundation, a nonprofit established in 2012, was created with the goal of providing opportunities in education for current and future students. It operates under the oversight of a board of directors including community leaders, system volunteers, alumni, educators and business leaders and it is dedicated to the shared goal of working to further the interests and needs of the school system.

The RCS Education board of directors includes Mike Mayfield, president; Addie Harbin, treasurer; Missy Hargett, secretary; Dr. Heath Grimes, RCS Superintendent; Kim Clonts, RCS Board of Education; and Karri Cummings, Natalie Bendall, Blake Bendall, Mandy Barksdale, Rhett Bradford, Sharon Hindman Hester, Laura Horton, Louis Monteroso, Kevin Strickland, Jamie Sumerel, Armondo Torres, Jason Walker and Channing Wright.

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