2021 Teacher of the Year School Winner Profiles
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! #CCSDfam
ACE Academy: Jeffrey Hutto
ACE Academy Teacher of the Year Jeffrey Hutto is on his second “tour of duty” there.
Mr. Hutto, a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, began teaching at the alternative middle and high school when it formerly was known as Crossroads, and then moved on to teach at a traditional CCSD middle school.
“It did not take him long to realize where the greatest need was for his gifts, talents and skills; but more importantly, where his heart was and where he needed to be – at ACE Academy,” Principal Richard Landolt said, adding he is grateful for Mr. Hutto and appreciates how his military service informs his teaching. “Regardless of our students’ situations, backgrounds and varying degrees of prior academic success, he reaches out to find ways to help them become successful.”
Mr. Hutto, now is his 23rd year as an educator, teaches ACE science classes, where he is known for his application of real-world lessons to teach science standards. Mr. Hutto “revitalized” the science department upon his return to ACE in 2012, one colleague shared, noting he also serves on committees to improve student services, including the student recognition committee, and created and sponsors the Gaming Club to help more students feel “involved and valued.”
In his own words: “My greatest accomplishment is being a small part of my students’ future success. They are an inspiration, as they have matured to become educators, engineers, musicians, technicians, business owners and parents.”
Arnold Mill ES: Debbie Baluch
Debbie Baluch’s path to becoming the Arnold Mill Elementary School Teacher of the Year began with her own children.
When her children enrolled in elementary school, Ms. Baluch started volunteering with the PTA and helping in classrooms. She enjoyed this service so much, she completed training to become a substitute teacher. Ms. Baluch found herself in high demand, as her calendar was filled daily with requests from teachers across the school district choosing her to take care of their students.
She had found her calling, and Ms. Baluch fulfilled it by earning a bachelor’s degree in education and accepting a teaching post. Nineteen years later, she also has earned master’s and specialist’s degrees … and the admiration of more than a generation of students, parents and colleagues.
“Every one of her students feels welcomed and important when stepping inside her classroom,” shared one of those former students. “Her hard work and attitude have undoubtedly impacted thousands of students’ lives for the better.”
Her students and colleagues alike point to Ms. Baluch’s love for her profession and dedication to not only teaching academics, but also her sincere care for each child, as to why she is so loved.
In her own words: “It is of paramount importance in our society today to get to know students better in order to teach the whole child. Accepting diversity and embracing it in this time helps me learn from my students and foster a learning environment that is better for my students.”
Avery ES: Alicia Thrower
Avery Elementary School teacher Alicia Thrower's students end their first grade year with a mastery of State standards and an even higher standard: kindness.
The 11-year educator has made kindness the foundation upon which she teaches, and just as core as reading, writing, math, science and social studies in every student’s learning experience.
Parents have shared with Ms. Thrower how meaningful this approach has been for their students, as they have seen the difference in their own children’s behavior. “She serves with a teacher’s heart,” a parent shared, “one that seeks to nurture, guide, and protect the many precious children entrusted to their care.”
Her approach also results in exceptional academic success, and Ms. Thrower is considered a school leader in improving students’ reading and writing skills. Her classroom is used as a school model for instruction, and she is regularly tapped to create schoolwide tools, pilot new programs and mentor young teachers.
In her own words: “If we all do our part to foster kindness in our youth, we can create a more empathetic culture, one where all students feel fully included, respected, valued and loved.”
Ball Ground ES STEM Academy: Jennie Allen
Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Jennie Allen knows every student at the school.
As the school’s PE teacher, Ms. Allen instructs every child on how to jump higher, run faster, and live healthier.
Her role is more than teaching students about physical fitness, sports and nutrition, as Ms. Allen’s lessons also teach students self-awareness, confidence and teamwork. Over her 27-year career, during which she now twice has been named Teacher of the Year, Ms. Allen has learned the names and hearts of thousands of students.
“She is able to build rapport with each of her students by truly getting to know them as individuals,” Principal Dr. Julie Dutko said. “All of our students look forward to her class because of the care she takes to know each of them and meet their social and emotional needs as well as physical needs. Throughout her classes, the students experience challenges that encourage teamwork, communication, physical fitness and fun. This is why many students identify her class as their favorite part of the day.”
Ms. Allen’s dedication to students extends beyond her classes, as she also sponsors the school’s running club and helped launch the school’s positive behavior program and its “game day” celebrations. Her care for overall wellness includes her colleagues as well, and she serves them as the school’s wellness ambassador and State Health Benefit Plan school representative.
In her own words: “It is important that students recognize their achievements and success through a positive learning experience. This kind of success can lead to confidence and discipline that can be applied to all areas of life.”
Bascomb ES: Suzy Gebhart
Bascomb Elementary School Teacher of the Year Suzy Gebhart loves a challenge.
She switches up the grade she teaches each year, fourth grade one year, fifth grade the next. She adds life skills, like balancing a checkbook, into lessons on academic standards. She models positivity, but also the importance of asking for help, learning from failure and extending empathy. Even before Digital Learning became every teacher’s job a year ago, Ms. Gebhart already had earned technology certifications and mastered instructional technology tools.
“She is eager to take whatever is thrown at her and run with it, because she just simply loves to teach,” one colleague shared.
This nimble enthusiasm served Ms. Gebhart, her students and her colleagues very well this past year with all of its challenges. She became the go-to for colleagues struggling to connect with Digital Learners online, and was called upon to serve on CCSD Digital Learning Leadership Team to share best practices with other teachers.
In her own words: “After 23 years of experience, my greatest accomplishment is exactly what I set out to do in this field: put the students first above all else. Look and teach to the individual and their needs and desires. Treat them as a human being and not a data point.”
Boston ES: Brenna Lloyd
Boston Elementary School Teacher of the Year Brenna Lloyd is known for her stellar student engagement skills.
This past school year, she upped her game, earning districtwide colleagues’ respect for her abilities to transform her classroom engagement techniques to fully connect with Digital Learning students online. She also earned the admiration of CCSD’s Teacher of the Year judges, who named her one of four finalists for the top honor.
“She is a model digital teacher,” Principal Valerie Lowery said. “Mrs. Lloyd believes in the power of engagement, so much in fact that she makes it a priority to visit each student in her class at home. She genuinely cares for each student and their academic needs, as well as their social and emotional ones.”
Facilitating morning meetings and eating lunch alongside her fourth-graders are among the many ways the 18-year educator exceeds expectations in building relationships with students, which is greatly appreciated by them and their parents.
“She makes me feel smart and important,” one student shared. “She even tells the class that she loves us, and we love her, too. Mrs. Lloyd is my favorite teacher ever.”
In her own words: “Students are more than just a vessel, waiting to be filled year after year. Students deserve and are looking to their teacher to help them embrace and face the challenges that will stand before them. Now, more than ever, students need a connection and someone who sees them.”
CCSD Preschool Centers: Megan Vogel
Megan Vogel teaches her students to be “bucket fillers,” who make others’ lives better by filling their “buckets” with love, kindness and respect.
The 13-year educator has earned a master’s degree, her experience teaching Special Education students ranges from preschool to middle school … and she is an expert “bucket filler.”
“It was evident how much she truly cared for our child,” one parent shared. “She went above and beyond at every turn, and she didn’t just teach our child, she helped him to feel safe, to feel loved, to succeed, and to thrive during an extremely challenging year. We will forever be grateful to her.”
Ms. Vogel’s dedication to every child she teaches and cares for at the Ralph Bunche Center, where she has worked for the past two years, led to her selection as the CCSD Preschool Centers Teacher of the Year. Ms. Vogel is renowned among Special Education educators throughout CCSD for her successes at the preschool centers and her previous tenure at Dean Rusk Middle School, for sharing her best practices and for helping develop new initiatives and resources.
“She has a constant desire to improve her craft,” CCSD Preschool Centers Principal Debbie Ritter said. “She teaches her students to strive for excellence, be kind, and develop a love of learning. She influences all of us, her colleagues, to give our best to the students, have faith, and remember we can weather any storm to produce rainbows and new growth.”
In her own words: “Tomorrow’s society will be more inclusive and innovative if schools facilitate meaningful conversations and listen.”
Carmel ES: Bill Barsh
Carmel Elementary School has its own “Mister Rogers,” and his name is Bill Barsh.
Mr. Barsh, according to Principal Kim Hagood, shares the same kind helper spirit as the legendary public television educator, and is just as beloved by his students, their parents and his colleagues.
“He believes in the potential of every student – a student is not broken, just unformed at the moment,” she said of the 22-year art teacher and Teacher of the Year. “He always has words of kindness and encouragement, and he disciplines with love and gentleness.”
A highly trained art educator, who has earned bachelor’s, masters and a specialist degree in his field, Mr. Barsh skillfully blends important lessons in communications and culture with the joy of creating art in every medium imaginable.
Beyond his classroom lessons, Mr. Barsh helps lead the “Man’s Lunch” program, designed to empower boys struggling at school or at home through building connections with the school’s male teachers, and the Check In/Check Out program that provides daily mentorship time to students in need of additional support.
Colleagues say his servant leadership makes them proud to call Mr. Barsh a colleague, mentor, friend and neighbor. “I’m incredibly grateful for his positive influence in my own children’s lives,” said one colleague, who also is a Carmel parent.
In his own words: “Investing in students’ education and their community awareness is a direct investment in the community I love.”
Cherokee HS: Dr. Jodi Burn
Cherokee High School Teacher of the Year Dr. Jodi Burn sees star power in every student.
As the school’s theatre teacher, she matches students to roles onstage and backstage, but her greatest talent, according to students, parents and colleagues, is helping every student shine in their daily life.
“She pushes each of ‘her kids’ to be their best,” one parent shared. “She nurtures their creative side, encourages them to be true to themselves, and then supports who they are. The amount of support she gives them is incredible.”
Dr. Burn, a 24-year educator beginning her eighth year in her current role, wins rave reviews from her colleagues and earned the honor of CCSD Teacher of the Year Finalist from the recognition program’s judging committee.
Through her dedication to the drama program, it has grown to offer students more opportunities for participation in performances, community service, competition and leadership. Participation now tops 150 students, and the schedule of shows has doubled to as many as eight a year.
“It is obvious Dr. Burn believes her position of educator does not begin and end at her classroom door,” one colleague shared. “She is a truly unique and remarkable teacher who gives her best to all tasks, and faces each day with an open heart, mind and spirit.”
In her own words: “I base my program on the teaching principles of building a family within the classroom walls. In the theatre, students must work together. They must encourage and lift one another up, and at no time should a student feel unwanted or neglected. The theatre is a safe place – everyone has a place.”
Clayton ES: Jada Hanson
Clayton Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jada Hanson remembers when a teacher changed her life for the first time.
Her family moved to another community, and she was the new girl at school at age 9. She missed her friends and the teachers she’d always known. But she soon felt better thanks to the kindness of her new teachers, especially Ms. Long, who taught her how to find joy in reading.
Knowing firsthand the positive difference a teacher can make in a child’s life, Ms. Hanson dedicated herself to becoming not only the best teacher she could be in delivering high-quality instruction, but also in showing great care.
One former student, who now is serving in the U.S. Navy, said Ms. Hanson deserves all the gold stars. “She holds the distinction as the most influential and supportive educator from which I have had the honor of learning,” he said. “She truly sees potential in her students and strives to start a fire in their being that fosters a love a learning.”
Now beginning her 18th year as an educator, and her 16th as a fifth-grade teacher at Clayton, Ms. Hanson is a two-time Teacher of the Year winner, as well as a Golden Apple Teacher and a Fivestones Action Team Leadership Achievement Award recipient. She has earned a master’s degree in her field and numerous academic and technology certifications and is a mentor to her colleagues.
In her own words: “As students enter the door to my classroom, they will see the bright purple words ‘Choose Kindness’ lacquered to the door as a daily mindset reminder than kindness matters and is a choice.”
Creekland MS: Liesl New
Creekland Middle School Teacher of the Year Liesl New makes history relevant for her eighth-grade students by connecting them to it.
As part of one such lesson, students read aloud the play based on Anne Frank’s diary and then step into a taped off area the size of a box car. Standing inside this small area together, they’re asked to imagine how Anne and other Holocaust victims felt as they travelled to concentration camps. The students follow this experience by researching someone who saved at least one life from the Holocaust and creating a written and digital project to share with the class.
“They are deeply engaged in this unit overall,” the 17-year teacher said. “They will not soon forget the stories of courage, survival and optimism amidst despair. My hope is that these students will not become bystanders, but will feel empowered by the knowledge that they may embrace individual differences and not hesitate to help others whenever possible.”
A former student, who now is in high school, said Ms. New’s classes not only made history more important to her, they also made her love school again. Her favorite experience was a “Shark Tank”-style project through which students create their own business. It’s part of a lesson on Alonzo Herndon, a Georgia man born into slavery who, once emancipated, worked to become a successful businessman and one of the first Black millionaires in the United States.
“Mrs. New loves her content and spends time outside of the classroom finding ways to help students connect to their learning,” a colleague shared. “She cares about the students and genuinely wants them to become lifelong learners.”
In her own words: “Make learning meaningful by connecting it to the here and now. Make it real, relevant and applicable to students’ lives whenever possible.”
Creekview HS: Morgan Hudson
Creekview High School Teacher of the Year Morgan Hudson brings history to life for her students through technology.
Now in her eighth year of teaching AP U.S. History, Ms. Hudson leverages significant training in instructional technology to benefit her students. She’s a Microsoft Innovator Educator (MIE) Expert, the next-level designation for tech-savvy educators, and an MIE Trainer and Flipgrid Ambassador. She earned a master’s degree in instructional technology and an online teaching endorsement, plus a specialist in education degree in curriculum and instruction, all from Kennesaw State University.
This knowledge translates into unique engaging experiences for students like virtual field trips to the Minute Man Missile Silos guided by a National Park Ranger and one-on-one conversations with World War II veterans by video-conference.
This skillset is only one of the ways Ms. Hudson has distinguished herself at Creekview, as she also is known as an outstanding mentor to students who seek her guidance long after they finish her class.
“She genuinely cares for her students’ well being by investing her knowledge and experiences into each and every one of her pupils,” shared a former student, who now is studying political science at the University of Georgia and credits Ms. Hudson for cultivating her interest in social studies. “She is always available to anyone seeking advice or just a safe, friendly place to visit. Mrs. Hudson gives students the greatest gift – her time.”
In her own words: “I want to make a difference, be the change, teach students and inspire future teachers. To me, being a teacher is more than just a career choice, it is my calling. I consider myself lucky to wake up each day and go to a job I love.”
Dean Rusk MS: Laura Herrera
Dean Rusk Middle School Teacher of the Year Laura Herrera sees her role as preparing students for future success in life.
The 15-year educator teaches social studies, and finds opportunity at every turn to incorporate real-world experiences and life skills.
Students fill our real job applications from local employers, seeing firsthand the expectations they will one day need to fulfil to gain employment. They then participate in mock job interviews, with a focus on the full process from dressing well to being prepared to answer questions to hearing they didn’t get the job … and learning how to improve for the next opportunity. In another lesson, students learn public speaking skills and practice by preparing and presenting a speech as the “spokesperson” for the career field or college that most interests them.
A colleague shared that Ms. Herrera always remind her that the students “are the reason we’re here” as teachers. “All her decisions and actions are driven by what will be best for them,” her colleague shared. “She is a master teacher whose influence can never be measured as it will keep spreading and never be erased.”
In her own words: “It is important for me to teach content and standards to my students, but it is of the utmost importance to prepare them for real life situations. Students must recognize that there is not only one way to be successful – there are many ways for students to make a difference in this world.”
E.T. Booth MS: Cathy Fernandez
In the hands of E.T. Booth Middle School Teacher of the Year Cathy Fernandez, even a Rubik’s Cube becomes a social studies lesson.
Now in her 15th year as an educator, Ms. Fernandez takes the familiar puzzle and turns its colorful origin story in her hands until it’s solved into a lesson about the former Soviet Union and its control over countries including Hungary (where the Cube’s inventor lived), command economics and globalization. The lesson culminates with a class six-week challenge to solve an actual Cube, with a “Wall of Fame” for completers.
“This lesson demonstrates the power of making content relative to students,” said Ms. Fernandez, who also was named a Cherokee County School District Teacher of the Year Finalist. “It provided students with a way to grasp our content standard, learn how to set goals, deal with frustration, work together, read and follow directions and celebrate success.”
Not only is blending social studies and relevant applications a skillset in her toolbox, so is her ability to integrate STEM learning and instructional technology into social studies and her agility in differentiating lessons to meet the needs of learners of all levels in her sixth-grade classes. “She is able to make connections with students in ways that transcend the curriculum,” Principal Todd Sharrock said.
Her peers see Ms. Fernandez as a role model and mentor, and she brings considerable education and experience to the table, having earned master’s and education specialist degrees and Microsoft Innovator Educator certification, as well as honors including Social Studies Teacher of the Year for Pinellas County, Fla. prior to joining CCSD in 2017.
In her own words: “I aim to have my students complete the school year with not only mastering the standards, but also mastering those standards with tools that will assist them in other content areas and in the real world. I do not want my students to rely on rote memorization, but rather to know what happened in the past, why it happened, how it connected with other events, how the events relate to their personal lives, and accomplish all of those things using 21st Century skills.”
Etowah HS: Joshua Saye
Over his 19 years as an art teacher, Etowah High School Teacher of the Year Joshua Saye has created many masterpieces.
He’s sparked students’ interest in art and fostered their talent into lifelong pursuits and careers. He’s coached students to success on the football field, track and wrestling mats. He’s guided parents and teachers through 504 medical and learning disability plans to help students overcome challenges to be as successful as possible. He’s created a tangible masterpiece in the form of the school’s 9/11 Memorial, a campus centerpiece that reminds the school community daily, through art, of the day’s tragic losses and heroes.
And he’s made the lives of countless students and colleagues better due to his positive influence.
As one student shared, Mr. Saye is deserving of recognition not only as an outstanding teacher, but as an outstanding person. “He possesses a unique ability to make everyone in his classroom feel welcomed and accepted.”
The first in his family to earn a high school diploma, Mr. Saye recognized early on the opportunity learning offered him and now works to light the same spark in his students’ hearts and minds. “He has saved students just by being himself every day in the classroom and in the halls,” a colleague shared. “He is a reminder of the positive impact teachers can have upon students, and the positive impact teachers can have upon one another.”
In his own words: “Today’s students need to see teachers as explorers of knowledge, and teachers need to have the courage to open their hearts and allow students to ‘see’ them. Teach and encourage students to have the courage to believe in themselves and accept the challenges of life no matter how lofty their goals are.”
Free Home ES: Katie Garrison
Free Home Elementary School Teacher of the Year Katie Garrison heard the calling to become a teacher as a student volunteer at Vacation Bible School.
After taking a biology course in college, she thought her path had diverged toward a career in science or math and, upon graduation, she felt torn. When she ran into her former third-grade teacher, Ms. Garrison knew the perfect answer … she would teach science and math!
Now in her eighth year as a teacher, Ms. Garrison is known among her colleagues as a “teacher of teachers,” who develops master lesson plans and seeks greater knowledge, which she then shares, to implement best practices ranging from real-world applications of standards to blending instructional technology. A Service League of Cherokee County member, Ms. Garrison also is known among her colleagues, students and their parents for her kindness and the positive relationships she fosters with every student.
“I think anyone would agree that it takes a special person to teach,” shared one parent, whose children are former students of Ms. Garrison and who has served as a substitute teacher and seen her in action. “For exceptional teachers, this profession is not just a job; it is a calling. It is a calling for those who want to make a difference. It is a calling for those who want to enrich others, not just themselves. It is a selfless calling. Mrs. Garrison exemplifies all of the qualities of an exceptional teacher.”
In her own words: “My accomplishments in education are measured by how I make connections with my students and how they feel coming into my classroom. I believe it is important to know my students as individuals. I get to know their dislikes, interests, family members and extra-curricular activities. Making an effort to show you care makes the biggest impact on students.”
Freedom MS: Dr. Chad Barner
Freedom Middle School Teacher of the Year Dr. Chad Barner has conducted his own science experiment for the past 28 years.
The veteran science teacher has tested, and tested again and again, best practices for instruction. He has proven true his hypothesis: students benefit most from a teacher who continues his or her own learning to continuously improve their lessons and skills.
Dr. Barner, who continued his professional development to earn both master’s and doctorate degrees in education from Georgia State University, sees the positive impact of this research in his students’ work and attitudes every day. By making the effort to determine how different students learn best and by mastering those different teaching methods, Dr. Barner has not only taught science exceptionally well, he’s also inspired students to become scientists and to become teachers just like him.
“While it’s unlikely that stalagmite and stalactite lessons are what began an itch for my science love, it was undoubtedly the passion with which Dr. Barner taught,” shared a former student, who is now a teacher. “I will be forever grateful for the role he played in my life. He taught me so much more than he was required to do.”
Dr. Barner sees his role as extending beyond the classroom, frequently mentoring students and colleagues and volunteering in the community and through mission work. He hopes, upon retiring from CCSD, to continue serving students and public education by instructing future science teachers at the university level.
In his own words: “While giving a voice to individuals and treating them with respect does not solve every educational and societal issue, it does create a personal connection with kids that have the potential within themselves to one day change society.”
Hasty ES Fine Arts Academy: Cristin Bell
Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy Teacher of the Year Cristin Bell comes from a long line of educators … not for just one or two generations – but since the 1800s.
While teaching flows from the roots to the leaves of her family tree, Ms. Bell first worked in banking and as a School District secretary and technology specialist before heeding the call she long had heard to follow in the family business.
For the last 15 years, she’s followed her calling to teach, which colleagues, parents and former students attest is her true path … and that they’re incredibly grateful for the positive difference she’s made by following it.
“She is an overcomer, a problem-solver, an innovator and a dynamic faculty member,” one colleague shared. “She teaches her students to strive for excellence, love learning and respect each other.”
Considered a master teacher and mentor by her colleagues, Ms. Bell, who teaches English Language Arts, also is renowned for her support of school extra-curricular programs. Director for the Hasty Drama Club and Reading Bowl coach have been among her extra hats. “Ms. Bell’s approach to both activities allows students of all abilities to grow as young people, setting them up for strong futures,” shared a parent of a former student. “We are so thankful for the two years our son spent with Ms. Bell. He is a better person because of that.”
In her own words: “I feel great pride when students can feel connected and engaged within the classroom. When students are happy to come to school and are willing to trust me with the process of their learning, I am successful.”
Hickory Flat ES: Rebecca Wooten
Hickory Flat Elementary School Teacher of the Year Rebecca Wooten teaches students who face significant challenges completing tasks most people take for granted.
As a teacher of children with autism, Ms. Wooten doesn’t want her students “to be pitied nor brushed aside,” but wants them to be treated like every other student. Encouraged, respected, valued.
“They all have strengths and talents and can make the world a better place,” said Ms. Wooten, a 20-year Special Education teacher.
Ms. Wooten fosters this in her own classroom with real-world lessons and setting high expectations -- and she has engaged her whole school. Through developing a Friends Club for Adapted PE, the first of its kind in CCSD, Ms. Wooten recruited peers to buddy up in PE classes with students with special needs. The peer helpers model motor skills and social behaviors. The program has expanded to engagement in other classes and recess, and it’s grown in popularity at Hickory Flat and districtwide through duplication at other CCSD schools.
“The greatest outcome of this program are the lasting friendships that are made between all students,” shared one of CCSD’s Adapted PE teachers, noting Ms. Wooten also is a dedicated supporter of Cherokee County Special Olympics. “She is a teacher who is truly dedicated to her students.”
Ms. Wooten, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degree in her field, also is dedicated to her colleagues through sharing best practices and serving two times as president of CCSD’s chapter of the Alpha Delta Kappa teachers organization.
In her own words: “As teachers, we have a tremendous responsibility on our shoulders. Our students look to us, not only for knowledge, but for love and acceptance.”
Holly Springs ES STEM Academy: Paula Neubert
Holly Springs Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Paula Neubert sees her greatest accomplishment in the lasting relationships she builds with students.
Through those relationships, she can trace her 19-year career’s impact, especially in her former students who become teachers themselves … including one who also was named a 2021 Teacher of the Year at a CCSD school!
“Paula is the type of teacher who truly cares about her students -- she is loved by her students, her peers and all who interact with her,” a longtime colleague said about Ms. Neubert, who this year began teaching at Dean Rusk MS. “She sets exceptionally high standards and expectations for them and pushes her students to reach those standards.”
She builds relationships with students in class and through extra-curricular activities she has led at Holly Springs and at her previous school, E.T. Booth Middle School, including coaching cheerleading and sponsoring Junior Beta and other service and leadership clubs. Another example of her lasting influence is the annual Veterans Day Program she developed with the Junior Leadership club at E.T. Booth.
Ms. Neubert also fosters strong relationships with her colleagues, serving in roles including grade level team leader, department chair, school committee member, School Council member, and teacher mentor. “She is personable, professional and well-respected by her peers,” her former Principal said. “Her classroom serves as a model learning environment where ideas are just the beginning, and all are excited to learn.”
In her own words: “My teaching philosophy is the belief that all students can learn if they are engaged in meaningful activities and discussions.”
Johnston ES: Meredith Peacock
The best elementary school “specials” teachers possess special skills. Not only do they teach electives that require special knowledge, they also must develop lessons and instructional methods to reach all students in the school, across all grades and abilities.
Johnston Elementary School Teacher of the Year Meredith Peacock is one of these special “specials” teachers, according to colleagues, parents and students, who praise her success in teaching music, and growing a love of music, among her students.
“Her students linger on her every word and are so authentically and physically engaged in her music class that they do not even realize they are learning,” the Principal shared.
Now in her sixth year of teaching, Ms. Peacock, since being named Teacher of the Year, married (she is formerly Ms. Dayoub), and earned her master’s degree in music education and level three certification in Orff-Schulwerk music education. She is dedicated to collaborating with colleagues, including as leader of the school’s teacher mentor group.
A former student, now in sixth grade, praised Ms. Peacock for six top traits: making lessons enjoyable; supporting her students; accepting her students; challenging her students; her dedication to teaching; and how she bonds with students. “She is truly someone who I can trust.”
In her own words: “The unbreakable connections I make and maintain with students during their time at Johnston and after they have moved to middle school are my proudest contributions.”
Knox ES STEM Academy: Jill Oliver
Knox ES STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Jill Oliver sees herself as a cheerleader for her students -- not only to boost their self-esteem, but also in hopes that they will learn to cheer for others.
Her dedication to mutual respect is as blended and embedded in her instructional style as the technology and technique she uses with great expertise. This dedication extends beyond her classroom to her colleagues, who know her as an outstanding encourager, mentor and friend. She lived and breathed #BeKind before it became a schoolwide campaign … and then she won the school’s 2019 #BeKind Award.
“Of all the things that make Jill an outstanding teacher, her kind heart and loving ways are what allow her to connect with and best teach struggling students,” a colleague shared. “The same qualities that make Jill an outstanding teacher also make her an incredible colleague.”
Now in her 14th year as an educator, Ms. Oliver teaches reading, writing and math to students who need extra support through the Early Intervention Program or the English for Speakers of Other Languages program. She has earned a master’s degree in her field and accolades for her volunteerism as a parent and as a teacher, and is a strong supporter of the school’s Make a Change Club.
In her own words: “Many of my students have known life as I have never known it. They carry burdens of neglect and hunger as well as the feeling of being unloved. Where is their hope? Their hope lies in dedicated and loving teachers. We meet their challenges every day by providing hope when seemingly there is no hope. How? We respond with love, attention, compassion and an understanding heart.”
Liberty ES: Tracy Wagoner
Liberty Elementary School 2021 Teacher of the Year Tracy Wagoner has been a teacher for her whole life.
When her baby sister was born, Ms. Wagoner, as a little girl, decided she would teach her everything she knew. Her sister was born with Down Syndrome, and helping her overcome her challenges inspired Ms. Wagoner’s career … not only to become a teacher, but to become the kindest and most caring teacher possible.
Ms. Wagoner, who retired at the end of last school year after 34 years of service, built the career she dreamed of, as students, parents and colleagues alike stand quick to testify to the positive difference she made in their lives. She began her teaching career in Bergen, N.Y. and taught in Illinois and North Carolina before joining Liberty Elementary’s faculty in 2002.
While at Liberty, Ms. Wagoner embraced its service learning and #BeKind initiatives and was named Teacher of the Month six times.
“She has dedicated her life to the education of young people. She has touched the lives of thousands of students and, for my two children, she touched their broken hearts, held them in her arms and walked them through the single most traumatic event in their adolescence,” shared a parent of two of her former students, whose father passed away when they were very young. “I’ve heard it said that ‘Teaching is love in its purest form.’ That is exactly why Tracy Wagoner should be and is our Teacher of the Year.”
In her own words: “The rewards a teacher receives are many. The ones that mean the most don’t cost money. The look on students’ faces when they finally understand a skill they have been struggling with is just one of them. The hugs from students when they enter the classroom is another.”
Little Elementary ES: Stephanie Telaro
Little Elementary School Teacher of the Year Stephanie Telaro knows firsthand the struggles some of her students face.
As a child, her family moved from Montreal to Acworth, and she began school there only knowing to read and write French and with additional learning differences.
Her second-grade teacher “poured so much into me and went above and beyond to help develop my skills,” shared Ms. Telaro, adding that she continued to struggle academically for years, but succeeded thanks to supportive teachers.
“When teaching,” said Ms. Telaro, now in her seventh year teaching elementary schoolers, “I try to always remember what it felt like to be confused and scared. I never want a student to feel frightened to make mistakes, but to feel confident in them and be able to learn from the fall.”
That great care for her students is felt by them and their parents, and positively influences her colleagues as well. “She treats every single student like they are her priority,” shared a parent, whose child with autism was in Ms. Telaro’s co-taught class and benefitted from her compassion and understanding of learning differences. “I cannot sign her praises enough.”
In her own words: “I feel that my greatest contribution to education so far has been my ability to empathize with the struggle. I remember what it was like to be that child, and strive to make all of my students feel successful.”
Macedonia ES: Robin Ballew
Macedonia Elementary School Teacher of the Year Robin Ballew from a young age felt called to teach, especially children with special needs.
After earning her degree in early childhood education, Ms. Ballew began teaching preschool and started her own family.
When her son was born with special needs, Ms. Ballew experienced firsthand the journey of parents of children who need Special Education services. Through her own experience, she found her career path. Now in her 21st year as a Special Education teacher, in both co-taught and resource settings, Ms. Ballew has guided hundreds of students and their parents on their own journey. She has earned master’s and specialist degrees and the respect of her students, their parents and her colleagues as a knowledgeable and experienced educator with a deep and personal care for her students’ success in the classroom -- and in life.
“Ms. Ballew lives and breathes research-based strategies daily while working with her students with special needs,” one of her former Principals shared. “She comes in early and stays late to ensure each student receives everything they need to learn and grow in a safe and supportive environment.”
As another former Principal shared: “She seems to always magically find the right strategy to turn her students’ attitudes from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can.’ Because she believes in them and provides strategies for them to be able to access the curriculum, they believe in themselves.”
In her own words: “I make sure my teaching uses real-life scenarios that students can apply in the community. I want my students to be prepared to be an asset to their families and the community.”
Mill Creek MS: Ryan Brumbelow
Mill Creek Middle School Teacher of the Year Ryan Brumbelow is “that” teacher, according to his colleagues, who makes connecting with his students look easy.
The 14-year teacher excels at the challenging craft of making science lessons interest even the most disinterested middle schoolers, and in engaging them in one of the many extra-curricular activities he helps lead like the Lego League robotics team, the Technology Club and the 4-H Club.
“He develops positive and meaningful relationships with students,” his Principal shared. “He succeeds in building these relationship through his ability to make content meaningful and relevant to real life experiences. He also demonstrates that he genuinely cares for students and their well-being, which is evident in the time he spends outside of class helping to sponsor clubs.”
Mr. Brumbelow also is a leader among his peers, representing them on the School Council, serving as the school’s Digital Learning leader and CCSD Discovery Education STEM initiative teacher, and mentoring and supporting colleagues. “He is much more than a teacher,” one colleague shared, “he is a magician, and he is my friend.”
In his own words: “Education does not end in the classroom. Through clubs and competitive teams, students can use the knowledge they have gained and further that knowledge in various ways.”
Mountain Road ES: Jenny Sullivan
One of Mountain Road Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jenny Sullivan’s former students put it best:
“I have learned from teachers all over the world. I have learned in private schools and public schools. I have learned in international schools with international teachers. Mrs. Sullivan is one of the best teachers I have ever learned from. Mrs. Sullivan is more than a teacher overall; she is a friend to me and anyone she teaches.”
Ms. Sullivan, who this school year moved to Knox Elementary School STEM Academy where she teaches second grade, began her teaching career six years ago. She quickly has become well-respected among students, parents and colleagues. She has been tapped to serve on curriculum writing committees and to participate in the Superintendent’s Leadership Academy, has earned her master’s degree and educational leadership certification and is pursuing a doctorate degree. A Microsoft Innovative Educator and Common Sense digital citizenship certified educator, Ms. Sullivan is known for her talent in blending technology into classroom learning and served last school year as a Digital Learning teacher.
“She is the teacher everyone turns to for help with anything related to technology,” her former Principal said, noting she also is a creative and caring educator and a rising teacher leader. “She is the best of the best.”
In her own words: “I know I’ve done my job as an educator when my students learn how to be compassionate, innovative and life-long learners.”
Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy Teacher: Christy Cook
Oak Grove Elementary School officially made its transition from Fine Arts Academy to STEAM Academy this school year, and 2021 Teacher of the Year Christy Cook helped lead that change.
The 15-year teacher took on her current role as the school’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) lab teacher five years ago, and during that time has educated her students and colleagues about the connections between the arts and the sciences.
“Her dedication and commitment to growing the STEAM culture of our school is like no other,” her Principal shared, adding this complements her talents as a classroom teacher. “Her ability to connect, motivate and inspire each of her students proves she possesses the key qualities of an effective and authentic educator.”
Ms. Cook succeeds by seeking real-world problems and giving students the opportunity to “help them see they can be a part of real solutions.” One example: the “Trash to Treasure” lesson that tasks students with identifying how they can reduce their impact on Earth’s resources. Students collect recyclables, craft new products from them - like crocheting plastic into a purse, then create iMovies to advertise their products.
In her own words: “My greatest contribution to education has been to instill in students a curiosity for learning and show them mistakes are meant to be made, learned from and worked on. Allowing students to ‘fail safely’ helps them build their sense of perseverance when attending to a task.”
R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy: Patty Corneillie
Hundreds of former students are better readers thanks to the dedication of R.M. Moore Elementary School STEM Academy 2021 Teacher of the Year Patty Corneillie.
An 18-year educator, Ms. Corneillie is in her eighth year as an early intervention program teacher, focusing her expertise and enthusiasm on guiding struggling readers to success. An advocate of reading independence, Ms. Corneillie develops lessons using research based instructional strategies in small group settings, monitored through biweekly assessments to gauge progress and adjust tactics. She pairs this approach with the Reading Buddies program she began seven years ago at Canton Elementary School and brought with her to R.M. Moore.
Through Reading Buddies, first graders who need additional support pair up with an older student, including fifth-graders and students from neighboring Reinhardt University, or a community volunteer. In the morning before classes begin, the pairs meet up for the first grader to read a book, selected by Ms. Corneillie to assist in their reading skills development, to their Buddy. After reading 10 books, the student earns an incentive donated by community partners. Not only does the program build enthusiasm for reading, but it also has led to increases in students’ reading levels and reading comprehension scores … and the program since has been duplicated in other CCSD schools.
Her excellence as a master reading teacher and dedication in developing Reading Buddies is complemented by her devotion to mentoring new teachers. “She believes in building meaningful relationships with everyone she meets,” her Principal shared. “She is loved by her students, respected and adored by her colleagues and admired by her administrative team.”
In her own words: “My vision is that, through reading success, the doors to every child’s future will open.”
River Ridge HS: Autumn Hamilton
River Ridge High School 2021 Teacher of the Year Autumn Hamilton is “not just an English teacher,” according to her students.
She’s an innovator, who connects Dante’s Inferno to baking a nine-layer devil’s food cake. Her willingness to listen and offer advice leads many students to affectionately call her “mom.” And she’s an advocate, who encourages her students’ success at school and in the world, whether nominating them for the prestigious Governor’s Honors program or supporting their efforts to create a poetry club.
“Sometimes, all it takes is one educator to change everything,” shared a former student, who now is studying at Yale University and plans to become an English teacher like Ms. Hamilton. “She is not just a teacher. She is the teacher. The teacher that every student hopes for, misses and loves.”
Now in her 14th year as an educator, Ms. Hamilton is not only beloved by her students, she’s also recognized by her colleagues as a model teacher and mentor and called upon to assist with developing districtwide English curriculum. A Golden Apple Award winner and 2016 Georgia English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Teacher, Ms. Hamilton has earned bachelor’s, master’s and specialist degrees in education as well as ESOL and Gifted certifications. She sponsors school clubs, including National Honor Society, and began a peer tutoring program that pairs struggling students with classmates willing to help them during their shared lunch period.
In her own words: “My top priority for my students is to be sure that they never feel like data points. I devote my time to learning about my students and exploring ways to meet their needs.”
Sequoyah HS: Travis King
Sequoyah High School 2021 Teacher of the Year Travis King makes a positive impact on his students’ lives in the classroom, on the field and throughout their lives.
The 12-year social studies teacher and multi-sport coach, who most recently served as assistant softball coach, is known for his dedication to crafting engaging lessons, building relationships with students and their parents, and supporting and mentoring colleagues.
His excellence in teaching Advanced Placement Psychology led to such student demand that the program has grown to multiple instructors.
“He teaches his classes from the heart,” a former student shared. “From using popular movies such as ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’ to demonstrate different sociological principles and archetypes, to always having a new set of developmental milestones to go over as his daughter became a popular figure in our class, Coach King is able to keep subject matter relevant and intriguing, no matter the student’s interest. I still remember the different psychological basics I learned in his course and am applying them in my nursing studies now.”
A parent, whose daughter was in Coach King’s class and a member of the junior varsity basketball team he coached, said there aren’t enough words to express all the good he does in his students’ lives. “He encourages his students to think for themselves, and through his class, he taught them to think for themselves and to have a desire to understand the world around them.”
In his own words: “It’s all about teaching the whole student … helping them grow as a person, as an individual, and meeting and connecting with them on an individual basis.”
Sixes ES: Jessica Jones
Sixes Elementary School 2021 Teacher of the Year Jessica Jones understands her students’ struggles on a personal level.
The 20-year teacher, whose current Early Intervention Program role is focused on ensuring every child becomes an independent reader by second grade, overcame learning differences as a child and guided her own children through similar challenges.
Also during her childhood, Ms. Jones heard the call to be a teacher and knew she would be a teacher who would help students like herself. “I decided then to make it my mission for every student I taught to feel like they were the absolute best.”
Her students, their families and her colleagues all agree she has lived up to that childhood dream as a caring teacher who flawlessly blends reading, rigor and relationships. Not only do her students feel her encouragement, but coupled with her expertise, it leads them to reading success.
In her classroom, children with a range of academic abilities, but who all struggle with reading, overcome their challenges through her creative lessons … from book clubs focused on student-selected titles to writing scripts for videos about their favorite sport or hobby. “I have never met another teacher like Mrs. Jones,” one parent shared. “She makes nonreaders into readers … she empowers them, which is evident through their writing. Her unique way of teaching and her kindness outside the classroom helped my son love school.”
In her own words: “As an advocate for academic rigor, high achievement and time on task, I also believe educators must make time for social and emotional learning. If we can support students and teachers socially and emotionally, we can improve academic achievement.”
Teasley MS: Beth DuLong
Teasley Middle School 2021 Teacher of the Year Beth DuLong loves reading. She loves helping students improve their ability to read and increase their enthusiasm for reading even more.
“When we can’t read, the opportunities around us become limited as does our vision of what could potentially be,” said the 21-year educator, who teaches seventh-grade literature and composition. “Being well read contributes to being successful academically, socially and personally. It is one of the greatest gifts.”
Ms. DuLong not only dedicates herself to literacy during the classes she teaches, but also after school through her sponsorship of the school’s TOME Student Literary Society, which last year earned Superior Chapter of the Year at the statewide competition, and reading bowl team, which recently placed third at the CCSD Middle School Reading Bowl.
Students, parents and colleagues praise Ms. DuLong for building positive relationships with students that encourage both their academic success and them as individuals overall. “Mrs. DuLong was a lifesaver,” a former student shared. “She made me find my love for reading again and was able to help me find an escape from the chaos of the world. She taught me to search for the truth in what I was reading through finding credible sources, which has helped me more as an adult to tackle my understanding of the world around me. She made me feel comfortable being who I am.”
In her own words: “I am passionate about helping students find their way, especially in the often-turbulent middle school years. I love to expose them to literature and learning opportunities that help them see themselves, understand the world around them, and know they are loved and they can be successful.”
Tippens EC: Maggie Power
Tippens Education Center 2021 Teacher of the Year Maggie Power’s students are small, but face big challenges.
As a teacher for elementary school students struggling with emotional and behavioral issues, Ms. Power teaches children who can be physically aggressive and threatening to others and themselves.
Calling upon her experience as a 16-year educator, Ms. Power helps students overcome these behaviors to make academic, emotional and social progress and potentially return to their regular CCSD school. Through her development and use of a daily morning meeting, students better learn new coping skills, set goals and grow together as a class.
“We were at a loss with what to do with him in school,” one parent shared about her son, who has high-functioning autism and severe anxiety that made classroom success seem impossible. “Mrs. Power seemed to know exactly what to do. We immediately saw a change in him, and were amazed at how quickly it happened.”
As a result of Ms. Power’s expert care, the mom said, her son now is back in his regular CCSD school and flourishing. “We consider her a part of our family.”
In her own words: “I strive to go that extra mile and make connections with parents so they feel like they are working with someone and not against them.”
Woodstock ES: Laurie McArthur
Woodstock Elementary School 2021 Teacher of the Year Laurie McArthur decided in elementary school that she would grow up to be an elementary school teacher.
And not just an elementary school teacher, but a teacher in the same school district where she was learning: the Cherokee County School District.
“I was influenced by teachers who built a relationship with me, saw my potential and believed in me,” said Ms. McArthur, now in her 10th year as a Special Education teacher. “I strongly believe that contributing time and developing relationships with students builds the foundation for academic achievement.”
Ms. McArthur accomplishes this through engaging lessons in her classroom that build self-esteem and meet individual student needs. She does this beyond her classroom walls by participating in her school’s Check In/Check Out mentor program, which is part of the #CCSDCares initiative. Through the program, she mentors a struggling student, encourages success and serves as a designated trusted adult within the school that the student can depend on.
“Laurie serves as the ‘go-to’ teacher for many of our students that need a mentor, support system and someone to check in with,” a colleague shared. “She constantly works with students by setting goals and pushing them to achieve them. She is the type of educator and colleague we all hope to work alongside.”
In her own words: “Relationships and trust are key to successful learning! Students must feel loved and appreciated before they can learn.”
Woodstock HS: Stacy Ambles
Woodstock High School 2021 Teacher of the Year Stacy Ambles brings both professional and personal perspectives to her role as a Special Education teacher.
She delivers high-quality instruction that she has practiced and improved upon through her 16 years as an educator. And she delivers the care she has held in her heart her whole life for children with additional challenges, as her younger brother has special needs.
“Teaching is so much more than the ‘three Rs,’” a colleague shared. “Students, and adults alike, need someone like Mrs. Ambles, who truly cares about them and spends their existence making other people happy. This is what she does. She is a phenomenal teacher, but she is a better person, and that is what we need more of in today’s world.”
Ms. Ambles, who is studying for her third education degree and has earned numerous accolades including Teacher of the Year honors in Fulton County, also is known for creative engaging lessons that combine rigor and relevance with fun. One example is her CSI-inspired biology lesson to help students learn about DNA and genetics. She also sponsors the school’s international club through which students learn about their own culture and classmates’ cultures by participating in activities like cooking classes and attending cultural events.
In her own words: “When students make connections, the learning experience becomes ingrained in their long-term memory, and their ability to use the information to make connections outside the classroom is enhanced.”
Woodstock MS: Amanda Williams
Woodstock Middle School 2021 Teacher of the Year Amanda Williams tells a story every year in her reading class to encourage discouraged readers.
It’s the story of her brother, who in his mid-40s read a novel in its entirety – for the first time ever. As a student, he had passed his classes by reading summaries and taking other shortcuts. The books he had been assigned back then, he said, never held his interest. That all changed when he picked up a novel his son was reading and began reading it himself. Two days later, he’d read all of the book, which was “The Hunger Games.” And now, he’s the most avid reader in their family.
“Every year, I tell my students, ‘Don’t write off reading yet, and don’t think you’re bad at reading. You can love it. You just haven’t found your ‘Hunger Games’ yet. Your year in my class is all about finding your ‘Hunger Games,’” the 29-year teacher said. Once a student finds that book, they get to add the title to her “I Found My Hunger Games” podium. “‘Finding my Hunger Games’ has become colloquial for ‘finding the book that made me passionate for reading.’”
Ms. Williams’s encouragement doesn’t end there, as her colleagues praise the care she invests in her students’ writing and study skills and in each student’s self-esteem. “She has a rare ability to motivate struggling students and help them succeed,” a colleague said. “She is optimistic, has a contagious positive attitude, great initiative and has an honest love of students and their well-being.”
In her own words: “I purposefully and intentionally develop relationships with each student, help them to see their own potential, and help them to set and meet their own goals, all the while providing a safe learning environment.”