2020 Teacher of the Year School Winner Profiles
Beginning on Dec. 9, 2019, each week we'll be adding a profile and photo of a school-level winner to this page!
Special thanks to our "Legacy Makers" Presenting Sponsors: Cherokee County Educational Foundation, Credit Union of Georgia, Northside Hospital Cherokee and Shottenkirk Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Canton!
ACE Academy: Wesley Marshall
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, ACE Academy Teacher of the Year Wesley Marshall and Principal Dr. Richard Landolt.
ACE Academy Teacher of the Year Wesley Marshall teaches economics and American government classes, but he hopes the lessons that stick the most with his students are those focused on life skills.
Along with five of his colleagues, Mr. Marshall has developed a program designed to help ACE students, many of whom face additional challenges in their lives, successfully "transition to being independent adults in the modern world." Students learn the basics of personal finance, renting an apartment, buying a car, purchasing insurance, dressing for the workplace, and more.
Colleagues and parents alike see this as one more way the 17-year educator shows his care for each student and his or her future success. "He has a way," one colleague said, "of bringing out the best in his students."
In his own words: "Students who come from 'home situations' that are far less than ideal must have teachers who both model responsible behavior and insist on developing acceptable social skills. To graduate kids into the modern world without those abilities is as pointless as handing them a diploma without ensuring that they have a minimum-level of reading."
Arnold Mill Elementary School: Casey Wheeler
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Arnold Mill Elementary School Teacher of the Year Casey Wheeler and Principal Dan Fuller.
Arnold Mill Elementary School Teacher of the Year Casey Wheeler sees a place for social and emotional learning in every child's day ... even for her kindergartners.
Ms. Wheeler helps them see it on their own terms. In their class "meetings," the students circle around to share their "highs" and "lows." As you might expect, many of the "lows" are about boo-boos. But some are bigger, even for such littles. Like the student who was diagnosed as selective mute. Through her dedication to developing relationships and trust with students, and ensuring they know she wants to listen, Ms. Wheeler heard that child's first whisper.
"That whisper in my ear soon turned into a whisper to peers and even other adults," the 12-year educator said of her now former student. "To this day, she stops by my room every day to give me a smile and a hug." This care, according to that child's mom, is what makes Ms. Wheeler "one of a kind."
In her own words: "I meet my students on their own personal educational journey and take them where they need to be. I see the differences among my students and do my best to respond positively and affirmingly to those differences."
Avery Elementary School: David Boggs
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Avery Elementary School Teacher of the Year David Boggs and Principal Dr. Lisa Turner.
Avery Elementary School Teacher of the Year David Boggs is a popular figure at his school. There he regularly can be found roaming the halls with his guitar, singing about the school, its students and the importance of kindness.
The 26-year music educator has taught thousands of students to sing, be creative and love music. That's his primary role, he said, but there's another valuable part he plays: the only positive male role model some students see on a regular basis.
This knowledge, he said, has shaped how he teaches and relates to students. And it has been successful, for, as one colleague puts it, "he establishes a connection with students like I've never seen before. He is always upbeat and kind, and the students absolutely love going to his music class."
In his own words: "I use the creative process and the universality of music to help students grow as individuals and, more importantly, learn how they can have a positive effect on others through the arts."
Ball Ground ES STEM Academy: Kellie Henson
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Ball Ground ES STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Kellie Henson and Principal Dr. Christian Kirby.
Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Kellie Henson knew early on she would pursue a career as an educator.
She felt called, like her favorite elementary school teachers, to inspire young students to reach their dreams. She earned her degree in early childhood education, began her career, and then heard another calling - to become a special education teacher.
According to her colleagues and parents, Ms. Henson, who is in her sixth year of teaching, is the ideal special education teacher. One colleague, who also is a parent of one of Ms. Henson's former students, shared the "most glowing praise" one teacher can give another: "I can fully entrust the well-being of my own child to her without question or concern and know she would do everything within her ability to support and motivate my child."
In her own words: "Many students in the world are missing the puzzle piece for success: love. It is the job of the teacher to provide love, support and compassion to students in their classroom by getting to the root of the problem and understanding their world outside the school's four walls."
Bascomb Elementary School: Marsha Mattson
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Bascomb Elementary School Teacher of the Year Marsha Mattson and Principal Kathleen Chandler.
Bascomb Elementary School Teacher of the Year Marsha Mattson fell in love with school as a first-grader -- mostly, she said, because of her teacher.
This teacher, Mrs. Harvey, not only taught her many classroom lessons, she also taught her a life lesson: the power of positive relationships. A teacher who encourages a student can make a world of difference in that child's life, and Ms. Mattson has made a difference in hundreds of lives over her 22-year career as a first- and second-grade teacher.
"While my daughter's academic growth was outstanding," the parent of a former student shared, "what I remember and cherish the most was Marsha's ability to reach her emotionally and socially. She personally connected with her, addressing challenges and celebrating successes. She continues to support my daughter... and her encouragement has been invaluable. I will forever be indebted to her!"
In her own words: "All children need to feel loved in order to learn. My No. 1 goal for students is to know that their teacher loves them and cares about their feelings. I believe if a child feels loved, learning is possible in so many ways."
Boston Elementary School: Annie King
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Boston Elementary School Teacher of the Year Annie King and Principal Valerie Lowery.
Boston Elementary School Teacher of the Year Annie King, in her seven years so far as an educator, has won over many colleagues, parents and students with her dedication in the classroom.
One former student, who still is in elementary school, succinctly summed up her favorite: "What makes Mrs. King the best Teacher of the Year: 1. I love how she waits for us at the door. 2. She always says 'Good morning.' 3. When I don't understand something, she is always there to help me. 4. She helps me feel like I can do anything - even the hard stuff! 5. When we feel sad, she helps us to feel happy. And that is what makes Mrs. King the best!!!"
It's hard to believe this second-grade teacher came to teaching as a second career in radio and sales, according to a former administrator, as she so clearly understands the "art and science" of teaching and her talents and skills are such a "joy" to observe in action.
In her own words: "There is one rule in my classroom and that is to 'Be Kind.' That's it. Kindness is the most important thing that can ever be taught to students."
Carmel Elementary School: Dawn Mathis
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Carmel Elementary School Teacher of the Year Dawn Mathis and Principal Paula White.
Carmel Elementary School Teacher of the Year Dawn Mathis not only has earned the top award from her peers -- she has done it a remarkable four times over her career!
Ms. Mathis, who previously taught in DeKalb and Henry counties before joining CCSD six years ago, is so deserving of these and more honors, according to her colleagues, because of her dedication to connect with them and with every one of the students she serves. A special education teacher, Ms. Mathis was selected to serve as the department chair at Carmel for her experience and education - she holds bachelor’s, master's and specialist degrees in her field.
"She is a model for others and leads with a servant-oriented heart," her Principal said. "Staff and students depend on her daily, and she never disappoints. Her ability to continually give for the betterment of children is commendable."
In her own words: "I lead by example to teach my students that kindness is what truly counts in life."
CCSD Preschool Centers: Gabriela Guerrero
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, CCSD Preschool Centers Teacher of the Year Gabriela Fernandez-Guerrero and Principal Victoria Thom.
CCSD Preschool Centers Teacher of the Year Gabriela Fernandez-Guerrero didn't chose education as her first career.
But it chose her. While working in the retail field, Ms. Fernandez-Guerrero volunteered at CCSD's Ralph Bunche Center. Surrounded by little smiling faces and their giggles, she found herself questioning whether retail was her calling. The teachers and administrators around her realized she was one of their own, and, when offered the opportunity to become a paraprofessional, Ms. Fernandez-Guerrero listened to her heart. Seventeen years and a master's degree in education later, she has found her calling as a preschool teacher, as well as the respect of her colleagues, gratitude of her students' parents and great joy.
"Words cannot express how much she has helped my son grow and thrive," shared the parent of one of Ms. Fernandez Guerrero's many former special education preschool students. "She makes every child in her class feel loved. They learn, thrive and grow in a loving, caring environment ... you can feel how much she loves her job and how much she loves and cares for every child in her classroom."
In her own words: "I wanted to create a change in the world and felt that educating youth was the best avenue to do so."
Cherokee High School: Tracie Galvis
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Cherokee High School Teacher of the Year Tracie Galvis and Principal Todd Miller.
Cherokee High School Teacher of the Year Tracie Galvis began teaching seven years ago, but you would think it had been many times that long given her expertise and success.
Ms. Galvis, one of four school Teachers of the Year honored as CCSD Teacher of the Year finalists, teaches Algebra to students learning English as a second language, heads up the school's English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department -- the largest in the District -- and its innovative ESOL CHOICE Program. Modeled after CCSD's highly successful CHOICE program for special education students, the ESOL CHOICE program is an intensive mentoring and support initiative to help ESOL students at higher risk of not graduating on time.
"She is unquestionably one of the best teachers in CCSD," her Principal said. "She is one of the truest Warriors among us."
In her own words: "My goal is to make sure every student feels loved ... they are more than a number, test or assignment."
Clark Creek ES STEM Academy: Karen Garland
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Clark Creek ES STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Karen Garland and Principal Joey Moss.
You never know what you’re going to find when you walk into the science classroom of Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Karen Garland. Some days it’s butterflies. Some days it’s reptiles. Some days it’s dozens of hands covered in dirt from gardening. But every day, it’s smiles, light bulbs and laughter.
Ms. Garland, since she began teaching in CCSD eight years ago after a career as an environmental educator for the Chattahoochee Nature Center and Georgia Conservancy, has earned the respect of students, colleagues and administrators ... and many professional honors! She not only was named one of four finalists for CCSD Teacher of the Year, she also this year has won the Georgia Science Teachers Association 2020 Teacher of the Year for Elementary Schools and Georgia Youth Science and Technology Centers’ 2020 Georgia STEM Scholar titles.
As one parent shared: "Karen is beyond a teacher, she is an amazing, well-rounded person who loves from the heart and it shows on her students' faces."
In her own words: "I love learning! My job is not only to facilitate, but to inspire students to feel the delight that comes from discovery. I firmly believe that it's the supreme art of a teacher to awaken this joy."
Clayton Elementary School: Katherine Dobson
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left to right, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Clayton Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Katherine Dobson and Principal Carrie O'Bryant.
Clayton Elementary School Teacher of the Year Katherine Dobson is in her 13th year teaching, and her light shines brighter each year.
“Her light is so contagious that it is seemingly impossible not to be positively impacted by her,” Principal Carrie O’Bryant said. “She demonstrates integrity, courage and commitment. She reminds us of our ‘why’ daily.”
Ms. Dobson teaches math and science and looks for creative connections with other subjects, such as the project through which students create illustrated children’s book with a math theme and inspired by the works of Eric Carle. She also helps students see math and science in their own lives, both through classroom lessons and her sponsorship of the school’s 4H Club.
In her own words: “My greatest accomplishment as a teacher is my ability to teach math and science in a way that engages and empowers my students to take risks and learn material that they previously did not feel they had the ability to master.”
Creekland Middle School: Ana Cahill
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Creekland Middle School 2020 Teacher of the Year Ana Cahill and Principal Dr. Richard Carnes.
Creekland Middle School Teacher of the Year Ana Cahill has an artist’s eye and a “new kid’s” heart.
The seven-year teacher, who leads art classes for all grades, with that eye sees signs of talent in students that may otherwise go unnoticed. And because of her own experiences moving from school to school as a child, she understands the value of being noticed and encouraged.
Being in her class, a former student shared, “means you’ll be spending time with someone who believes in you and knows your capabilities even when you don’t. It means you’ll be treated kindly and encouraged to be you, be creative, and be your best.”
As sponsor of the Art Club, Ms. Cahill not only organizes art projects, but also community service, such as through its annual collection and teddy bear towel project for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Empathy,” she said when explaining this project, “is the best lesson any child can learn.”
In her own words: “My goal is to make a connection with each of my students, so they feel encouraged, motivated, inspired and, most of all, important.”
Creekview High School: Jason Hubbard
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Creekview High School 2020 Teacher of the Year Jason Hubbard and Principal Dr. Sue Zinkil.
Creekview High School Teacher of the Year Jason Hubbard left his classroom to pursue a second career in law enforcement.
While he enjoyed his work serving and protecting the community as a police officer, a letter from a former student – that spoke to the positive impact Mr. Hubbard had on his life – drew him back to his true calling in the classroom.
Now in his 22nd year as an educator, Mr. Hubbard, who also serves as his department head and is a two-time Region Tennis Coach of the Year, uses his experience as a police officer to teach law and justice classes. He’s grown it into one of the school’s largest and most popular career programs; and many students, after its real-world experiences like participating in Cherokee Sheriff’s Office training and Cherokee Marshal’s Office undercover stings, pursue careers in the field. “He inspires his students,” a parent of a past student shared, “to be the change they want to see in the world around them through their own actions.”
In his own words: “Be part of your kids’ story. Be that light that brightens their day and guides them. Be that difference in their lives.”
Dean Rusk Middle School: Hannah Braswell
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Creekland Middle School 2020 Teacher of the Year Hannah Braswell and Principal Dawn Weinbaum.
Dean Rusk Middle School Teacher of the Year Hannah Braswell is her students’ No. 1 cheerleader.
The eighth-grade social studies teacher and Sequoyah HS varsity cheer coach encourages their classroom success, leads them to root on their classmates, and lifts them up through middle school’s ups and downs.
“You will forever be my most memorable teacher,” a former student shared. “Thank you for giving me someone I know I can talk to and trust. I’m grateful to have had such a great teacher who supported me.”
The six-year educator embraces Social and Emotional Learning, with skills like setting goals, overcoming adversity and thinking positively embedded into lessons.
In her own words: “Your students will remember how you made them feel. Build them up. Support them.”
E.T. Booth Middle School: Heather Stone
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, E.T. Booth Middle School 2020 Teacher of the Year Heather Stone and Principal Todd Sharrock.
E.T. Booth Middle School Teacher of the Year Heather Stone believes an important part of her role, and for all educators, is to “Be the person you needed when you were younger.”
While watching her younger brother struggle in school, Ms. Stone realized that not only was education her calling, but also that every child’s learning style is not the same.
The 11-year educator, who now teaches math for eighth-graders needing special education support and serves as her school’s special education department head, has made social and emotional learning the foundation for all she does.
As one colleague shared about Ms. Stone, who has earned bachelor’s, masters and specialist degrees in her field: “She is the ultimate team player, relationship builder and teacher-leader. Her actions truly demonstrate those of an educator who puts children first.”
In her own words: “Sometimes what students need most is not what you have in your lesson plans. They need conversation, they need a smile, a hug.”
Etowah High School: David Armistead
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Etowah High School 2020 Teacher of the Year David Armistead and Principal Robert Horn.
Etowah High School Teacher of the Year David Armistead guides his students through important lessons in government and economics.
One important financial lesson that parents like just as much as the students: the college cost savings thanks to his students passing AP Government and Macroeconomics exams … totaling more than $350,000 over the last six years.
Mr. Armistead has grown both enrollment and passage rates during that time. This is a feat, as by growing the enrollment, it means students who wouldn’t otherwise take such a rigorous class now are faced with challenging college-level curriculum and a final exam for possible college credit. The work to help them succeed is worth it though, he said, not only to help them gain knowledge and college credit, but also so “they go on to consider ‘What else can I do that I didn’t think possible?’”
“He exemplifies devotion to his students and lives to serve,” a student shared about the 12-year teacher who also sponsors the student government association.
In his own words: “Relationships are at the heart of education. Build and foster those meaningful relationships with your students and they will perform.”
Free Home Elementary School: Alison Johnson
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Free Home Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Alison Johnson and Principal Kim Hagood.
Free Home Elementary School Teacher of the Year Alison Johnson loves learning and sharing that love with her students.
After a first career in daycare, including as a center director, Ms. Johnson went back to school herself to learn and earn a teaching degree. The nine-year educator since has earned certification in teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and is pursuing a master’s degree in reading and literacy.
“Her enthusiasm for learning spreads to her students and her colleagues,” Principal Kim Hagood said of Ms. Johnson, who teaches first grade and is among the school’s teachers who are most requested by parents. “She has high expectations for all of her students and instills a confidence about learning within each child. Teachers frequently observe her lessons to glean new ideas. She heads up our STEM committee and is always willing to step up and help when there is a need.”
In her own words: “I treat the children in my class as my own by loving them and giving high expectations, and then helping and guiding them to do everything possible to reach those expectations.”
Freedom Middle School: Arlene Freeland
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Freedom Middle School 2020 Teacher of the Year Arlene Freeland and Principal Sheila Grimes.
Freedom Middle School Teacher of the Year Arlene Freeland traded in her first career as an accountant to fulfil her true calling as an educator, and sees in her students’ success a valuable return on investment.
Now a veteran educator, with 20 years of experience, Ms. Freeland mentors new teachers and takes on new challenges, as she did two years ago when she began teaching students who speak English as their second language.
Just as she found success and joy in teaching advanced students and students with special needs, Ms. Freeland has excelled in her new role. Her Principal and colleagues are quick to praise her, but even more telling is the lengthy tribute by one of her students – written in English.
“Before, I felt like I would never understand English, and now, I feel confident talking to other people around me. Now I am a better student because of you,” the eighth-grader wrote. “Thank you for helping me explore new ways of doing things – you are such a wonderful person.”
In her own words: “I want all of my students to have options to reach their dreams instead of limitations holding them back.”
Hasty ES Fine Arts Academy: Barry Dalton
Mr. Dalton is CCSD's Teacher of the Year. Learn more about him here.
Hickory Flat Elementary School: Meleda Vacca
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Hickory Flat Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Meleda Vacca and Principal Whitney Nolan.
Hickory Flat Elementary School Teacher of the Year Meleda Vacca’s morning duty spot puts her in the middle of the main hallway’s intersection.
This is strategic, according to her Principal, as it gives the most students possible the opportunity to see the beloved teacher. The special education teacher is so popular for her care for each child, no matter who their teacher is, and her joy for each day that students across the school ask: “How can I get moved to Mrs. Vacca’s room?”
“She motivates me to believe in myself,” a student shared about the seven-year educator. “She was born to help us believe.”
Ms. Vacca follows through behind that encouragement with expertise, gained through her classroom experience and her own studies, including two master’s degrees: one in education, and the other in psychology.
In her own words: “Learning is a quest for knowledge and can be done anywhere, not just in the walls of a classroom. I encourage my students to make mistakes and try something new; to be brave learners and thinkers.”
Holly Springs ES STEM Academy: Cynthia Rudin
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Holly Springs ES STEM Academy 2020 Teacher of the Year Cynthia Rudin and Principal Donna Bertram.
One morning every year, Holly Springs Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Cynthia Rudin begins a special lesson.
The class is divided – some of the third-graders receive a star, while the rest are labeled “no star.” The children with stars enjoy special privileges, while the “no stars” look on. After an hour of this lesson, Ms. Rudin reads to them the Dr. Seuss classic, “The Sneetches,” and their eyes are opened (if they haven’t been already) to the ideas of inequality and discrimination.
The lesson continues with a class conversation and concludes with students “not only reflecting upon inequality, but also discovering the differences that make us unique. This lesson is based on inclusion and how it impacts our daily lives.”
It is a memorable lesson, and just as important, former students said, as any math or science knowledge she shared with them. “I have never felt so welcome anywhere else in this world than in Mrs. Rudin’s classroom,” said a former student, who learned in her classroom more than a decade ago.
In her own words: “For the next generation of children to succeed and build a better society, teachers have to train them to work cooperatively and recognize how differences can strengthen, instead of divide, our society.”
Indian Knoll Elementary School: Darlene Palmisiano
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Indian Knoll Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Darlene Palmisiano and Principal Kim Cerasoli.
If there was an “extra mile” award, Indian Knoll Elementary School Teacher of the Year Darlene Palmisiano would have a shelf full.
The 24-year educator is praised with that phrase by parents, colleagues and administrators for looking beyond learning standards and job descriptions to succeed in teaching fourth-graders and supporting fellow educators.
“Her leadership at Indian Knoll exceeds the expectations for educators,” a colleague shared. “She has tremendous work ethic and routinely puts in long hours, but she never complains nor seeks self-recognition.”
Ms. Palmisiano’s investment, a parent shared, builds important relationships with her students: “She makes every student feel like they are her favorite and they can achieve their best.”
In her own words: “Without worker bees, there would be no hive. Without enthusiastic teachers willing to try new things, there would be no successful initiatives. This worker bee is happy to help her school function and thrive.”
Johnston Elementary School: Rachel Maddox
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Johnston Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Rachel Maddox and Principal Laura Akers.
Johnston Elementary School Teacher of the Year Rachel Maddox believes in the quote "Every child deserves a champion," and sees herself as one for her students.
The kindergarten teacher, who is in her fourth year as an educator, goes to amazing lengths to ensure her students know she cares about them.
As one parent who volunteered in her classroom shared, she saw Ms. Maddox learn Spanish to help a student better learn English; try, try and try again to find the right strategy for each child; put together resources for children who needed extra help, from reading to writing and everything in between; and always stay smiling.
"Her investment doesn't just stop in her classroom," the mom added, noting how Ms. Maddox cheers on the sidelines for students' soccer games and leads the school's Jazzy Jags after-school student dance group that performs at school events.
This same care extends to Ms. Maddox's colleagues, as she chairs the Sunshine Committee that organizes celebrations for the faculty and staff, and she mentors new teachers. "She is a natural leader and has a keen ability to bring people together for the common good of teaching and learning," her Principal said.
In her own words: "I have an ever-growing passion for teaching and hope to share it and encourage others in order to create of wealth of educators who share this passion."
Knox ES STEM Academy: Kelly Sample
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Knox ES STEM Academy 2020 Teacher of the Year Kelly Sample and Principal Jennifer McIntosh.
Knox Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Kelly Sample spreads kindness in all that she does.
Colleagues and parents alike praise the 15-year educator for her compassion and humility, her responsiveness and inclusivity.
Ms. Sample’s own favorite lesson of the year, in fact, focuses on kindness and the school’s #BeKind initiative she helped launch at Knox after seeing its positive impact on her own children at Hickory Flat ES.
The lesson begins with reading aloud the book, “The Invisible Boy,” and, after hearing the story, her second-graders are tasked with serving as Kindness Detectives. In this role, they look for acts of kindness and then report them on strips of paper that are added to a class kindness chain. The lesson’s impact, she said, lasts throughout the school year and sparks more conversations “about the good that students saw in each other and how it made them feel.”
“Kelly is a teacher,” one colleague shared, “whom others look up to and attempt to model their own teaching and relationships after.”
In her own words: “Just like a flower that wilts in the dark, a student cannot grow without love and care.”
Liberty Elementary School: Jessica DeLuca
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Liberty Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Jessica DeLuca and Principal Doug Knott.
Liberty Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jessica DeLuca’s greatest loss inspired a love for teaching that has made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of children.
When Ms. DeLuca was a kindergartner, her mother passed away. Her kindergarten teacher “was there to love me and support me during this time of need.”
“This inspired me to want to positively impact the lives of as many children as I could,” she said. “I knew this early that I would be a teacher.”
And, over the last 20 years as a teacher, Ms. DeLuca has blessed a generation of children through her thoughtful classroom lessons, the care she shows for each student, and her role in developing Liberty Elementary’s nationally recognized character education, service learning and #BeKind initiatives.
“Jessica puts her whole heart into teaching, and her level of dedication to the profession shows that teaching is her calling,” a colleague shared. “The students she loves will be better people for knowing her.”
In her own words: “Students are more aware than ever before that their positive actions make a huge difference in the lives of others. #BeKind.”
Little River Elementary School: Belinda Jackson
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Little River Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Belinda Jackson and recently retired Principal Karen Carl.
Little River Elementary School Teacher of the Year Belinda Jackson has mastered spotting teachable moments.
The 17-year educator is celebrated for excellence in teaching first grade, mentoring fellow teachers and supporting her community as a whole.
Her teachable moments connect all of these goals, like her students’ annual participation in the Bert’s Big Thank You campaign to send thank-you letters to military personnel, their work in the school’s garden through the Budding Gardeners Club, and their “in-school” field trips featuring parents speaking about careers – from professional illustrator to police officer.
“Learning,” she said, “is more impactful when it is authentic and relatable to a student’s everyday life.”
A parent of a former student shared that these real-life lessons, embedded into daily learning alongside academic standards, make her class memorable. And Ms. Jackson’s care for every student and family and emphasis on relationship-building, makes her memorable: “She sees them through her heart first.”
In her own words: “When a child tells me that he doesn’t want to leave school that day because he will miss it, or that ‘today was such a fun day,’ I consider those moments to be my greatest accomplishments as a teacher.”
Macedonia Elementary School: Brooke Hopkins
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Macedonia Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Brooke Hopkins and Principal Dr. Carolyn Daugherty.
Macedonia Elementary School Teacher of the Year Brooke Hopkins lights up every room with her joy for teaching and for her students.
The 17-year educator began her career as a beloved classroom teacher, and, five years ago, expanded her class to the whole school as one of Macedonia’s two PE teachers. She then transforms the gym after school into the home of the school drama club she leads.
“She selflessly chooses our children. Every. Single. Day. She’s the PE teacher who takes fitness and nutrition beyond the walls of the schools. She’s the drama teacher who is backstage because she believes children should shine,” a parent shared. “She’s the educator who continues to go beyond the finish line … she is one of ‘those’ teachers for both of my children and so many others.”
Coach Hopkins, who has earned bachelor’s, master’s and education specialist degrees, continuously seeks out new challenges to expand opportunities for students. Two examples: To step up the drama program, she partnered with the Creekview High School American Sign Language teacher to invite its students to sign one of the shows, so children with hearing challenges could enjoy it. Last year, she worked with Partner in Education to hold a Kindness Walk: families were asked to walk at least one lap together and talk about one of the kindness topics given to them on a discussion card.
In her own words: “I strive to help my students learn that the true rainbows in life are found when you dare to push through a storm.”
Mill Creek Middle School: Wendy Perez
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Mill Creek Middle School 2020 Teacher of the Year Wendy Perez and Principal Matthew May.
Mill Creek Middle School Teacher of the Year Wendy Perez has added up her passion for mathematics and her heart for service to equal the perfect sum: a successful career as an accomplished math teacher.
As a student, Ms. Perez loved math so much she helped start a math club. When it came time to choose whether to pursue a career in accounting or in teaching math, she chose the former and worked in business for several years.
Her love of math and happy memories of math class drew her back to the dream of teaching, so she added an education degree to her skillset and followed her true calling 15 years ago. She’s since earned the respect of her students and their parents and her colleagues and administrators. She’s also earned an MBA from Kennesaw State University and then advanced to earning a specialist degree in instructional technology. She’s also earned a championship, as coach of her school’s math team in the CCSD 2019 middle school competition. “Mrs. Perez,” a colleague shared, “is one of the most professional teachers that one will ever meet. She prides herself on teaching and taking care of students.”
In her own words: “My greatest accomplishment in education is helping each of my students experience success in some way, even if math is not their strength, and creating a classroom environment in which all students feel comfortable and safe, even if they are not sure they know the right answer. I do this by providing the necessary support students need and helping them discover the answers on their own to experience that ‘aha’ moment.”
Mountain Road Elementary School: Kelly Gilstrap
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Mountain Road Elementary School 2020 Teacher of the Year Kelly Gilstrap and Principal Melinda Roulier.
Mountain Road Elementary School Teacher of the Year Kelly Gilstrap has known her calling for as long as she can remember.
She heard it as a kindergartener at Holly Springs Elementary School, and after every joyful day of learning there, she raced home to teach her own imaginary class. As a high school student, teaching was the focus of her senior project, and, after graduation, she earned her degree in early childhood education from Kennesaw State University.
Now in her fifth year of teaching kindergarten, this lifetime of focus has paid off for, as her Principal puts it, “you would never know she’s a newer teacher by observing her in action.” From her Pinterrific-perfect classroom, Ms. Gilstrap creatively blends technology, real-life learning, academic standards, high expectations and care for each child into her lessons. And she expertly makes this challenging work look much easier than it really is.
“I cannot say enough about how amazing Kelly is,” Principal Melinda Roulier said of Ms. Gilstrap, who in 2019 was tapped for the prestigious honor of presenting at the international Model Schools Conference on blended learning best practices. “She is destined for a long and amazing career in education, where I am confident she will leave a lasting impression on every student, family, teacher and administrator who are fortunate enough to work with her.”
In her own words: “My goal is for each student I meet to know I deeply care about them and their success and to be the difference maker to that one student.”
Oak Grove ES Fine Arts Academy: Julie McNally
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Oak Grove ES Fine Arts Academy Teacher of the Year Julie McNally and Principal Penny Valle.
Oak Grove Elementary School Fine Arts Academy Julie McNally knows the value of persistence.
She pursued her education degree over 20 years attending five different colleges in four different states – unwilling to give up on her dream, while she also supported her husband’s career through relocations and raised their children.
Her childhood dream to become a teacher finally was fulfilled 16 years ago and since then she has gone on to earn a master’s degree in education, Teacher of the Year honors in two states, and a long list of past students and colleagues who count themselves fortunate she never gave up on her dream. Her dedication has not waned over the years, a colleague shared, noting Ms. McNally “arrives early and stays late” to ensure she meets the needs of every student. “She is such an amazing teacher.”
Ms. McNally for the last four years has taught her school’s kindergarten and first-grade students learning English as a second language. She volunteers after school with Oak Grove’s weekly homework help program held in a nearby mobile home park for students who live there.
In her own words: “Poverty is a major public education issue today. When basic needs are not met in their home lives, it is difficult for students to come to school ready to learn. I work hard to help bridge the gap for children in poverty.”
R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy: Jill Mossinger
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Jill Mossinger and Principal Dr. Abby May.
R.M. Moore Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jill Mossinger is the teacher whose colleagues want their own children in her classes.
“She is the teacher all of us as parents pray for our children to have,” a colleague shared. “Someone who will love them as if they were her own, guide them as they navigate through the incredibly hard struggles and choices that must be made in schools today and dedicate the endless hours it takes to be a game changer in education.”
Now in her 12th year of teaching, Ms. Mossinger this school year moved to Ball Ground ES STEM Academy, where its third-graders are benefitting from her mastery of blending creativity and care into every lesson.
She is known for memorable lessons, like the annual transformation of her R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy second-grade classroom into a restaurant for a “Book Tasting,” and class pen-pal projects with college athletes. She also is known for her deep awareness of the value of social and emotional learning, exemplified through her work with R.M. Moore’s Men of Distinction program – also known as MOD Squad – through which fourth- and fifth-grade boys in need of a mentor are paired up with a Reinhardt University football player.
In her own words: “I believe in transforming students’ learning in the same way I transform my classroom. I hope to empower my students to go out and eagerly share their gifts and knowledge with the world.”
River Ridge High School: Ansley Sand
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, River Ridge High School Teacher of the Year Ansley Sand and former Principal Dr. Kerry Martin.
River Ridge High School Teacher of the Year Ansley Sand impresses the not-so-easily impressed: gifted high school students.
She’s guided them to learning break-throughs, as well as to perfect AP exam scores, in AP Psychology and AP World History … and is so revered that students successfully lobbied for Ms. Sand to teach them AP European History as well.
“A great teacher can engage students of all abilities and backgrounds in learning, and an excellent teacher can do so to the degree that his or her students will repeatedly desire to learn more and develop their knowledge of the discipline, even if it means taking another rigor course during their senior year,” a former student said. “She is a mentor who cares and a teacher who is passionate.”
Now in her 12th year of teaching, Ms. Sand not only earned her school’s Teacher of the Year honor, she also was selected as one of the four finalists for the overall CCSD 2020 Teacher of the Year honor. These accolades follow a long list of honors including being named her school’s 2019 STAR Teacher and 2019 Valedictorian’s Honored Teacher.
In her own words: “My teaching goal is not just to teach the content to my students, but to create hardworking habits and efforts to last a lifetime and help make them successful in their future endeavors.”
Sequoyah High School: Tiffany Weck
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Sequoyah High School Teacher of the Year Tiffany Weck and Principal Bob Van Alstyne.
Sequoyah High School Teacher of the Year Tiffany Weck chose education as a second career to make a difference in the lives of special education students.
As a special education science teacher, she helps her students overcome their learning challenges to find success in her classroom. She helps them further through her role as a coach for CCSD’s CHOICE program at Sequoyah – a program that provides extra instruction, coaching and support to special education students who otherwise would not graduate on time.
“No two students are the same, and there is no cookie cutter mold in education that is going to help all students,” said Ms. Weck, a former chiropractor who is in her eighth year as an educator. “I strive to have a positive relationship with each student to gain the trust necessary before any learning can begin.”
Those relationships make a powerful difference, according to the mom of a student who has benefitted from Ms. Weck’s guidance.
“The transformation in my son as a direct result of Ms. Weck’s intervention and efforts is indescribable,” she said. “I have no doubt that she brings the same heart and dedication to each of her students and is impacting and changing lives, one student at a time, just as she has for our son.”
In her own words: “Each school year is a new opportunity to not only teach students, but to learn with the students how I can help them best.”
Sixes Elementary School: Katie Blanchard
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Sixes Elementary School Teacher of the Year Katie Blanchard and Principal Dr. Ashley Kennerly.
Sixes Elementary School Teacher of the Year Katie Blanchard heard her calling in a whisper.
She was a kindergartner in art class and vividly remembers what her teacher whispered in her ear: “You are an artist.”
This powerful message echoed in her mind whenever she struggled in school. “Knowing I had teachers who believed in me,” she said, “gave me the confidence to try, improve and eventually succeed in my weaker areas.”
She succeeded in fulfilling her dream of becoming an artist – and a teacher. The 13-year educator for the past five years has taught art at Sixes ES … and has whispered encouragement in many students’ ears.
“She takes the opportunity to meet students at their skill level and encourages them to advance without losing focus on the child and the social and emotional growth that comes from artistic expression,” shared a parent, who also has worked as an educator alongside Ms. Blanchard. “She builds a masterpiece in her classroom, in the school and in the hearts of those who know and work with her.”
In her own words: “I let my students know mistakes happen, but as an artist we problem solve our way through these mistakes. I instill confidence by encouraging a growth mindset and making my classroom a place where students are not afraid to make mistakes.”
Teasley Middle School: Scott Reece
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Teasley Middle School Teacher of the Year Scott Reece and former Principal Dr. Ben Lester.
Teasley Middle School Teacher of the Year Scott Reece over his 25 years in his profession has developed a reputation as an excellent educator.
He’s the one who can engage the most at-risk student, and the one who builds strong relationships with every colleague.
But Mr. Reece, who teaches technology and is a national LEGO Master Educator, fulfils an even more vital role at his school.
“The most important role Mr. Reece serves is by being the moral compass for students and staff,” said former Principal Dr. Ben Lester, who now oversees CCSD’s student support services. “Mr. Reece is driven to make a positive and long-lasting impact on the lives of our students and their families.”
His focus on serving the greatest needs has led Mr. Reece to advocate for programs like Raider Redemption and Club HERO, and to volunteer with his church, Scouts and The Christian Egner Foundation, which supports special needs students.
In his own words: “My role as an educator is so much more than just a teacher. I am a supporter of student discovery. I am an encourager of student trials. I am a helping hand when they fail.”
Tippens Education Center: Melinda Meadow
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Tippens Education Center Teacher of the Year Melinda Meadow and Principal Kimberly Barger.
Tippens Education Center Teacher of the Year Melinda Meadow teaches students who often struggle with communication.
As one mom shared, while her son could not tell Ms. Meadow what a positive difference she made in his life, she could see it. “He no longer hesitated to get on the bus each morning – he began running toward the bus,” the mom said. “I knew he’d finally equated ‘school’ with ‘happiness,’ and he had developed an eagerness for learning finally … we will forever be grateful for Ms. Meadow!”
Ms. Meadow, who began her education career 17 years ago and has earned a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis on autism spectrum disorders, is focused on advocating for special needs students and “giving a voice” to every child, including those who are nonverbal. Her colleagues see her not only as a mentor, but also an inspiration. “She teaches all of us,” a colleague said, “to give our best for our students, to wear a smile, to have faith, and to remember that the storms of life can often produce beautiful rainbows and new growth.”
In her own words: “The overall social emotional health of all students is so very important and promoting togetherness and likenesses helps everyone feel loved and respected.”
Woodstock Elementary School: Dillon Scott
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Woodstock ES Teacher of the Year Dillon Scott and former Principal Matt Freedman.
Woodstock Elementary School Teacher of the Year Dillon Scott’s lessons are inspired by his students’ curiosity.
The six-year educator, who leads classes in the school’s STEM lab, invites students to post sticky notes with questions – big and small – on a classroom board.
Real-world lessons spring from questions, like “What are those big walls on the side of the highway?” In response to that question, Mr. Scott developed a lesson on how sound travels, with students conducting experiments to hear sound waves echo off a guitar, string, and remote control cars. Students built barriers to stand behind and better understand how walls can absorb sound.
“He makes learning fun,” shared a former student who now is in sixth grade. “He makes cool projects for everyone to work on, and he designs them to where everyone has a part and no one is left out.”
Mr. Scott’s enthusiasm extends beyond his classroom, and the volunteer coordinator of the school’s Watch DOGS program for dads and other male family members has earned community honors including the Spirit of Kindness Award and the Going the Extra Mile Award.
In his own words: “I always encourage my students to question the science behind the world around them and allow them a safe space to explore something they are passionate about.”
Woodstock High School: Isobel Mason
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Woodstock HS Teacher of the Year Isobel Mason and Principal Mark Smith.
Woodstock High School Teacher of the Year Isobel Mason not only teaches graphic design, she also creates graphic design artists.
Numerous students over her 24 years in education have drafted successful careers in the field, citing her instruction and her encouragement as inspiration.
“She pushes and stretches her students because she sees the potential that each and every one of them have even when they don’t see it themselves, and she builds relationships and genuine friendships with just about everyone that walks through her doors,” said a former student, who now works in digital marketing. “She is the most hard-working, the most present, and the most humble person I have ever met.”
Ms. Mason, who has earned bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degrees in education, through her classes opens students’ eyes to their own talent and opportunities for a career in design, and fills their toolbox with real-world skills. “Every day,” said a former student, who now works as a graphic designer, “I use those skills Mrs. Mason taught me. All of her advice has led me to where I am, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
In her own words: “Don’t settle for mediocrity. Okay is not good enough.”
Woodstock Middle School: Jefferson Doyle
Celebrating at the 2020 Legacy Makers: CCSD Teachers of the Year Celebration are, from left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Woodstock MS Teacher of the Year Jefferson Doyle and Principal Michael Santoro.
Woodstock Middle School Teacher of the Year Jefferson Doyle leads his band students in their music lessons, and does so with excellence, but he also teaches them two “Rs”: respect and responsibility.
Mr. Doyle achieves this with carefully orchestrated lessons, honed over eight years in the profession and strengthened by his own continuing education including a master of music degree in conducting, and by modeling his own dedication to those ideals.
“I am always impressed with his dedication to his craft while connecting with middle school students in ways few teachers can,” said the late great David Harrison, who taught Mr. Doyle in middle and high school and then mentored him in his teaching career. “He is an outstanding teacher and he has the respect of his colleagues.”
Mr. Doyle also has earned the respect of his students and their families, who praise his willingness to mentor students and champion the inclusion of special needs students. “I have yet to meet a student who does not respect Mr. Doyle,” shared one parent, who added that her own child now is considering a career as a band director.
In his own words: “Awards pale in comparison to the opportunity to see my students leave my program with the responsibility of being part of something larger than themselves and representing their families and community well in public and in their homes.”