Purkiss named Teacher of the Year

SCORES teacher, tennis coach celebrated for his commitment, adaptability, love of the outdoors


David Winter

Christopher Purkiss accepts cake and flowers from principal Nicole Griffith and assistant principal Andy Baxa for being named Teacher of the Year. Purkiss was working with a student over Zoom when they arrived at his house. “I thought ‘Oh, this is so cool!’ I wanted to invite them in to have some coffee and chat until I remembered I couldn’t invite anyone in,” Purkiss said.

Sofia Ramon, staff reporter

In the six years Christopher Purkiss has taught at McCallum he’s gained the respect and admiration of both students and faculty. The faculty expressed that admiration by voting him the school’s 2021 Teacher of the Year.

Purkiss says he was shocked to hear the news because he was just happy to find out he was a finalist. He is inspired by the two other finalists, art teacher Jeff Seckar-Martinez and English teacher Diana Adamson, and felt he had already “made it” just by being in a group with them.

“I was so thrilled to be a finalist, and I did not expect to be chosen,” Purkiss said. “The other two finalists are so fabulous, I was like ‘I’m a finalist. Yay, I’m done!’ I was not expecting it at all.”

Mr. Purkiss is a miracle worker. He’s never in a hurry, never stressed about a thing. It feels like you can take a deep breath around him.

— science teacher Sarah Noack

Adamson, the English department chair, believes Purkiss’ kindness and concern for students makes him more than deserving of being named teacher of the year.

“He works so hard to make sure that students are doing what they need to do to be successful in our classes, and when he doesn’t know how something needs to be taken care of, he finds out,” Adamson said. “I feel so grateful to be able to work with Chris in order to help our students be successful.”

Registrar Josie Santiago says McCallum is lucky to have Purkiss. She especially respects his adaptability, a trait she noticed when he took over Twilight last year.

“I don’t think he had much available to him by way of training with grade sheets and how to make sure they got to the registrar for transcription, but he has done a fantastic job,” Santiago said. “He is so very kind and always wants to make sure the students receive what they’ve worked so hard to accomplish.”

Science teacher Sarah Noack says Purkiss is one of her favorite people on campus.

“One thing that I absolutely love about Purkiss is that he has this witty, snarky, slightly rebellious side that is really fun to be around,” Noack said. “I think he’s hilarious. He’s this golden person who makes you want to up your own game, but he’s not so angelic that he’s annoying: the perfect combo in a person.”

Head tennis coach Christopher Purkiss sorts through Thanksgiving food drive donations this afternoon in the Mac cafeteria. Midweek, assistant principal Larry Featherstone knew they were going to have enough community donations to provide for two families in need and expressed hope they could support a third. Today as the Mac Cares Committee and representatives of the tennis team sorted out the donations they discovered they could provide Thanksgiving support to four families. Purkiss told MacJournalism that the drive had garnered 320 food items, four turkeys and more than $1,000 in cash and gift card donations. (David Winter)

Noack also says Purkiss is a calming presence on the campus.

“Mr. Purkiss is a miracle worker,” Noack said. “He’s never in a hurry, never stressed about a thing. It feels like you can take a deep breath around him, you know what I’m saying? He has the most de-escalating presence.”

She believes this quality is the reason he works so well with his SCORES students.

If I send out an SOS due to sub shortages, he calls me and asks how he can help. The glory is in the little moments. That’s Purkiss.

— administrative assistant Bonnie Baker

“Students in his class often come into freshman year really struggling with navigating all the social ins and outs of high school. By their senior year, they are killing it,” Noack said. “It’s all their own hard work, but [it’s] also Mr. Purkiss’ guidance that gets them there.”

Lydia Palace, a teacher of the deaf and hearing impaired, remembers her first encounter with Purkiss.

“Chris Purkiss was the very first teacher that reached out to me at the beginning of the year to welcome me to McCallum,” Palace said. “He made me feel at home and comfortable with his kind gesture.”

Purkiss’ welcoming presence even impacted those outside of his group of students.

“Purkiss and I barely ever spoke, but when I would go to Mr. Cooke’s class, across from Purkiss, he would always greet me and put a smile on my face,” senior Emily Arndt said.

While Bonnie Baker says she has millions of little stories of Purkiss going out of his way to help the people around him, she especially admires how Purkiss is always ready to help when the campus is short of subs.

“If he winds up giving up a conference period so that one of the subs assigned to his room can help somewhere else on campus, he does. If I send out an SOS due to sub shortages, he calls me and asks how he can help,” Baker said. “The glory is in the little moments. That’s Purkiss.”

Head coach Christopher Purkiss, stops by the tennis courts on Dec. 15 to thank the AISD groundskeeping crew for its efforts on a weeks-long project to resurface the five courts on campus. (David Winter)

His willingness to lend a hand applies to both students and faculty.

“Whenever I need someone to talk to, his door is always open,” junior Ruby Borden said.

Junior Evelyn Griffin also appreciates Purkiss’ concern for his students.

“He always brings juice to tennis tournaments for me, and makes sure I’m OK,” said Griffin, who is diabetic.

Whenever I need someone to talk to, his door is always open.

— junior Ruby Borden

Eric Wydeven’s favorite thing about Purkiss is unrelated to his teaching. He enjoys regularly checking in with Purkiss to discuss their shared love of hiking and the outdoors.

“He is an avid hiker and a fan of West Texas,” Wydeven said. “Our bond over our passion for the outdoors has deepened my connection to McCallum and has been the foundation for a friendship that just furthers my good feelings about working at this place.”

Jarred Houston, on the other hand, said he has learned a lot about teaching from Purkiss; in fact, Houston said he couldn’t have asked for a better mentor. Purkiss, Houston said, is always ready to help and goes above and beyond what is asked of him. He believes the most valuable thing Purkiss has taught him as a mentor is “the general idea that whatever you do may never be perfect no matter how hard you try. You will fall sometimes; just keep going. Everything will be alright.”

I hope that all students find that thing in life that they really love. … What it is, I don’t know. That’s kind of the cool thing. It’s a mystery, but hopefully everyone gets to that place at some point.

— Teacher of the Year Christopher Purkiss

While there are many parts of his job that he loves, Purkiss says his favorite part of teaching is the inspiration that comes from working with a variety of people every day.

“I’m inspired often in my job,” Purkiss said. “I like to inspire kids, I like to see students really get excited about something or feel a moment of accomplishment.”

If Purkiss had one hope for his students, it would be that they find a true passion.

“We all are on a journey to find things that we love and enjoy, so I hope that all students find that thing in life that they really love, be it a sport, a book, an idea, a cause or a job. That’s what I would love, for everyone to get that one thing,” Purkiss said. “What it is, I don’t know. That’s kind of the cool thing. It’s a mystery, but hopefully everyone gets to that place at some point.”

Christopher Purkiss, right, poses with his son Wyeth, left, McCallum Class of 2020, on Oct. 6, 2016, Wyeth’s freshman year. Chris coached Wyeth in tennis and the two routinely biked to school together. “Couldn’t imagine my life without you,” the son wrote to his father on Instagram on the occasion of his 56th birthday. “You make me a better person.” Photo courtesy of Wyeth Purkiss.