Etowah Educator Named 2023 CCSD Teacher of the Year
NOTE: Each week, we publish a story on our website and CCSD social media about one of our school's outstanding Teacher of the Year winners. You can read the 2023 winners' profiles online here as we share them.
CCSD Teacher of the Year Lara McDonald expresses her thanks to her family and fellow teachers at the event.
The Cherokee County School District saluted educators Thursday night at the 2023 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration.
The Legacy Makers event held at the Northside Hospital Cherokee Conference Center in Canton honored the Teacher of the Year for every CCSD school, including four finalists who were announced in February. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower opened an envelope at the event’s conclusion to announce that Etowah High School science teacher Lara McDonald is the 2023 CCSD Teacher of the Year!
“I was really taken by the energy that you bring to the classroom and the fact that you really want your students to be discoverers, to be thinkers, to be curious and to be excited about science,” Dr. Hightower said as he presented the honor to Ms. McDonald. “You’ve got it figured out … the more fun you make it, the more engaging you make it, the more your students tend to learn. The excitement and enthusiasm you bring to the classroom makes science come to life. We appreciate you and the expertise and commitment you bring to your school and ultimately to the kids.”
Lara McDonald receives her TOTY plaque from Superintendent Dr. Brian V. Hightower
Ms. McDonald, a 13-year educator who teaches environmental science including AP classes, will advance as CCSD’s nominee for the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition. She is known for her creative engaging lessons and sponsorship of numerous after-school clubs that further extend her support for students.
“Thank you all for this wonderful honor,” said Ms. McDonald as she accepted her plaque from Dr. Hightower. “I want to thank my family for the support they give me, my teachers, my admin, my students and the community in general. I could not do it without your support and without you all helping me and encouraging me. Thank you so much! This is very exciting!”
The dinner, and the long list of gifts presented to the honorees, all were made possible thanks to the generosity of sponsor donations including Presenting Sponsors: Cherokee County Educational Foundation, Credit Union of Georgia, Northside Hospital Cherokee and Shottenkirk Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram of Canton.
David Booth, general manager of Shottenkirk, announced at the event’s close that Ms. McDonald, as CCSD Teacher of the Year, would enjoy a free one-year lease of the vehicle of her choice from Shottenkirk.
The Finalists and CCSD Teacher of the Year are selected by a panel of community leaders who evaluate applications from each school’s Teacher of the Year; school winners are selected by their peers. The three other Finalists, who received additional gifts and recognition at the event, are: Kate Bruner, Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy fifth-grade teacher; Charm Cochran, Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy Special Education teacher; and Wyatt Wilkie, Creekview High School Career Pathway teacher.
School Board Chair Kyla Cromer congratulated and thanked the honorees on behalf of the School Board.
“Your colleagues chose you to be here this evening because of the outstanding work that you do in your schools,” said Ms. Cromer. “We really do appreciate the job that you do every single day for our students. I just want to say congratulations to you; this is truly your night to shine, and we are so very proud of you!
Legacy Makers TOTY dinner: from left, School Board members Erin Ragsdale, Kelly Poole, Patsy Jordan, Dr. Susan Padgett-Harrison and Chair Kyla Cromer.
All school Teacher of the Year winners each received a $200 Visa gift card purchased with donations from sponsors; $100 local restaurant gift certificate from Shottenkirk; a free family portrait session from Cady Studios; $50 Amazon gift card from sponsors; $25 gift certificate from Practically Perfect Day Spa in Canton; an engraved plaque; $20 Alma Coffee gift card; $10 Riverstone Corner Bistro gift certificate; $10 Shoe Station gift card, and a tote bag filled with supplies and gifts from sponsors.
The finalists, in addition to these gifts, also each received: a $1,400 LYRIK portable sound system from ProLogics ITS; $500 Visa gift card purchased with donations from sponsors; $200 Visa gift card from Poole’s Insulation Company; Sam’s Club Membership plus $50 gift card from Sam’s Club; choice of CCSD or school logo merchandise from Allegro Business Products valued at $150; gift certificate for bowling for six people from Cherokee Lanes; $100 gift card and gift basket from Kroger; $100 gift card from Practically Perfect Day Spa; Birthday in a Box certificate from Nothing Bundt Cakes, valued at $80; $50 Amazon gift card from Cady Studios; $50 Visa gift card from Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE); $50 gift certificate from Riverstone Corner Bistro; leather rolling laptop case from ABM Industry Groups; gift certificate for a catering tray from Chick-fil-A, Cherokee County; $25 gift certificate from Buffalo’s Café; and a gift certification from Marco’s Pizza.
Ms. McDonald, in addition to the school winner and finalist gifts already noted, also received:
- A Microsoft Surface Pro X valued at $1,000 from Southern Computer Warehouse;
- $1,000 Visa gift card purchased with donations from sponsors;
- Four club-level tickets to a Braves game, including parking and food credit, valued at $550 from Contour Engineering.
- $250 Visa gift card from Fforg Inc.;
- $200 gift card from Kroger (in lieu of $100 finalist gift);
- Spa day package from Practically Perfect Day Spa
- Two season passes to the 2023-24 theatre season from Cherokee Theatre Company
- $100 Amazon gift card from Cady Studios;
- $100 gift card from Riverstone Corner Bistro (in lieu of $50 finalist gift);
- An additional $50 gift card from Buffalo’s Café; and,
- A compact laser printer from PAGE.
Sponsors who made all of the gifts possible are:
Presenting Sponsors: Cherokee County Educational Foundation (CCEF); Credit Union of Georgia; Northside Hospital Cherokee; Shottenkirk Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram
Gold Sponsors: ABM Industry Groups LLC; Alma Coffee; Cady Studios; Cherokee Floor Covering; Cherokee Theatre Company; Cobb EMC; Imaan International Inc.; The Kroger Co.; Nova Engineering & Environmental LLC; Poole’s Insulation Company; Practically Perfect Day Spa; ProLogic ITS; Sam’s Club; Southern Computer Warehouse (SCW); World's Finest Chocolate
Silver Sponsors: Allegro Business Products; Buffalo's Café; Center Cut Catering; Cherokee Lanes; Chick-fil-A, Cherokee County; Contour Engineering; Fforg, Inc; Professional Association of Georgia (PAGE); Revolution Church; Riverstone Corner Bistro; Shoe Station
Bronze Sponsors: AngelTrax; Ecolab; Marco's Pizza; Menchie's Frozen Yogurt, Riverstone; Modern Woodmen of America; Nearpod; Nothing Bundt Cakes
Lara McDonald reacts to the news she will receive a one-year lease on the car of her choice from David Booth, General Manager of Shottenkirk Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Canton.
CCSD Surprises District's Teacher of the Year Four Finalists
Posted On: Wednesday, February 15, 2023
CCSD 2023 Teacher of the Year Finalists, clockwise from top left, Kate Bruner, Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy fifth-grade teacher; Charm Cochran, Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy Special Education teacher; Wyatt Wilkie, Creekview High School Career Pathway teacher; Lara McDonald, Etowah High School science teacher.
The Cherokee County School District today surprised four exemplary teachers with the news they are finalists for the 2023 CCSD Teacher of the Year award!
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower visited their classrooms to announce that the judging committee selected them as the top four teachers of all CCSD schools’ and centers’ Teachers of the Year.
The finalists are: Kate Bruner, Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy fifth-grade teacher; Charm Cochran, Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy Special Education teacher; Lara McDonald, Etowah High School science teacher; Wyatt Wilkie, Creekview High School Career Pathway teacher. [See more photos from the presentations online here.]
“Congratulations to our finalists, and thank you to all of our teachers for their outstanding service to our students and our community,” Dr. Hightower said. “I’ve read their applications, and saw why the judges were so impressed. These are teachers who provide the best classroom instruction, then go the extra mile in showing their students and colleagues how much they care about their success and their wellbeing. One former student’s letter of support summed this up: his former teacher ‘embodies the true core of what it means to not only be a good teacher, but a good person.’”
The four finalists – two selected from all elementary school-level winners and two from all middle, high and centers honorees – were selected by a committee of retired educators, community leaders and the current CCSD Teacher of the Year. Their selection was based on essay answers to questions about their careers and their views on teaching and education, and letters of support from Principals, colleagues, students and parents.
The CCSD Teacher of the Year, who is one of these four finalists, will be announced during CCSD’s Legacy Makers celebration for all school honorees this spring. The CCSD winner will represent the school district in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.
The Legacy Makers banquet, and the prizes to be awarded to all of the honorees, are made possible by presenting sponsors: Cherokee County Educational Foundation, Credit Union of Georgia, Northside Hospital Cherokee and Shottenkirk Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Canton. Additional financial and in-kind sponsorship opportunities are available; interested businesses and organizations are encouraged to please contact Penny Dempsey at email@example.com or 770.479.1871.
CCSD 2023 Teacher of the Year Finalist Kate Bruner, Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy fifth-grade teacher, is congratulated by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, left; her husband, Alex Bruner; and Principal Dr. Maria Rosario-Regan.
Kate Bruner, Hasty ES Fine Arts Academy fifth-grade teacher
Kate Bruner is on maternity leave, but came in to school today when her principal asked if she had time for a quick meeting.
When she arrived, she was greeted by Alicia Keys’ song “Girl on Fire,” a roomful of her delighted students, colleagues bearing flowers, her husband Alex’s big smile and the Superintendent of Schools with roses and a banner declaring her a CCSD Teacher of the Year finalist.
The very surprised Ms. Bruner is praised by her students and colleagues for bringing that same kind of unexpected joy to their lives every day.
“I love her kindness,” student Victoria Bonilla said, then shared a favorite lesson that showed them erosion in real time using models they built and took outside. “I love how she teaches us.”
Ms. Bruner, who teaches math, science and social studies, is in her sixth year of teaching and previously earned her school’s Game Changer Award for excellence. She frequently sponsors student clubs and serves on faculty committees, with an emphasis on how to help students and colleagues feel included and valued.
She heard her calling to be a teacher in first grade and said her many outstanding teachers as a CCSD student guided her path.
“It is because of these teachers and many others that I have been able to become the teacher that I am today,” she said. “I feel the most pride when I am able to reach the students in my classroom on an individual level, both personally and academically. When I’m able to reach each student and relate to them on a personal level, they’re much more willing to learn from me on an academic level.”
CCSD 2023 Teacher of the Year Finalist Charm Cochran, Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy Special Education teacher, is congratulated by Principal Penny Valle, left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower and Assistant Principal Lee Patti.
Charm Cochran, Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy Special Education teacher
Second-grader Sofia Rodriguez was not entirely surprised by today’s news that Charm Cochran is a CCSD Teacher of the Year finalist.
As she shared, they all already know Ms. Cochran is “the best teacher ever.”
“She’s super nice,” Sofia said, “and she’s super patient.”
Ms. Cochran, who was surprised by the visit from the Superintendent of Schools, her Principal and other leaders, is only in her fifth year as a teacher, but has quickly demonstrated to her colleagues that she is dedicated to their profession. She has been tapped to lead her professional learning community workalike group and is a member of CCSD’s Teacher Ambassador recruiting team that attends job fairs to help lead more outstanding teachers to join the school district.
Principal Penny Valle describes Ms. Cochran as a “student charmer” who runs a model classroom, an exemplary teacher leader and an excellent communicator. “I have never seen such a beautifully run classroom,” she said. “She builds wonderful, trusting relationships with her students who hang on every word she speaks.”
Ms. Cochran long knew she wanted to be a teacher, but it was Rita Pierson’s inspiring “Every Kid Needs a Champion” Ted Talk that “ignited her fire” to not only teach, but also advocate for her students.
“Advocacy for our students is not always an easy journey, but it is a journey we are called to as an educator,” she said. “While our career as educators may be oh so difficult on so many days, what other career are you given a chance to be a champion for a child every single day?”
CCSD 2023 Teacher of the Year Finalist Lara McDonald, Etowah High School science teacher, is congratulated by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, left, and Principal Robert Horn.
Lara McDonald, Etowah HS science teacher
Engaging high school students in science classes, including challenging Advanced Placement courses, isn’t the easiest task.
Lara McDonald succeeds in this mission, and for the past 13 years has made her hard work to design engaging lessons look like fun.
She uses her performing arts background to rewrite “Hamilton” lyrics to teach about water resources, to dress up as Captain America for environmental science lessons and to transform her classroom into a crime scene (she wears a hazmat suit!) to teach about blood types.
But as one colleague, a former CCSD Teacher of the Year, shared: “her creativity is not limited to play and dress up.” She’s also a leading force, he said, in using small group activities for learning and assessment, giving students opportunities to use academic language and learn from peers.
A fifth-generation teacher and two-time school Teacher of the Year title winner, Ms. McDonald sees herself on a quest to increase collaboration in classroom learning. “Building collaboration into my lessons encourages students to engage with one another, learn to trust peers and to grow in self-confidence.”
Ms. McDonald’s also legendary for her after-school clubs, from Dungeons & Dragons to anime to knitting to the competitive Envirothon team. As a former student said, “she gives us a gift that not every student gets, a home away from home.”
Junior Charlotte Luina is in Ms. McDonald’s AP Environmental Science class, where she and her classmates regularly find themselves entertained with songs and activities.
But what’s most important, she said, isn’t in the lyrics: “She really cares about us, her students.”
CCSD 2023 Teacher of the Year Finalist Wyatt Wilkie, Creekview High School Career Pathway teacher, is congratulated by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, left; his son, freshman Weston Wilkie; and Principal Michael Santoro.
Wyatt Wilkie, Creekview HS Career Pathway teacher
A nationally recognized high school and college wrestler, Wyatt Wilkie had many opportunities for his future path.
As Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said, as he surprised Mr. Wilkie today with the news he’s a CCSD Teacher of the Year finalist, our community is fortunate he chose the path home.
Senior Maddie Addy is a student in Mr. Wilkie’s Career Pathway agriculture science program, which has grown with his leadership to include agriculture mechanics.
“He’s always pushing us to do new things – like welding. I would never have done that without his motivation and now it’s my favorite thing to do,” said Maddie, who also serves as the FFA Future Farmers of America chapter president. “He wants us to be happy and wants what we learn to be beneficial to our careers.”
Principal Michael Santoro said Mr. Wilkie’s students are incredibly lucky to benefit from his wealth of experience from 18 years of teaching and his great care for them and the community.
“Wyatt Wilkie is Creekview,” he said. “He represents what our community values most: work ethic, achievement and loyalty to the community. His constant display of professionalism is a measuring stick for all teachers.”
Mr. Wilkie, who credits his leadership philosophy to lessons from his family, coaches and teachers and friends, said he has learned the importance of valuing others and letting them know they are valued.
“Understanding that all individuals have the ability to do great things allows me to see the value in everyone,” he said. “Show all students that they are valuable. You will be surprised how big a difference this makes in the classroom.”
CCSD Announces 2023 School Teacher of the Year Winners
Posted On: Saturday, January 28, 2023
Congratulations to the Cherokee County School District’s 2023 School Teachers of the Year winners!
Every school year, each CCSD school is asked to select its own Teacher of the Year. These school-level winners now are eligible for the honor of Cherokee County School District 2023 Teacher of the Year.
The districtwide competition will be judged by a panel of retired educators and community partners based on applications submitted by the school-level winners. The four finalists for CCSD that they select will be announced next month by the Superintendent of Schools. The finalists, along with all school winners, will be honored at the Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration in March ... at which the CCSD 2023 Teacher of the Year will be announced. The overall CCSD winner will be entered into the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.
“Our Teacher of the Year program honors the best of the best by recognizing educators who are selected by their peers as role models for their profession,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said. “The School Board joins me in thanking these top teachers for the outstanding service they give to our students and our community. We see a common thread in our honorees each year – they not only demonstrate daily excellence in classroom instruction, but they also show great care for their students, colleagues and school community as a whole. Congratulations on this recognition and thank you for all that you do!”
The annual Legacy Makers celebration, and gifts presented to the honorees, are sponsored by Presenting Sponsors: Cherokee County Educational Foundation, Credit Union of Georgia, Northside Hospital Cherokee and Shottenkirk Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram of Canton. Additional financial and in-kind sponsorship opportunities are available; interested businesses and organizations are encouraged to please contact Penny Dempsey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770.479.1871.
CCSD’s 2023 School Teachers of the Year
ACTIVE Academies: Julia Burks
Arnold Mill ES: Jill Dittus
Avery ES: Rachel Blackman
Ball Ground ES STEM Academy: Amy Youngblood
Bascomb ES: Winn Ward
Boston ES: Hannah Rogé
Carmel ES: Marissa Burulcich
CCSD Preschool Centers: Beth Piccirilli
Cherokee HS: Rebekah Gay
Clark Creek ES STEM Academy: Jennifer Rice
Clayton ES: Jessica Wimpey
Creekland MS: Dara Yokley
Creekview HS: Wyatt Wilkie
Dean Rusk MS: Robyn West
E.T. Booth MS: Beth Nugent
Etowah HS: Lara McDonald
Free Home ES: Kim Fowler
Freedom MS: Cat Klingbeil
Hasty ES Fine Arts Academy: Kate Bruner
Hickory Flat ES: Dara Gramling
Holly Springs ES STEM Academy: Cathy Hazzard
Indian Knoll ES: Jason Bermudez
Johnston ES: Cristina Markley
Knox ES STEM Academy: Nina Eidson
Liberty ES: Mike Rostin
Little River ES: Josh Sams
Macedonia ES: Elizabeth Coker
Mill Creek MS: Angie Graves
Mountain Road ES: Dr. Lorie Mick
Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy: Charm Cochran
R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy: Whitney Tippens
River Ridge HS: David Harrison
Sequoyah HS: Jennifer Loudermilk
Sixes ES: Melissa Perryman
Teasley MS: Cody Lamanac
Tippens Education Center: Valerie Dunn
Woodstock ES: Molly Niemeir
Woodstock HS: Lauren Cannon
Woodstock MS: Amanda Anderson