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2017 School-Level Teachers of the Year Introductions

Stephen Schroter, ACE Academy Teacher of the Year

Twenty years ago, Stephen Schroter’s calling found him.

After speaking at a middle school career day about working for minor league baseball, the teacher told him he had a gift… for connecting with kids.

“I felt like I heard more than just her voice telling me that teaching was really my calling,” he said, so he drove directly to the school district office to follow that call.

After teaching middle and high school math, Coach Schroter, as he’s now known, in 2012 began teaching PE at ACE Academy.

And it’s good he heeded that call, according to students and colleagues, as many ACE students need a coach like him behind the plate.

“He treats every student with respect even if they do not deserve it and are being hateful,” a student said, “because he understands that he does not know what every student is going through.”

In his own words: “Accountability in the teaching profession has to be more than just test scores.  We should be judged on how we relate to the students, the difference we make in their daily lives, as well as their test scores.”


Terry Chadwick, Arnold Mill Elementary School Teacher of the Year

A decade or so from now, we should not be surprised to learn about scientific discoveries credited to former students of Terry Chadwick.

Her science classes at Arnold Mill Elementary School offer opportunities that often aren’t otherwise accessed until college-level courses, but extracting DNA is all in a day’s work for her fifth-graders.

And many of those most inspired by Ms. Chadwick, who joined the school faculty in 2011, are the girls in her class.

“I worry about young girls avoiding STEM subjects.  My daughter developed a love for science, which I credit to Ms. Chadwick’s influence,” one mom said.  “It’s been three years, and my daughter still compares her teachers to Ms. Chadwick.

When not teaching, mentoring or volunteering at her school, Ms. Chadwick is active in the community… including her current role as National President of the Sigma Beta Sorority philanthropic organization.

In her own words: “I am rewarded when students tell me that they never liked learning about science until they were in my class.”


Ta-Tanisha Hill-Guy, Avery Elementary School Teacher of the Year

As a special education teacher, Ta-Tanisha Hill-Guy sees her role as helping students overcome the obstacles ahead of them.

“Tapping into that student’s strengths and setting high, realistic expectations for them has always been my philosophy,” said Ms. Hill-Guy, who began her career in 1999 and joined Avery Elementary School eight years ago.

Colleagues describe her as a “life-changer,” whose professionalism, knowledge and optimism inspire everyone she encounters.

“Ms. Hill-Guy’s competence and composure even in the midst of turmoil infuses similar qualities in all those around her, helping them more effectively deal with challenging circumstances,” a colleague said, noting he’s often “amazed” with the improvement she achieves in students’ reading abilities.

That appreciation is shared by parents, like the mom of a son with dyslexia, who started working with Ms. Hill-Guy in the second grade and now is taking high school classes as a middle schooler.

In her own words: “I have always made it my goal to provide my students with the academic and social and emotional tools to achieve their dreams.”


Chessa McGinnis, Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year

Chessa McGinnis doesn’t want students to remember her as the teacher who taught them to master State standards.

“I hope they remember I taught them to be well-rounded learners who were confident in trying new strategies and being open-minded,” said Ms. McGinnis, who began teaching in 2010.  “I hope that they remember me as a teacher who loved them unconditionally, encouraged them, challenged them and made them want to do their best.”

Ms. McGinnis uses technology to make those hopes real, and has achieved Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) and Apple Vanguard certification, and is creating the first MIE-certified classroom at her school.

“It is obvious our students love learning from Chessa because she makes learning fun,” one colleague said.

In her own words: “Just like we expect students to be learning something new every day, we as teachers need to be aware of new strategies, techniques or learning styles that may be introduced so we can determine if that is something we could benefit from and use in our own classrooms.”


Bettina E. Miller, Bascomb Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Bettina Miller describes herself as more than a veteran teacher.  She’s an encourager.

“I see myself as an example for novice instructors and teachers new to our school,” said Ms. Miller, who began teaching in 1986 and joined Bascomb Elementary School in 2013.  “I actively listen and encourage the questioning, struggling teacher.  I share information and problem solve.”

The mentor relationship isn’t one-sided either, she said: “Supporting my peers helps me as much as them.”

Ms. Miller’s resume includes many accomplishments, such as twice previously being named Teacher of the Year, as well as an equally long list of professional and volunteer activities.

Principal Kathleen Chandler describes Ms. Miller as a “model teacher who cares a great deal about her students and their families, as well as her colleagues.”

In her own words: “Details are noted in my classroom.  New haircuts, new sneakers or something good that happened over the weekend are all discussed.  Students know that I care about them personally as well as academically.”


Scott Lambert, Boston Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Scott Lambert’s greatest accomplishments, he said, come every day.

Seeing a student practice his lessons of accepting others.

Watching as they hit a home run at their Little League game.

Listening as a former student tells him that climbing a mountain is better than watching it on TV.

Hearing a former student now is a teacher, a coach, a parent.

“I laugh and smile while I play and get excited about their successes,” said Coach Lambert, who began his career in 1986 and joined Boston Elementary School’s family in 1991. “That is why every day is not work, but feels like I am coming home.”

“Coach Lambert is more than a teacher to our students.  He is the ‘constant’ male role model at our school,” one colleague said.  “He is not only their favorite teacher, but mine as well.  I continue to learn from him daily, and I hope to continue to do so.”

In his own words: “Children come to you as a question, you are the answer.  Always think about what you say because your words are so powerful to children.”


Darby Bewley, CCSD Preschool Centers Teacher of the Year

The preschoolers in Darby Bewley’s classroom at the Johnston Preschool Center follow a class motto: “We never say ‘I can’t,’ we say ‘I’ll try.’”

This motto exemplifies her belief that students, even the littlest, must be shown their importance.

“When students feel they can perform a task without being judged, but just do the best they can, they are more apt to try new things,” said Ms. Bewley, who began teaching in 2005 and joined Johnston in 2015.

The Center’s lead teacher, Ms. Bewley, who holds a master’s degree in early childhood education, takes on leadership roles, as well as the lead in mastering new technology and instructional strategies.

Her classroom includes students of all abilities, and all are expected to follow the motto.

“I cannot even think about what a huge impact she had on my son and our entire family without getting choked up,” said a special needs student’s mom.

In her own words: “There is nothing better than to see the look on a child’s face when they accomplish something they thought they couldn’t do.”


David Cornn, Canton Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year

David Cornn teaches some of our community’s most challenged young students.

Students whose parents can’t help them with homework, as they can’t read it.  And whose family budget is too tight for academic extras.

He understands their challenges.  As a child, his parents divorced.  Poverty, evictions and struggles in school followed.

“After one such suspension, Mrs. Williams, my Geometry teacher, said that she missed me and was glad that I had returned her class.  I was astonished!” he said, adding when his family moved again, Mrs. Williams found him new mentors.

Mr. Cornn felt led to repay her kindness by following in her footsteps.  He became a teacher in 1997 and today is a STEM education specialist at Canton Elementary School STEM Academy.

In the STEM labs he helped build, this now two-time Teacher of the Year creates worlds of wonder… and compassion.

“David is not only a teacher,” Principal Beth Long said, “he is a life-changer.”

In his own words: “I discovered in my very first year that any job working with students at their best or worst was better than any day doing anything else.”


Dianne Bussey, Carmel Elementary School Teacher of the Year

“I want to tell you why Mrs. Bussey is the best teacher ever!” the letter from her former student begins.

Dianne Bussey could fill a book with the letters from students over the last 30 years who share their appreciation for her “firm, but fair” approach to teaching them everything from reading to responsibility.

“Too often students who struggle are given labels such as indifferent, lazy, troublemaker or problem child,” she said.  “Today, when I see these students in my classroom, my first goal is to find an area where they can experience success… when they experience success, we celebrate it!”

The writer was a recent student of Ms. Bussey in her role since 2013 as Early Intervention Program teacher at Carmel Elementary School.

Thanks to Ms. Bussey, he now can read, and it was fun to learn, he said, because of Ms. Bussey.  Success, as she would say, worth celebrating.

In her own words: “When you give a parent hope, they believe you are a willing partner in helping their child.”


Clyde Lowery, Cherokee High School Teacher of the Year

As a student at Cherokee High School, Clyde Lowery never thought he would return to his alma mater as a teacher.

Not only did he return, he found great success: teaching students to master complicated physics concepts and earning the respect of his colleagues, who selected him Teacher of the Year, and his peers, who named him a Georgia Science Ambassador.

Over the last 20 years, Mr. Lowery has developed a reputation as a storyteller, who uses humor (and a few spitballs and crashed hovercraft) to make his class a can’t-miss event.

As a former student said, Mr. Lowery “not only cared about the material, but he also cared about each and every one of his students.”

Superlatives awarded to him by students have included “gives the toughest tests,” along with “most caring” and “easiest to talk to.”  As one colleague described it: “the ideal combination.”

In his own words: “I feel that the one contribution that I can make that lasts forever is to build a love of science in my students.”


Lauren Abrams, Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy

Lauren Abrams never had a back-up plan for her career.

She was going to be a teacher, and that was final.  She decided that as a little girl, mimicking the likes of her fourth-grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School, Juanita Cheek.

For the past seven years, Lauren Abrams has been living that dream.  Now she’s inspiring a new generation of fourth-graders at Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy and earning accolades like the Birney Butler Outstanding Educator Award and Georgia STEM Laureate Award.

A parent shares how her oldest son’s “hatred for social studies ran deep.”  One Revolutionary War re-enactment later, he now loves it.

Her youngest son, inspired by his brother’s tales, now “declares to anyone who will listen that he will have Ms. Abrams when he gets to fourth grade… and as a parent, I can only hope he does.”

In her own words: “Working in a Title I school, I create an atmosphere that allows for the students that enter my classroom to be able to leave all the baggage behind that they may have outside the walls of the school building.”


Andrea Ingham, Clayton Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Early on in her teacher career, Andrea Ingham heard other teachers say what they “never” would do or would let students do.

So Ms. Ingham created “always” statements:

“I always smile so my students will smile.”

“I will always be available to talk with a student and listen to what he or she has to say.”

“I always laugh with my students.”

“My students will always feel comfortable in my classroom.”

“Creating these statements and staying true to their meaning has helped my students succeed and love learning,” said Ms. Ingham, who started her career in 2003 and began teaching special education classes at Clayton Elementary School in 2015.  “They have invested in me as their teacher and as a ‘real’ person who will always be there for them.”

“When you walk into Ms. Ingham’s classroom,” a colleague said, “you immediately sense a climate where students are appreciated, encouraged and celebrated.”

In her own words: “Each of my students celebrates different successes at different times and, simply put, that is the beauty of being a special educator.”


Debby Amoss, Creekland Middle School Teacher of the Year

Debby Amoss describes her feeling about education as passion.

And, as someone whose perspective was affected by a successful recent battle against cancer, Ms. Amoss said she feels blessed to walk into Creekland Middle School every day to answer her life’s calling.

“I believe teaching children is in my soul,” said Ms. Amoss, whose 26-year career led her to Creekland in 2007, where she now teaches reading success and journalism classes.  “Every day brings many rewards that make me want to become a better person.  It may be as simple as having a student make a comment about feeling happy when they enter my classroom.”

Fellow teachers praise Ms. Amoss for her willingness to mentor them with just as much care as she shows her students.

“She has served as a role model to colleagues as well as students and is beloved by all,” a colleague said.

In her own words: “I believe there is a strong correlation between the way a student acts and performs at school and the attitude of their teacher.”


Kerri Schmitt, Creekview High School Teacher of the Year

Teaching high school science classes isn’t an easy field, but Kerri Schmitt doesn’t shy away from challenges.

A soccer coach for more than 20 years, she uses winning techniques in her biology classroom at Creekview High School as well: watching how students field questions, she adjusts her game.

“Kerri understands that students change over time and that the methods used for the previous year’s class may not work as well for the current class,” a colleague said of Ms. Schmitt, who began teaching at Creekview in 2004.  “Not only do students want to learn in her classes, but they also know that they can because she builds lessons and units that support student learning.”

A new winning idea in her playbook: gamification; as one student said, “Not only is her personality fun, her teaching is fun.”

In her own words: “I believe in three major things in education: it should be engaging, everyone is capable of doing it and a positive attitude is key… All students are able to learn; you just have to figure them out.”


Jacqueline Allen, Dean Rusk Middle School Teacher of the Year

For Jacqueline Allen, “teaching is not a job; it is a lifestyle.”

Her students, their parents and her colleagues at Dean Rusk Middle School say that Ms. Allen lives up to this mindset, too, through her devotion to the profession.

“When you think of Ms. Allen,” Principal Cindy Cooper said, “you think of the highest level of professionalism.  She is the ultimate professional, who is organized and diligent in her approach with her students.”

Ms. Allen balances her focus on academic success, with a genuine care for students during school and by supporting their extra-curricular activities… and middle schoolers can be a tough group to win over.

“Thank you, thank you so very much for helping me and supporting me,” said one former student, who Ms. Allen helped overcome a learning disability.  “Now I feel better about myself because I know why I haven’t been good at school.”

In her own words: “Teachers have to be relevant; they have to be caring; and they have to be present in the lives of students.”


Daniele Deneka, E.T. Booth Middle School Teacher of the Year

Daniele Deneka joined E.T. Booth Middle School two years ago and brought with her not only 20 years of experience, but also the willingness to take on challenges to offer students new opportunities.

Georgia STEM Day, Hour of Code, Student Technology Team, Booth News Crew… all are providing students with experiences to learn about career opportunities and have fun thanks to her commitment.

“She has such a positive effect on our students and school through the numerous hours devoted to serving the needs of students in the classroom and outside the classroom,” Principal Dawn Weinbaum said.

A past school Teacher of the Year winner, Ms. Deneka said the time teachers from her own school days invested in her through their sponsorship of clubs and athletics motivates her today.

“I strongly believe that our students need to become invested in their school and providing after- and before-school opportunities helps to foster that,” she said.

In her own words:  “I am ‘all-in’ when it comes to doing what is best for my students… in and out of the classroom.”


Deborah Rufa, Etowah High School Teacher of the Year

Deborah Rufa always knew in her heart that teaching was her calling.

“I loved going to school as a student and valued those teachers who made learning fun, interesting and relevant to me,” said Ms. Rufa, who began teaching at Etowah High School a decade ago and now teaches economics.

But a fear of public speaking stood in her way.  A fear so strong, it made her sick to her stomach.

So she studied criminal justice and worked in retail.  Neither future, she said, made her want to get out of bed in the morning.

She faced down her fear, and now uses the experience as, what else, a teachable moment to help students overcome obstacles.

“What makes Debbie unique as a teacher-leader and garners such affinity from her colleagues is that she can do all that I mentioned and more,” Principal Keith Ball said of her success teaching students and colleagues, “with humility and graceful grit.”

In her own words: “The teaching profession needs to be promoted and viewed as being as important as such professions as a doctor or a lawyer.”


Kristi Townley, Free Home Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Kristi Townley said she once was a teacher who would tell her students what to do and hand them a worksheet.

No more.

A decade in the classroom has taught her a lesson.

“I hope to be the teacher who builds bridges for my students to cross and enables them to build bridges on their own,” said Ms. Townley, who teaches Early Intervention Program and English as a Second Language students at Free Home Elementary School.

Ms. Townley builds these bridge by getting down to eye level with students, reading with them, going on walks, engaging.

“The students love her and hug her all the time because she makes learning fun and engaging,” Principal Karen Carl said, but also is quick to add that she also delivers outstanding instruction.

In her own words: “I want to be an encourager to anyone who enters this field.  I know that it is not easy, and there are nights that we all go home in tears and upset because of one of our students, but that is not why we are in this role.”


Brandi Shook, Freedom Middle School Teacher of the Year

If you ask Brandi Shook about her job as a teacher at Freedom Middle School, she will tell you that “Middle school students are the best to teach!”

She includes an exclamation point, as not only does she enjoy teaching an age that some run away from in tears, she still is excited to go to work every morning after more than 20 years of teaching them.

“Middle school students are very impressionable, and I want to be that role model for them,” she said.  “My desire is for my students to have a teacher who truly believes in them and will work hard to help them understand.”

One colleague, whose son was in Ms. Shook’s class, said after struggling in math the previous year, he learned under her wing to love it and excel.

“As one of her former students stated while in my class,” she said, “’Mrs. Shook goes out of her way to help us.’”

In her own words: “Teaching is my way of making an impact in this world, one student at a time!”


Ashley Mounts-Gray, Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy

Nation builder.

That’s the two-word job description Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy teacher Ashley Mounts-Gray gives herself.

No small task.

“The strength of every profession in our country grows out of the knowledge and skills that teachers help to instill in children,” said Ms. Mounts-Gray, who began her career a decade ago.  “Knowing that I am a nation builder gives me a purpose that is bigger than I could have ever imagined.”

She is up to the task, according to parents, colleagues and her Principal, who describe her as an “over-comer, problem-solver, innovator”; and for current and former students alike, the best teacher they’ve ever had.

“With Ashley, students enjoy being in class,” one parent said.  “They want to be there.”

In her own words: “Students in my class are not afraid to take risks because they are taught that’s all a part of the discovery process.  Nothing is impossible, so the four-letter word ‘can’t’ is highly frowned upon.”


Erika Graves, Hickory Flat Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Erika Graves views building relationships with students as so important to their academic success that she learns their worlds.

For one second-grader at Hickory Flat Elementary School, where she began her career in 2004, that was “Star Wars.”  She learned the difference between Darth Vader and Darth Sidious, between Jabba and Jar-Jar.

“She takes the time to learn each student’s interests and what will motivate them to excel,” the parent said. “She teaches her students as if they were her very own children.”

Principal Whitney Nolan said it’s that care combined with best practices and innovation that make Ms. Graves a stand-out.  Just take a look, she said, at her classroom filled with exercise balls and standing desks or watch her break out the Microsoft One Note tools.

In her own words: “One strategy that I encourage other fellow educators to investigate is to ‘live outside your school.’  Make connections.  Share your successes and talk about your struggles.”


Jana Cervone, Holly Springs Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year

As one colleague puts it, Jana Cervone is a natural.

“But,” the fellow teacher at Holly Springs Elementary School STEM Academy added, “just because the skill comes to her easily doesn’t mean she doesn’t work at it – she is one of the hardest-working teachers I know.”

Ms. Cervone said she learned at a young age that a teacher can make a world of difference in a child’s life.  Her younger brother struggled in school until a second-grade teacher recognized his learning disabilities.

“Every day in my classroom, I strive to be like Mrs. Schneider,” she said of that teacher.  “Loving, compassionate, understanding and, most importantly, encouraging.  Every student has a story.”

Whether it’s leading Professional Learning Communities or earning Microsoft Innovative Educator certification, Ms. Cervone devotes herself to ensuring she has the skills to help write happy endings to those stories.

In her own words: “My mission and belief as a teacher is to get to know each of my students and make school a safe and coveted place to be free to question, experiment, fail and learn.”


Shelly Brumbelow, Indian Knoll Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Substitute teaching ignited Shelly Brumbelow’s “teacher spark.”

After a successful career in the insurance industry, Ms. Brumbelow felt called to teach.

At first, it was classroom volunteer, then substitute teaching and in 2001, she earned her teaching degree and joined CCSD, where today she’s a kindergarten teacher at Indian Knoll Elementary School.

“Although at the time I did not have the background knowledge needed to college success, determination to achieve my goal and my passion for working with children encouraged me,” she said.  “Each step of my journey taught valuable lessons I carry in my classroom every day.”

She now passes on that encouragement by teaching her students they, too, can achieve greatness.

“I saw my son evolve from a melancholy preschooler,” one parent said, “to a self-assured kindergartener who took on more responsibility around the house with a joyful heart.”

In her own words: “We encourage our students daily, and the children sense that you meet along your path.  Set your goals and soar.”


Michael L’Esperance, Johnston Elementary School Teacher of the Year

A former counselor and Counselor of the Year, Michael L’Esperance brings that same concern for students’ well-being into Johnston Elementary School’s gym as a PE teacher.

“Knowing that someone loves them can change the very path that these students take,” said Coach L’Esperance, who began teaching in 2005.  “To call that a reward for me is an understatement; on top of being an honor and a privilege, it’s a miracle.”

His care for his school community is evident to everyone who meets him.

“Michael is always a pillar of strength through the difficult times, the comic relief at the end of a stressful day, and the one who prays over the students and staff with focus and purpose,” Principal Amy Graham said.  “Not only does he consistently create standards-based lesson plans and keep the students engaged during the period, he also brings a positive charge to the students and staff climate.”

In his own words: “Over the course of a lifetime, I could make millions of dollars doing something else, but I guarantee money would not feel as good as making a difference in the life of a child.”


Patricia Weathers, Knox Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Patricia Weathers would be worthy of the Teacher of the Year honor any year, but this year she especially rose up.

This school year, Ms. Weathers’ first-grade class includes a student who recently survived a serious car crash, but returned to school with challenges.  She is paralyzed from the neck down and ventilator dependent.

Ms. Weathers worked to make sure, just as she has for other special needs students since she began teaching in 2008 after 17 years as a paraprofessional, that school was just as accessible and accepting for her as any other child.

“Ms. Weathers has fostered an attitude of acceptance within her room, in the hall and in school,” Principal Tammy Sandell said.  “Typical students have learned that it doesn’t matter if someone can’t walk, can’t breathe independently, can’t eat independently.  Children are children.  The inside is what counts.”

In her own words: “It is important to find something special within each student and tap into that strength.”


Maria McCall, Liberty Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Maria McCall is a teacher’s teacher.

Not only does she excel at teaching her students to master standards, she shares her knowledge with her colleagues, provides them inspiration and support and advocates on their behalf.

“I have always taken seriously my role in helping other educators to grow,” said Ms. McCall, who began her career in 1990 and now teaches Gifted classes at Liberty Elementary School.  “Positively impacting others is one of my passions.”

Ms. McCall’s efforts range from weekly emails of encouragement to mentoring new teachers to providing staff development.

“She presents herself as a colleague that the staff can count on to help with anything from sharing teaching strategies to lending a listening ear during difficult times,” Assistant Principal Dr. Pam Green said.

In her own words: “My goal is to create a ‘ripple effect’ of encouragement in the lives of people in my sphere of influence.”


Maureen Boll, Little River Elementary School Teacher of the Year

A telling sign of Maureen Boll’s excellence as a teacher: not only do parents request their children be in her second-grade class, so do her fellow teachers with second-graders of their own.

“Parents bombard the office with requests,” one colleague said, noting Ms. Boll’s popularity can be attributed to her classroom creativity, such as her annual Johnny Appleseed program and student knitting club.

Ms. Boll began her teaching career in 2008 at Little River Elementary School, where she also has built a reputation as an outstanding host teacher for co-taught special needs students.

“There are benefits and rewards in teaching students of all levels, but the most rewarding time for me is when I reach a student with disabilities,” she said. “The greatest reward for me is when I have been searching for reasons why a student is struggling, and finally get answers.”

In her own words: “There is no other job as important as forming the future.”


Tenille Turner, Macedonia Elementary School

As a child, Tenille Turner struggled with reading.

“So much of a challenge, I trained myself to read by sight,” she said.  “Each year, I struggled with reading aloud or comprehending what I had read.”

Her love for children drew her to study education at college, and it was there, learning how to teach reading, that something clicked in her own mind.

“I could finally phonetically sound out words.  I learned the phonics skills and could now teach these skills to struggling readers,” said Ms. Turner, who began teaching in 2003 and today teaches first grade at Macedonia Elementary School.  “Knowing the struggles I endured learning to read gives me a sense of understanding, dedication and patience when working with struggling readers.”

Those traits have led to success for students and endeared her to them.

“Each and every child feels as if they are the only student in the classroom because of how Ms. Turner makes each child feel,” one parent said.

In her own words: “Success cannot be measured with the same measurement for all students.”


Andrew McEntyre, Mill Creek Middle School Teacher of the Year

An example of Andrew McEntyre’s care for his special needs students at Mill Creek Middle School can be found in “Class Night Out.”

Mr. McEntyre and his paraprofessionals plan a class evening outing a few times a year… sometimes it’s bowling or watching a basketball game.

The students enjoy the night out, but there’s more to it.

“My students all have significant needs which require a large amount of time and attention.  It can be very taxing on parents as they rarely get a break,” said Mr. McEntyre, who began teaching special needs students in 2011.  “My goal for these nights is to give these parents the chance to take a worry-free few hours where they can spend time having fun with their spouse or maybe friends.”

This care for families, too, is part of what makes “Mr. Mac” so exceptional, according to his Principal.

“He teaches from the heart… his passion is evident,” Dr. Kerry P. Martin said.

In his own words: “As for my greatest accomplishment, it has to be seeing my students begin to realize they are learning and watching their confidence grow.”


Tina Rogers, Mountain Road Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Reading does not come easily for Tina Rogers’s special needs students at Mountain Road Elementary School.

They often come to her speaking only a few words, but she works with them, day after day, year after year, to make progress.

And often, she said, they teach her.

Like when she learned one student, who struggled with letter sounds, was gifted socially.

“She could not configure how to read the word ‘flower,’ but she remembered the tiniest detail of a social connection,” said the 21-year teacher, noting her reaction upon learning Ms. Rogers’s brother had died.  “My sweet student immediately came to me upon my return with tears in her eyes and said ‘I am so sorry to hear about your brother. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?’  My heart is warm with the love she is capable of sharing with others.”

And she did learn to read… it just took a little more time and care.

In her own words: “Anyone can learn.  The gift is knowing that your own potential is worth just as much as anyone else’s”


Mary Kenney, Oak Grove Elementary School Fine Arts Academy Teacher of the Year

Mary Kenney’s classroom at Oak Grove Elementary School Fine Arts Academy sometimes gets messy.

An egg or two may break, as students craft packaging to protect them from a 20-foot drop.  Some paint may spill, as students create models of the Earth.  A little thread may unspool, as students learn to thread a needle and sew.

If students learn in the process, the clean-up is worth it.

“Children learn when children do,” a colleague said of the lesson Ms. Kenney has mastered better than any other she knows.  “She teaches them not only the required material, but she includes real world and practical lessons which are integrated.”

Ms. Kenney, who began her career in 2000, said teaching students to think for themselves is her daily goal.

“They need to understand that they will struggle and fail sometimes, but I encourage them to not give up,” she said.

In her own words: “I raise my class to be a family and be respectful of each other.”


Ada Rogers, R.M. Moore Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Thirty years in R.M. Moore Elementary School classrooms has seasoned Ada Rogers with know-how and wisdom, but her enthusiasm remains as fresh as her first day.

“Ms. Rogers is the teacher we all dream of becoming as we begin our career,” Principal Jan Adamson said.  “She is excited to teach and even more excited when the students learn.”

Her passion and willingness to mentor colleagues has led Ms. Rogers to earn, now for the third time, the title of Teacher of the Year.

Ms. Rogers remembers being asked as a first-grader, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“My answer was ‘I want to be a teacher,’” she said.  “Over my educational career, my answer remained the same.  My passion was there even as a child.”

And hundreds of her former students, many now colleagues or parents of current students (her “grand-students”), have benefitted.

In her own words: “Our school is a vital, intricate facet of our community and having my stakeholders committed as much as I am will foster a sense of camaraderie and unity that will last over the years.”


Joel Roth, River Ridge High School Teacher of the Year

Here’s a telling quote from a former student:

“Teacher of the Year? More like Teacher of the Century.  Rarer than students that love math are teachers that are genuinely passionate about teaching it.  While nothing about math excites me, his excitement spreads as he speaks, like a sneeze or news that someone has gum.”

River Ridge High School math teacher Joel Roth has just the right combination of instructional talent, interest in his students and humor to win over snarky high schoolers and gifted colleagues alike.

“Through the relationships he has built, his students thrive knowing that their questions are answered without frustration, which is just one great example of how his ‘hands-on’ teaching strategies make the lesson become alive and meaningful,” Principal Darrell Herring said, noting Mr. Roth, who began teaching in 2010, also coaches both football and the math team.

In his own words: “Simply standing at the door and greeting students is one of the most important parts of my teaching… all of a sudden, they care, and they care because they feel like someone cares about them.”


Lori Pelkey, Sixes Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Lori Pelkey’s students receive a special gift to end their first-grade year at Sixes Elementary School: a letter from her.

In the letter, she shares that over the year, they have claimed a spot in her heart.

“I tell them the spot will always be there even as they continue to grow older,” and she encourages them to hide the letter where they might find it every once in a while.  “Emails, letters and visits I get from students after they have found their letter many years later have brought me great joy.”

This illustrates how Ms. Pelkey, who began teaching in 1990, sees relationships as central to successful teaching.

“Mrs. Pelkey takes the time to learn about her first-graders as little people,” Principal Cindy Crews said.

In her own words: “I let parents know from the beginning of a school year that it is my intention for us to be a team in the child’s education; I want to work with them to ensure learning is taking place in a way best suited for their child.”


Dr. Jennifer Reynolds, Teasley Middle School Teacher of the Year

As a special education teacher at a Title I middle school, Dr. Jennifer Reynolds teaches the most challenged among challenged.

She does it, according to her Teasley Middle School colleagues, with supernatural grace and love.

One recalls how she taught a student dying of brain cancer.

“Dr. Reynolds,” he said, “did everything within her grasp to not only educate this student, but also make her feel treasured and valued.”

This love led the girl’s family to ask Dr. Reynolds, who they described as their “rock” during this time, to speak at her funeral.

One of her first students was a 10-year-old girl, abandoned in a dumpster as a newborn, who was born with cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome.

“More importantly she had spunk,” Dr. Reynolds said.  “My job was to teach her math, but she taught me about the value of human life and that I was in the right place.”

In her own words: “My main contribution to my students is to provide them with love.  In my 11 years of teaching, one thing is apparent: the students are the ones who teach me.”


Elaine Warner, Tippens Education Center Teacher of the Year

Teaching is the family business for Elaine Warner, whose mother and two aunts all spent their careers in the classroom.

After working as a special education paraprofessional, Ms. Warner in 2013 followed in their footsteps as a teacher.

She has earned the praise of parents and colleagues at Tippens Education Center for her abilities to connect with children challenged by emotional and behavioral disorders.

“Every day she listened,” one parent said.  “Every day she acted upon the advice I gave to her.  Every day she found exciting ways to engage my son in his academic success.  Every day she became a person he could trust.  Every day they created a bond.”

Principal Kelly Strickland said it’s clear that Ms. Warner loves to teach.

“Her passion for the students and her drive to grow as a professional makes her stand out among her peers,” she said.

In her own words: “I believe children have greater respect for their teachers, peers and lessons when they feel safe and are aware of expectations.”


Emily Spira, Woodstock Elementary School Teacher of the Year

Emily Spira said, as a student in Cherokee County, she was inspired to become anything she wanted to be.

Now, as a Woodstock Elementary School third-grade Early Intervention Program and English Language Learners teacher, she is able to do the same for another generation.

“For me, I get to live out my dream each day by teaching elementary school children,” said Ms. Spira, who began teaching in 2010, “and I am eternally grateful for the teachers in my life who invested in me and inspired me to make a difference.”

Principal Kim Montalbano said Ms. Spira inspires students with her enthusiasm for them and their success, and she also invests her time in them after hours: crafting engaging lessons, reviewing test results to identify improvement areas and learning new instructional techniques.

“She is a conscientious educator who remediates and accelerates students on a daily basis through meaningful hands-on and thought-provoking activities,” she said.

In her own words: “I’m not in the business of teaching a curriculum; I’m in the business of teaching children.”


Julie Crowe, Woodstock High School Teacher of the Year

As a college basketball player, Julie Crowe and her teammates ran camps for children and volunteered for community projects.

“This opened my eyes that I personally can make a difference in the lives of people on a daily basis,” said Coach Crowe, who was inspired to become a high school PE and health teacher and girls’ basketball coach.  “My passion for positive change in the lives of my students will always be my quest.”

Woodstock High School Principal J. Mark Smith said Coach Crowe, a three-time Region Coach of the Year, succeeds by listening to and respecting her students and colleagues.

“She holds nothing back when it comes to reaching students where they are and taking them to the next level,” he said.

In her own words: “In education, teachers play many different roles for their students.  We are moms, dads and counselors, to name a few.  When the connection is made, and the student knows you truly care about them as a person and not just a student, you will begin to see that student thrive.”


B.J. Mazza, Woodstock Middle School Teacher of the Year

As one colleague puts it, Woodstock Middle School’s B.J. Mazza is not only an exceptional teacher, she also is an exceptional person.

Even as a child, she knew her life’s calling was to help people with disabilities.  Her biological mother was intellectually disabled.

“At age 6, I was adopted into a wonderful family, but never forgot her and what life must have been like for her,” said Ms. Mazza, who became a special education teacher in 1987.

Many moments reaffirmed her decision, such as a student who required a wheelchair and round-the-clock assistance.

“Although this was his life,” she said, “I never saw a day that he did not give it all he could… He taught me tenacity, courage and optimism.”

As did having a son who is intellectually disabled and taught her “what really matters in life.”

“Every day I continue to be encouraged and influenced by special people, who just so happen to have a disability,” she said.

In her own words: “I am blessed to advocate for these children, and to teach them to be the best that they can be in their world and lives.”