2022 School Teacher of the Year Profiles
Woodstock MS: Justin Brown
Woodstock Middle School 2022 Teacher of the Year Justin Brown’s career has taken him to classrooms around the world.
His experiences strengthened his abilities as a teacher, especially as a teacher of students learning English as a second language, a role he’s held at WMS for the past three years. They also have strengthened his belief in the power of invested educators who want to make a positive difference in the lives of young people.
“For some students, that difference may well come in the form of knowledge and skills that they develop in our classrooms but, for others, the difference might just be the way that we support them as they discover how the academic experience fits in with the goals and aspirations they have for themselves,” said Mr. Brown, who is in his 13th year as an educator.
His colleagues praise him both for his outstanding instruction and his dedication to supporting students and fellow teachers. “To say he is well respected by all is an understatement,” a colleague shared, noting his development of innovative ideas to better serve students who are new to the U.S. “JB is a champion for all students, but especially for those who are at a disadvantage because of language development.”
In his own words: “My goal as an educator is to foster in students an appreciation for the transformative role that education can play in their own lives.”
Woodstock HS: Henry Oglesby Jr.
As a former student says of Woodstock High School 2022 Teacher of the Year Henry Oglesby Jr., he’s the kind of teacher you “never run out of good things to say about.”
Now in his 28th year teaching, Mr. Oglesby teaches Advanced Placement (AP) and honors math to many of his school’s brightest students. When named STAR Students, valedictorians or salutatorians, they select him as their honored teacher. They give poignant speeches about not only how well he taught them, but also how much he cared.
“With all my heart, I can say Mr. Oglesby has played a crucial role in my life story,” shared a former student now at Georgia Tech. He was in Mr. Oglesby’s classes and on the math team he coaches. Mr. Oglesby also counseled him during mental health struggles. “When I was at school, Mr. Oglesby was always available for me to talk to, and he always made sure that I was OK during those tough times.”
Mr. Oglesby also is honored by his peers. In addition to Teacher of the Year, he has earned the Golden Apple Award and was selected to help build Woodstock High’s state-certified STEM program.
“Henry is all about the students,” a colleague shared. “He spends countless hours yearly holding AP review sessions and working with students outside the school day even when he is secretly exhausted. His students would never know it because he brings his best each and every day.”
In his own words: “If you are called to be a teacher, focus on building positive relationships. Little things like listening and being open to input from others makes you a better person and a better teacher.”
Woodstock ES: Danielle Cosey
A second generation CCSD teacher, Woodstock Elementary School 2022 Teacher of the Year Danielle Cosey is dedicated to teaching her students not only academics, but also the importance of community and feeling valued.
Her kindergartners benefit from Ms. Cosey’s love of teaching and her community as she looks to partners to embed real life learning into lessons. One example is how her students learn writing skills by penning notes to residents of the neighboring Camellia Place memory care and assisted living center.
Her students also greatly benefit from the care she feels for them and the effort she puts into developing strong relationships. “This is what sets her apart from many others,” a colleague shared of Ms. Cosey, who is in her eighth year of teaching. “When you are in Mrs. Cosey’s class, you are forever part of her family. She makes such an impact on these kids, which will never be forgotten.”
Morning class meetings are key to building these connections. One of Ms. Cosey’s favorite conversations is learning about student’s dreams and then helping set goals to achieve them. And many of her first-graders already have dreams about future careers from wanting to study dinosaurs to being a plumber to being a dolphin trainer to being a teacher.
In her own words: “Although college was my next step for achieving my dreams, it’s not for everyone, and I think it’s important that students know this, too. Instead of saying ‘this will help you in college,’ I say ‘this will help you achieve your dreams.’”
Tippens EC: Margie Pullen
Tippens Education Center 2022 Teacher of the Year Margie Pullen knows her students face academic, emotional and behavioral challenges.
But she looks for their strengths and builds upon them to help them overcome obstacles. One such example is her development of a Friends Club and service learning projects.
Through the Friends Club, all students have the opportunity to participate in social activities that grow self-confidence, friendships and pride in their school. She also has developed school service learning projects, such as a recent canned food drive, to give students a greater sense of purpose both through specific tasks and the overall goal of helping neighbors in need.
“Ms. Pullen has been an outstanding influence on our school,” her principal shared. “She has patience and compassion while still holding high expectations for her students to achieve. Ms. Pullen does an amazing job at establishing relationships and making her students feel safe and important. There is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Pullen is the kind of teacher who is able to change lives.”
Now in her seventh year as a teacher after beginning her education career as a paraprofessional at Tippens, Ms. Pullen mentors new teachers and has continued her own learning with master’s and specialist degrees.
In her own words: “Some students need more emotional connection and support, and, if these emotional and support needs are not met, then they are unlikely to fully master the given state standards. Sometimes, there are things that are more important than standards and tests.”
Teasley MS: Kerry Voytek
A three-time school Teacher of the Year, Kerry Voytek was tapped to serve in the district curriculum and instruction office to support and lead her fellow teachers.
After eight years in district roles, her love of teaching brought Ms. Voytek, the 2022 Teasley Middle School Teacher of the Year, back to the classroom.
“We are blessed and honored she chose Teasley Middle School as her home,” her principal said. “She is an excellent teacher and teacher leader, and she truly cares about the needs of all students. Her constant commitment to reaching the needs of her students creates an environment in her classroom and within the school where students feel comfortable and willing to put forth their best effort. Her caring spirit and kind demeanor create an excellent learning environment for all students, especially our English language learners.”
Ms. Voytek, a 24-year educator, teaches eighth-grade science to students learning English as a second language. Science has its own language, making it doubly challenging for students still learning English. Ms. Voytek develops innovative hands-on lessons, such as creating a set of 40 jars filled with different materials to make science vocabulary, like viscous and opaque, clearer to her students.
In her own words: “It is my job as an educator to ensure that I provide my students the tools needed for them to reach their potential. I believe with strategic supports all children can thrive in an academically challenging environment”
Sixes ES: Lauren Grimsley
CCSD is home for Sixes Elementary School 2022 Teacher of the Year Lauren Grimsley, who became a part of the #CCSDfam as a kindergartener and now is in her 17th year teaching.
And her home within that home is the STEM lab she created four years ago to spark in students the same love for learning that drives her.
“Lauren has truly found her home at our school in the STEM lab,” a colleague shared. “She’s our resident ‘mad scientist,’ who has made our students love everything about science. She’s their fearless leader when it comes to experiments and investigations and is always willing to do whatever it takes to keep them engaged and excited about the curriculum.”
On some days, that means dressing up in a zany costume and on other days, it’s making a “mess” together in the lab. But every day it’s an innovative lesson designed to expand upon their core science learning. And every day it’s Ms. Grimsley showing her students she cares about their learning and about them as individuals. The success is not just in students’ smiles, but also in their scores, which have increased on the science Milestones test since the lab’s opening.
In her own words: “As educators, we are building the future. We do it with every hug, every high five, every writing conference, every math center and every book read aloud. We help the kids of today learn what they need to be the leaders of tomorrow.”
Sequoyah HS: Andrew Oberlies
Sequoyah High School 2022 Teacher of the Year Andrew Oberlies has mastered teaching the most advanced math concepts to his students through a simple equation.
The more they know he cares, the more they want to learn from him.
“Above all else, I want my students to know that I care,” said Mr. Oberlies, who is in his 18th year as an educator and was named a CCSD Teacher of the Year finalist. “I did not become an educator only to teach math, but also to help students reach their goals and aspirations. Students need to know that I am always willing to help in math, but more importantly, in life.”
His students say he succeeds on both counts.
“I could talk all day about how Mr. Oberlies made a difference in my academic life, showing me that I was capable of more than I could ever imagine,” shared a former student who was named salutatorian and now is at Georgia Tech. “But I think the even more remarkable part about Mr. Oberlies is the care and support he provided me and the life lessons that helped put me on the track to success inside and outside academia.”
Mr. Oberlies teaches AP (Advanced Placement) and honors math courses, serves as Sequoyah’s AP department head, helps organize the credit recovery program for struggling students and sponsors the math club and math honor society.
In his own words: “Beyond mathematics, it is the life skills I have taught that will help students beyond the classroom. Stress management, learning to work with others, self-advocacy, believing in oneself, positivity and hope to name a few.”
River Ridge HS: Tara Dugan
Teaching is a team sport for River Ridge High School 2020 Teacher of the Year Tara Dugan.
Now in her 12th year as an educator, the physics teacher and track coach, according to her colleagues, uses best practices for coaching in her teaching.
“It was amazing watching Tara both expertly guide her students in a project, while also having the students teach her what they had discovered,” a colleague shared. “All the while, Tara listens along and asks questions as if she is learning the information for the very first time. Tara’s teaching is a mutualistic experience.”
Her approach has helped her students succeed at not only mastering a challenging subject, but also finding joy in it. As another colleague shared, it’s not unusual to see students stop
Ms. Dugan in the hall to ask her about a new discovery in physics they read about online. This small act, the colleague said, is a huge accomplishment: “Tara has literally inspired students to look for physics in the world they live in and then want to have a dialog about content they felt awed by with someone they valued the opinion of an knew valued their thoughts.”
In her own words: “My lessons include scaffolding for all learners, real world applications and a variety of types of learning. Students know that I am available to help in all situations and that learning is not just about the content, it also is about how they individually approach situations and grow when they are challenged.”
R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy: Lesley Carmichael
If you ask a student of R.M. Moore Elementary School STEM Academy 2022 Teacher of the Year Lesley Carmichael about their writing lab teacher, you will get a well-written essay.
Here’s just an excerpt from “Why Mrs. Carmichael is The Best Teacher”: “She is a role model, a teacher, an amazing storyteller, she has an amazing sense of humor, and she juggles all these things with a positive attitude. She is never afraid to speak her mind (in a good way) … Another thing that is awesome about Mrs. Carmichael is that she got my classmates and I into good habits with our writing. She made sure we always indented and skipped lines when writing to make room for revisions. She really made a substantial difference to my writing.”
That excerpt speaks volumes -- not just with its message, but also with its vocabulary, structure and voice -- about Ms. Carmichael’s exemplary instructional skills, echoed by praise from her colleagues. Now in her 30th year as an educator, Ms. Carmichael is renowned as a reflective teacher and literacy advocate.
“She asks thought-provoking questions to improve student engagement, student accountability, student achievement and personal growth as a person and educator,” a colleague shared. “She talks to the students like they are her own kids and pushes them to be the best person they can be.”
In her own words: “My classroom is a testament to my dedication of making sure each student finds their story. It is important to me that each reader can see themselves in a book.”
Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy: Ally Potter
Oak Grove Elementary School STEAM Academy 2022 Teacher of the Year Ally Potter teaches her young engineers to drive STEAM trains to success.
Now in her seventh year as a teacher, Ms. Potter helped with Oak Grove’s recent transformation from a fine arts academy to a STEAM (arts plus STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focused school.
“Integrating art, engineering and technology into both our science and math curriculum has increased student interest as well as mastery of standards across the board,” said Ms. Potter, who this year is teaching fifth grade after six years teaching third. “Teaching this way has allowed me to see diverse learners succeed and enjoy learning in a way that I have never seen before.”
An example is the public service announcement project, through which her students studied pollution and then created PSAs using their own photography and artistry to share the lessons learned.
Ms. Potter’s colleagues praise her excellence in teaching and willingness to share her knowledge. “She is proactive and reaches out to her teammates in a kind and purposeful way,” a fellow teacher shared. “She always meets you halfway and, if you are struggling with your half, she will take the time to meet you where you are and help you complete it.”
In her own words: “My students are free thinkers … asking questions, exploring, creating a product and always finding ways to improve in the future.”
Mountain Road ES: Dr. Kristin Covington
Mountain Road Elementary School Teacher of the Year Dr. Kristin Covington teaches in the school she attended as a child.
That connection makes her job even more joyous, as she sees herself in the faces and lightbulb moments of her students.
“The best part of being an educator is the little things each day,” said the seven-year educator, who has taught fourth and fifth grades and currently teaches Special Education students. “When students finally make a connection or understand a new concept, the joy and pride on their faces make everything worth it. I want every child to feel loved, cared for and supported when they enter my classroom.”
The love she shows for her work and her students is clear to them, their families and her colleagues. “She is much more than a teacher,” a former student shared. “Mrs. Covington is a friend. She made us laugh, played kickball and, even better, she gave us extra recess time. Mrs. Covington made going to school better every day. She turned my least favorite subject into my favorite, and I eventually grew to love them all.”
Dr. Covington is known among her colleagues for not just putting in the heart, but also putting in the work. She recently earned a doctoral degree, co-sponsors Junior Beta Club, develops research-based creative lesson plans and shares her innovative ideas for blended learning, STEM integration, real-world applications and more with her colleagues.
In her own words: “By providing different real world opportunities for students, we are providing well-rounded educated citizens for our community.”
Mill Creek MS: Amanda Carter
Mill Creek Middle School Teacher of the Year Amanda Carter meets them at the start of every school year: the eighth-graders who “hate” math.
The 16-year educator makes it her mission to help them see math in a new positive light. She remembers, as a middle school student in Cherokee County, dreading math, too.
“It took one special teacher to turn that around for me, and I hope to be ‘that’ teacher to my students,” she said.
According to her students, their families and her colleagues, she is “that” teacher to countless students.
“There were times in our daughter’s academic career that the thought of a math test would bring her to tears. She had convinced herself that she wasn’t a good math student,’” shared the parent of a former student. “Those fears and feelings of self-doubt seemed to fade away as the year progressed. Mrs. Carter explained the information in a way that made all her students feel successful. She cares about all her students as if they were her own. My daughter left Mrs. Carter’s class feeling successful and cared for. She has even learned to enjoy math, which we didn’t think was possible.”
In her own words: “From day one, students are told we are like family in each class. They are ‘my kids’ when they walk through the door and after they leave. I want them to know that I care for them as a person, not just as my student.”
Macedonia ES: Barbara Sharich
Macedonia Elementary School Teacher of the Year Barbara Sharich at age 20 began her “dream job” of teaching elementary school.
After 29 years as an educator, Ms. Sharich continues to be a dream come true for her students, their families and her colleagues. “Hard-working, caring, patient and kind,” are among the characteristics for which Ms. Sharich is known, her principal shared.
“She is dedicated to her profession and her students,” Principal Christy Rich said. “She conveys the message to her students that mistakes should be embraced as part of learning. She listens to her students with empathy and patience always modeling a love of learning and a love of her students.”
Ms. Sharich, who has taught kindergarten, first, second and fifth grades, and is additionally certified to teach both Gifted and English as a Second Language students, now shares her expertise, experience and empathy with students schoolwide as an early intervention program teacher. She also continues to share that knowledge with teachers schoolwide, as a mentor for new teachers and through her service on school committees.
In her own words: “I feel like the current climate has created a bit of an ‘us versus them’ scenario, which is harmful to teachers, students, families and education as a whole. School, communities and families are a team meant to support our learners through a reciprocal relationship … we as educators want students to be successful and are here to support that goal. When students succeed, everyone succeeds. Fostering a supportive and reciprocal relationship between schools, families and communities will benefit everyone and should be our ultimate goal.”
Little River ES: Emily Mickel
Little River Elementary School Teacher of the Year Emily Mickel turns her school into an enormous art gallery for two nights every school year.
The annual art show features artwork by each of the school’s 1,400 students. Students transform their classroom lessons into artwork, and take ownership by selecting their piece for the show. Parent volunteers help frame and mount the show. The entire school community is invited to the show, and sales of the artwork raise thousands of dollars for the school.
“It is a huge undertaking, but also immensely gratifying for students -- who are so excited to view their own pieces of art and the artwork of their peers -- and for their parents,” said Ms. Mickel, who is in her 24th year teaching and previously taught at Hickory Flat ES and Liberty ES. While the schoolwide show was on hiatus during the pandemic, Ms. Mickel looks forward to its return.
Her expertise and enthusiasm not only led her peers to select her as Teacher of the Year, she also was named a CCSD Teacher of the Year finalist. “She exemplifies what it means to be a thoughtful, caring, innovative and exceptional teacher,” a colleague shared. “Not only is Ms. Mickel exceptional in her craft of teaching, but the level of love and care that she shows students is unmatched. She remembers the names of all 1,400 students and can tell you something about each one.”
In her own words: “Through my teaching, I hope to inspire my students to love art and to look forward to creating.”
Liberty ES: Heather Juras
According to her students’ families, Liberty Elementary School Teacher of the Year Heather Juras is more than a Teacher of the Year.
“To this day, we praise this woman and her passion for teaching,” said the mom of one of her former students. “We truly know that we will never be able to find anyone who compares. Her ability to be so humble and never lose sight of each of her students’ ultimate goals and achievements shows that her passion for teaching holds higher than any recognition she could receive. With that being said, Ms. Juras would never recognize herself as Teacher of the Year, but I know that every student and every parent or coworker who has been blessed by her would tell you that she is the ‘Teacher of a Lifetime,’ hands down.”
Now in her 15th year as an educator, Ms. Juras teaches Special Education students in kindergarten through second grade who need more one-on-one support. She has taught students with all levels of special needs and in many different settings and was the natural choice to begin the new Achieve special needs program at Liberty ES. “Through her hard work and careful planning, students have not only achieved academically, but they have also made tremendous growth socially,” her past principal said.
In her own words: “My students are so rewarding to teach, and no matter how big or small their gains may be, they are monumental and deserve to be celebrated. I truly embrace the individuality of each child and love them fiercely and want nothing more than to see them grow and become successful.”
Knox ES STEM Academy: Christina Parker
Knox Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Christina Parker grew up as the daughter of an immigrant and understands the importance of helping every child to feel welcome.
Ms. Parker uses her education, experience and empathy -- from knowing what it was like for her mom, who moved to the U.S. as a teen -- in her service as a teacher for English as a Second Language and early intervention program students.
“I know firsthand the challenges these families face,” said Ms. Parker, a 16-year educator serving her third year in her current role.
Her understanding and compassion does not go unnoticed by students and their families and her colleagues. “She is an ally for our students,” a colleague said, sharing how Ms. Parker is known for so many acts of quiet kindness, such as finding winter coats for students in need. “She builds trusting relationships with students and sets high expectations for learning.”
As one of her students shared: “Mrs. Parker is the kindest teacher ever. It is impossible to count the many ways that she cares for students and other teachers.”
In her own words: “Positive relationships throughout the school are key to creating a positive school culture. Each day, I try to engage in conversations with students and teachers to show that I care. I feel that when people, young and old, know that they are cared for and valued, they want to be present.”
Johnston ES: Paige Chandler
Johnston Elementary School Teacher of the Year Paige Chandler teaches in the “heart” of the school: the media center.
A six-year educator, Ms. Chandler began her career as a third-grade teacher before finding a new calling last school year as a media specialist.
And it’s a true calling, according to her students and colleagues, who say she shines in her new role. “You would never have known it was Ms. Chandler’s first year as a media specialist,” Principal Laura Akers said. “She exemplifies what it means to be an innovative educator. She is a natural leader, who leads by example through encouragement, a teamwork attitude and compassion for others.”
As media specialist, Ms. Chandler teaches classes, from all grade levels, lessons on topics including digital citizenship. She created Makerspace labs in the media center, where she leads students in STEAM (STEM plus the arts) hands-on projects. She supports teachers with blended learning strategies to use technology effectively in lessons. She helps students find just the right book – and always makes them feel welcome.
“She has rocked this librarian thing,” shared one of her students, who also had Ms. Chandler as a third-grade teacher. “She prepares lessons that have and always will be fun and educational. When I am having a bad day or need someone to talk to, I know I can go to her.”
In her own words: “I aspire to create student-centered learning environments, with an emphasis on exploration and discovery, where each student can use their unique skills to be successful.”
Indian Knoll ES: Tara Costello
As a child, Indian Knoll Elementary School Teacher of the Year Tara Costello’s extended family experienced many challenging times.
Murder, abuse and suicide of loved ones are among the experiences she lived through as a child.
As a mom, Ms. Costello lived through the experience of her daughter struggling with medical and learning challenges at an early age.
These experiences, she said, strengthened her empathy for the students she teaches and supports. Her students, their families and her colleagues agree.
“My family considers Mrs. Costello a blessing,” shared a colleague, whose son was in Ms. Costello’s fourth-grade class. “From day one, she creates an environment within her classroom that fosters learning and opportunities to learn from mistakes.” Her son not only grew stronger academically as a result, she said, but also was “forever impacted through her compassion for his total well-being.”
A 15-year educator, Ms. Costello also is known for her skill in creating engaging hands-on lessons, from dissecting owl pellets to growing mold terrariums. This year, she is teaching AIM Gifted program classes, spreading her innovation and empathy across all grade levels.
In her own words: “A teacher should strive to be the best she can be each and every day with no regrets. A teacher should forge impactful, learning relationships with students. A teacher should take pride in her work every day, knowing that everything she does changes every child’s life.”
Holly Springs ES STEM Academy: Karen Schnell
Holly Springs Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Karen Schnell teaches her students to be critical thinkers through project-based learning and the engineering design method.
Considered an expert in these STEM instructional strategies, Ms. Schnell not only uses them in her third-grade classes, countless teachers she has mentored now do so as well.
An example is her animal shelter lesson. Students research the needs of pets, the specific needs of pets housed at the county’s animal shelter and how to help with those needs through a donation drive. They then organize a schoolwide donation drive, raise awareness by designing advertising with technology tools such as PowerPoint and Flipgrid and, as a culminating activity, donate what they collected to the animal shelter.
“Learning becomes more meaningful when you can help students make a connection to their own community, and I try to foster those discussions in all aspects of my teaching,” said Ms. Schnell, now in her 21st year of teaching.
In addition to mentoring teachers individually, Ms. Schnell also supports her colleagues as a professional learning community facilitator, team lead and STEAM (STEM plus the arts) committee lead. “She shares her years of experience to help our team stay focused and on track with our goals for the school year,” a colleague shared.
In her own words: “The connection we make with our students is so powerful! Establishing positive relationships with our students is extremely beneficial in a student’s learning and growth.”
Hickory Flat ES: Gina Haggerty
Hickory Flat Elementary School Teacher of the Year Gina Haggerty teaches fourth-graders English language arts, social studies … and community.
“Extending the classroom outside of our walls begins with teaching community inside the classroom,” the 24-year teacher said. “We begin every morning with a family meeting. This is a time when we come together in the classroom and greet one another, share success stories, discuss problems and ways to work through those issues, teach compromise and build character. Our days begin with building relationships and making meaningful connections.”
Through this practice, Ms. Haggerty, who was named one of four finalists for Cherokee County School District Teacher of the Year, has built strong relationships with students -- and their families.
One parent shared how Ms. Haggerty showed “immense empathy” toward her and her daughter when she was struggling with reading. Beyond her support in the classroom, Ms. Haggerty would call the mom every week to report on her daughter’s progress and give tips on how to work on reading at home.
“She gave my daughter confidence and inspired her to work harder to become a more successful reader,” the mom said, adding that she will “never forget” the phone call from Ms. Haggerty to share that her daughter had advanced by six reading levels to reach grade level. “My eyes watered listening to Ms. Haggerty talk, and all I could say was ‘Thank you for loving and believing in my daughter.’”
In her own words: “I praise students for more than academic mastery. I praise for creativity, curiosity, effort, empathy and kindness.”
Hasty ES Fine Arts Academy: Allison Hawkins
Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy Teacher of the Year Allison Hawkins sees the perfect lesson as one that is “academically challenging, engaging and relevant to real life.”
As a Special Education teacher, she mastered this blend, and this school year is now further sharing her expertise with colleagues as a Special Education facilitator.
“Her ability to increase student achievement, especially in reading and writing, is a goal for all Special Education teachers. Building relationships with her students enhances her educational abilities, leading to growth in all areas for students,” shared a colleague, who as a new teacher benefitted from Ms. Hawkins’s mentorship. “She continually exhibits traits that fellow teachers strive to emulate.”
Now in her 11th year as an educator, Ms. Hawkins is a CCSD graduate and uses her community knowledge and relationships to enrich student learning. Her students have partnered up with reading buddies from the Canton Police Department, written letters to local military after reading about Veterans Day, and learned math by designing their own vision for a local bakery.
In her own words: “My main goal is for my students to become more confident learners. I do that by fostering strong connections with my students and creating a classroom where students feel safe to make mistakes. My greatest success stories are when students enter my classroom with low feelings of self-efficacy and leave with a greater sense of agency and purpose.”
Freedom MS: Kim Hester
Freedom Middle School Teacher of the Year Kim Hester has taught seventh-grade math for 29 years with excellence that elevates her to legend status, according to her Principal.
“Teaching is not about the ‘job’” to Ms. Hester, Principal Whitney Nolan said, “it’s about her career of helping kids.”
Ms. Hester said her devotion to both math and middle school has given some pause, as it’s a challenging combination, but she counts it all as joy. “The job is never the same, as the standards change, the methods of instruction change, and the students change, but, more importantly, the valuable lessons that I learn from my students about life and teaching are also always changing.”
One example of her willingness to embrace change has been Ms. Hester’s success with the “flipped classroom” model. While the pandemic prompted the necessity for innovation, the model’s success has led to its continuation in her classes … and has inspired her fellow math teachers across all grade levels at Freedom.
Through the model, Ms. Hester makes a short video to introduce a new concept to students, which they are assigned to watch as homework. This allows for class time to be used for students to practice the new concept and receive one-on-one help from Ms. Hester. As a result, student learning mastery has increased and homework frustration has decreased.
In her own words: “As educators, we need to listen to our students, as their varied circumstances over the last couple of years can provide us with insight on how to effectively educate as learning situations extend past the classroom.”
Free Home ES: Kristin Davis
Our teachers are amazing, which is why we share the story of a school’s Teacher of the Year every week ... please help us celebrate 2022 Free Home Elementary School Teacher of the Year Kristin Davis!
Free Home Elementary School Teacher of the Year Kristin Davis brings a unique perspective to fostering parent engagement.
After three years of teaching, she chose to leave the classroom for 15 years to be a stay-at-home mom for her four children. During that time, Ms. Davis actively volunteered in her children’s schools including serving as PTA president. Once her children were older, Ms. Davis returned to her profession equipped with this new perspective.
“It instilled me with a love and compassion for parents and a desire to help bridge the connection between home and school,” said Ms. Davis, who joined the Free Home ES faculty five years ago and currently teaches third grade.
She successfully builds those bridges, according to her students’ parents, who note her strong communication skills and attention to detail, such as providing parents with questions they could ask their child about current lessons. “As a parent who loves to stay informed, she is just amazing,” a parent shared, noting she also is a former teacher now stay-at-home mom and understands the time Ms. Davis invests in her students and their families. “She is a model teacher.”
In her own words: “When parents know you sincerely care about their child, and when they are armed with tangible ways to support their child’s learning, the bridge between home and school grows stronger. Teachers learn more about their students, and parents have a more positive view of their children’s teachers. Both will be better equipped to help students achieve.”
Etowah HS: Margo Kemmerer
Etowah High School Teacher of the Year Margo Kemmerer has positively influenced many students over her 15-year career, all of which has been served on Eagle Mountain.
Not only has she taught her English class students to be better writers and to more deeply understand novels, she’s also guided hundreds to earn college credit by passing Advanced Placement (AP) tests. And not only have her thoughtfully designed lessons led her students to engagement and knowledge mastery, they’ve also been adopted by her colleagues, both at Etowah and across the district, as model lessons.
As one colleague shared, countless photocopies have been made in teacher workrooms over the years of Ms. Kemmerer’s assignments and activities by teachers benefitting from her experience and creativity. “She doesn’t need praise, accolades or recognition,” for this service, her fellow teacher said. “It’s within her heart to help anyone, including her beloved students.”
Ms. Kemmerer is a “teacher’s teacher,” but she also is a favorite among students, including earning the prestigious title of STAR Teacher, awarded by the school’s top achieving student. “Students absolutely love being in her classes,” Principal Robert Horn said. “Students know that she truly cares about them and will work tirelessly to help them succeed.”
In her own words: “The classroom feels like my second home, and I try to create that atmosphere for my students, so they know they are cared for and welcomed. My top priority is to give students a safe place to question, learn, grow and succeed.”
E.T. Booth MS: Lori Salvino
E.T. Booth Middle School Teacher of the Year Lori Salvino begins her 27th year of teaching next week.
Her enthusiasm and energy might make you think it’s her first year, but her expertise and wisdom show her experienced hand. Ms. Salvino teaches her school’s Special Education students with the greatest needs, and she delivers to them the greatest education, according to her colleagues. “She is probably the most gifted educator I have had the pleasure of serving,” a former administrator shared. “She believes her students can achieve, and they do.”
Ms. Salvino sings and dons costumes to engage and humor her students, but she also crafts layered lessons rich with learning standards and real world applications. One of her best is the coffee cart project, through which students run a small business together selling coffee drinks to teachers and staff. The lessons include business math, time management, teamwork, leadership and customer service. Along the way, they gain greater self-awareness and self-confidence.
The project goes hand and hand with another of Ms. Salvino’s legacies: the Friends Club, which has grown since she founded it to also include a credit-based peer helper course for eighth-graders who want to support classmates with special needs. As part of their class, peer helpers assist with the coffee cart project to model the skills their classmates need to master. They also assist with adaptive PE classes, extra-curricular activities and social experiences for the students they befriend through the program.
In her own words: “To say that these programs have had a positive and direct influence on the culture of E.T. Booth almost seems like an understatement. It changes lives and makes us a family.”
Dean Rusk MS: DeLaney Campbell
Dean Rusk Middle School Teacher of the Year DeLaney Campbell sums up her teaching style in four words: “high expectations, high support.”
Her colleagues and her students and their parents use a few more words: professional, kind, encouraging, vested, dedicated, calm, steady, structured, motivated, effective, compassionate, thoughtful, caring, best.
As one parent, whose child came to the eighth-grade literature composition class with emotional struggles, shared: Ms. Campbell is a teacher who puts in “extraordinary effort” to support every child. “She was constantly cheering her on and encouraging her to reach the next level of learning,” the parent said. “Mrs. Campbell had high expectations and wanted to do all that she could to help her reach those expectations.”
A seven-year educator, Ms. Campbell also is known for her successful use of collaboration and community connected projects to engage her students in learning. One example is the charity fair she and her colleagues organize for their classes to hear from local nonprofit organizations. The students are tasked with listening to the presentations and then using them to kick off their own research and writing for an informational writing assignment.
In her own words: “I believe in challenging my students to achieve more than they think possible by providing them with all the scaffolding and support they need to get there. I believe learning is constant, and mistakes are designed to help us learn. By allowing students to learn, practice and revise (over and over again), I am demonstrating that we can always improve.”
Creekview HS: Janet Baggett
Creekview High School Teacher of the Year Janet Baggett’s teaching expertise benefits more than her own students.
The 21-year educator is known as a teacher of teachers, who generously gives her time to mentor new colleagues and share best practices to improve instruction for all students. She will serve this coming school year as an assistant principal at Etowah High School.
“Mrs. Baggett has a knack for helping students and teachers elevate themselves to the next level,” a colleague shared. “She is a true team player, is always positive and is a proactive problem solver when her students or coworkers need help instructionally or just for guidance.”
Ms. Baggett has taught Spanish across all grade levels and additionally served as her department’s chair, a liaison for the school’s Spanish speaking families, and the senior class activities sponsor. Her Spanish teacher while she was a student at Sequoyah High School inspired Ms. Baggett’s career, and her own experience as a student athlete has led her to coach numerous school teams.
“Every time that I needed someone to chat with about life, Señora Baggett was there for me, my friends, and even students she hadn’t taught,” shared a Class of 2022 graduate, who was in her honors Spanish class for two years. “She is more than an excellent educator; she is compassionate.”
In her own words: “These are challenging times. Yet I take comfort in knowing that, at the core of our job, the most important aspects of teaching have not changed. Our mission is to love our students and, when in doubt, do what is best for kids. Due to the emphasis our county has placed on the overall well-being of our students, we find this message echoed within the walls of each and every school in our county.”
Creekland MS: Jennifer Camp
Creekland Middle School Teacher of the Year Jennifer Camp sees her mission as helping her students become not only better learners, but also better people.
The 18-year educator succeeds in this mission, according to her colleagues, by building a relationship with every student and by crafting lessons that connect to their lives. “She is the epitome of a teacher’s teacher,” shared one colleague, whose child also is one of Ms. Camp’s former students.
A sixth-grade English Language Arts teacher, Ms. Camp demonstrates this approach to instruction through lessons like her unit on persuasive writing.
She created a culminating project focused on students’ career aspirations. It included research, job applications to hone persuasive writing skills and a one-on-one mock interview with Ms. Camp as the employer. The project also was cross-curricular, with math class lessons about balancing a budget based on their future career’s salary. To prepare for the interview, students worked on answers to likely questions and learned interview etiquette including how to dress, shake hands, make eye contact and speak professionally.
In her own words: “The day of the interviews was one of the highlights of my career. I truly felt that I reached every child. This type of real-world, hands-on knowledge is something I hope stayed with them because I know it definitely stayed with me.
Clayton ES: Jennifer O’Connell
Clayton Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jennifer O’Connell’s students leave her first-grade lesson with more than mastery of their learning standards.
They leave her classroom, according to Ms. O’Connell’s colleagues, with a mentor and an advocate.
“She recognizes the value and absolute necessity of getting to know the whole child so that you can grow the whole child,” a colleague shared. “Her contribution to our students has been significant, and I have no doubt they will remember her for years to come.”
A 12-year teacher, Ms. O’Connell sees “developing students who care about other people” as important a lesson as problem solving and critical thinking. Modeling how to take turns, give and receive a compliment, use kind words and treat others how you want to be treated are lessons she focuses on in class meetings, but also seamlessly blends into core academics throughout the day. “I think this is a meaningful way to effect long-term impact on our communities.”
In her own words: “I believe relationships between students and teachers and with one another is of the utmost importance. You cannot teach if students do not think you are for them. I am their facilitator and cheerleader.”
Clark Creek ES STEM Academy: Kim Harrison
The corporate world’s loss was education’s gain when 2022 Clark Creek ES STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Kim Harrison embarked on her second career.
“After a 15-year career in corporate America, I was looking for something that was more personally fulfilling. I always felt a calling to teach and, after the birth of my son, it felt like the right time to take the leap,” said Ms. Harrison, who became a teacher 17 years ago. “Best decision ever!”
As the lead Gifted specialist serving Clark Creek students, Ms. Harrison builds relationships with students in all grades. She further expands her influence by serving as the student news crew coach and elementary math competition coach. Ms. Harrison also supports her fellow teachers through service as an instructional lead teacher and co-leader of the school’s Core STEM Committee.
“Hands down, I love being a witness to the growth and development of my students. As a homeroom teacher, I was so proud to look back at the end of the year and marvel at how much my students had changed,” she said. “Now my job, as the lead Gifted specialist, allows me to witness that over many years, which is even more miraculous.”
In her own words: “Before the pandemic, I would have said it’s important to be a teacher to show kids the world and encourage them to take the risk of exploring it. While that is still true, I would now add that it’s important to be a teacher to help kids make sense of this world. They have been exposed to so much and need trusting adults to help them navigate all that’s placed before them in a meaningful way.”
CCSD Preschool Centers: Catrina Wilson
CCSD Preschool Centers Teacher of the Year Catrina Wilson is early on in her career, but like her little learners at Ralph Bunche Center, she is a quick study.
“She is a problem-solver, a technology guru and a dynamic teacher of young children,” her Principal shared. “She always goes above and beyond the call of duty and will assist with any task, big or small, without hesitation.”
Ms. Wilson, a four-year educator who began her education career as a paraprofessional, is known not only for her success in teaching academic lessons to her Special Education PreK students, but also social and emotional skills.
One mom shared how her child began the school year nonverbal. Thanks to Ms. Wilson’s “patience and innovative teaching skills,” by the end of the first semester, he learned to speak, count and draw – a “tremendous” gain for him and his family, his mom said. His abilities then grew to include using his skills to overcome emotional challenges.
“When he has so much going on in his head and is overwhelmed, he now knows to ‘use his words,’” his mom shared. “She has truly brought out a new child in my son.”
Ms. Wilson said she works to blend lessons that teach cognitive skills with those that teach social skills, as her students often start the school year struggling with both.
In her own words: “Students need social and emotional support. They need to know it is OK to have big feelings and how to handle them appropriately in a school setting.”
Carmel ES: Jessica Million
Carmel Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jessica Million grew up surrounded by children.
Her mother ran a home daycare program, and, as soon as Ms. Million could, she began helping the younger children around her. That experience led Ms. Million to become a babysitter, to pursue her education degree and, seven years ago, to begin her teaching career.
“I love my students’ energy,” said Ms. Million, who teaches special needs children in grades 3-5. “Every day is a different day, which keeps me on my toes. There is never a dull moment! The most rewarding part about being an educator, especially to students with disabilities, is seeing their ‘light-bulb’ moments. Witnessing a student light up with confidence in finally ‘getting it,’ whether it be an academic or social emotional success, is the reason why I come to school every day. I also get to work with the greatest team of educators -- we are more than friends, we are like a small gang!”
She also serves as a leader among her fellow teachers in roles including Professional Learning Community chair and Special Education co-team lead.
“Mrs. Million has heart,” Principal Kim Hagood said. She takes time to truly understand the most challenging students. She supports them academically and helps them develop important life skills. She is usually the first teacher in the building each day, working to prepare individualized lessons for her students. She is the one teacher they will always remember!”
In her own words: “I feel that it is important to be a teacher to build the habits and skills needed to regulate emotional control, model appropriate behaviors, and shape the minds of our children to help them to grow into outstanding young men and women.”
Boston ES: Debbie Howell
The students in Boston Elementary School Teacher of the Year Debbie Howell’s class begin every day with a clean slate.
The 18-year educator believes this mindset leads her Special Education students to make more progress each day.
“I show them that I understand they made a mistake, but our next interaction is a new one,” she said. “My students do not have to worry that I do not care about them because they made poor behavior choices. I strongly encourage my colleagues to do the same, and I try to set that example every day.”
This philosophy has earned Ms. Howell the respect of her students, their families and her colleagues. As one parent shared, her daughter struggled with reading upon starting kindergarten and was diagnosed with a learning disability. Ms. Howell not only helped her make progress, but she now, as a middle school student, reads on grade level and chooses to read for fun.
“Ms. Howell shared what we came to know as her ‘mantra’ – that everyone learns in his or her own way and at their own pace,’” she said. “Ms. Howell gave her the tools, the encouragement, and the time she needed to work her way through this difficult challenge. Now that she has seen success and the reward for her hard work, she is arguably stronger than a child who did not face these challenges. Wherever life takes her, we always will be in debt to Ms. Howell and Boston Elementary for making sure she had the chance to face her future with confidence and strength.”
In her own words: “Building positive, trusting relationships with students and their families is one of the most important things a teacher can do.”
Bascomb ES: Rhonda Ryder
Bascomb Elementary School Teacher of the Year Rhonda Ryder centers her teaching philosophy on the whole child.
For 28 years, she has ensured her students mastered learning standards, but also learned to believe in their own possibilities and to care more deeply for others.
The fourth-grade teacher years ago implemented tenets now central to CCSDcares, like morning meetings and lessons about kindness and service. Her care for her students shines bright, and has led to miraculous change. One parent shared how, through Ms. Ryder’s care, first as his after-school tutor and then as his teacher, her “essentially non-verbal” son began to speak. “I’ll never forget the afternoon she called me in tears of joy to say he had led a class activity,” the mom said. “She forever changed my son’s social abilities.”
Behind her well-crafted lessons is significant work by Ms. Ryder to blend specific standards, with real-life applications, service and fun. For a unit on opinion writing, students studied the issue of animals in captivity. They conducted research and wrote an opinion essay. But the lesson didn’t stop there, as students then created campaign posters and commercials and held fundraisers. They adopted stuffed toys as “desk pets” and formed class rules for care. They created Minecraft and Maker Space animal sanctuaries. They took a virtual trip to an elephant sanctuary. They then held a schoolwide vote on the issue and learned the difference between the popular vote and the electoral college.
In her own words: “My beliefs about teaching were demonstrated at every stage of this unit. Education is about bringing learning to life and taking lessons outside of the classroom to make a lasting impact by developing a sense of empowerment with how our actions as humans can create a brighter future for today and tomorrow.”
Ball Ground ES STEM Academy: Julie Miles
Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy Teacher of the Year Julie Miles found her career path as a college student volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club.
There she met a young boy who was deaf and didn’t have peers there who could communicate with him. Ms. Miles decided to start a sign language class at the Club, and made the child her assistant.
Not only did his confidence soar, she found her destiny: to be a teacher who specializes in supporting students with special needs including deaf or hard of hearing learners. And she has soared herself for the past 20 years, establishing herself as a leader in her field who now trains and mentors other educators.
In addition to her teaching role, Ms. Miles also serves as the Special Education department chair at her school and recently earned her education specialist degree in Special Education. She had previously earned both a bachelor of science degree in communication sciences and disorders and a master in education degree in education of the deaf, both from the University of Georgia.
“Julie knows how to engage special needs kids and make learning fun,” a parent shared. “She’s also selfless with her time. She is the type of teacher every student would be lucky to have. We’re so fortunate that she’s had an impact on both of my children’s lives – an impact that will carry through for the rest of their lives.”
In her own words: “Having the right growth mindset is essential to overcoming roadblocks on your journey. I have a quote above my promethean board that is as much for my colleagues and myself as my students, and it reads: ‘Yes you can. End of story.’”
Avery ES: Heather Massey
Avery Elementary School Teacher of the Year Heather Massey is known among students, parents and colleagues as not only an exceptional teacher, but also a role model, cheerleader and caring listener.
Over her 23-year career, she has taught numerous grade levels, as well as Special Education classes. The most important lesson is the same, no matter the child’s grades or abilities: they are capable of learning and achieving.
“She has been a constant resource and advocate for our son since kindergarten,” one mom shared. “She is an exceptional teacher and has been a positive influence on our life. She exemplifies caring, hard work, dedication and commitment.”
Ms. Massey’s success is built upon important concepts like collaborating with fellow teachers to develop instructional techniques that will help all students, no matter their abilities, access the same curriculum and master the same learning standards. Ms. Massey, who in addition to her bachelor’s in education degree earned a master of science degree in Special Education, also uses creativity to accomplish this. One such example is making a giant number line with painter’s tape on her classroom floor and having her students pretend to be numbers to learn how to round numbers.
Another critical element to Ms. Massey’s success in teaching is her focus on building positive relationships with students to influence and encourage their success. She does this not only in her classroom, but also through supporting students during after-school extension program tutoring.
In her own words: “When students are connected with their teacher and feel safe to ask for things that help meet their needs, then they will be better equipped to handle the pressures that will come their way and thus improve their overall social and emotional health.”
Arnold Mill ES: Alisha Talley
Arnold Mill Elementary School Teacher of the Year Alisha Talley’s favorite lesson for her fourth-graders is “The Best Part of Me.”
At the start of the school year, students read the book of the same name and then discuss how everyone has strengths and abilities. In Ms. Talley’s classroom, the children give many different answers, as for half of her 15-year career, she has chosen to teach inclusion classes. Inclusion classrooms include children with special needs with children who do not have learning or physical challenges.
They talk about their physical strengths, like playing soccer or running fast. And they talk about internal strengths, like being a good friend and showing kindness.
After the discussion, the students then complete an English Language Arts assignment to write in their journal about their strengths and abilities, and then write a short essay about their best part. Ms. Talley takes a photo of what the student has chosen as his or her best part – like feet for being a fast runner or ears for being a good listener. The essay and photo are pasted onto a larger piece of paper for display in the hallway.
“It really helps to set the stage for a year of learning and appreciation of oneself and peers, as we appreciate the different strengths and abilities we all bring to our classroom family,” she said.
This lesson illustrates one of Ms. Talley’s greatest strengths, according to her colleagues: “She is always welcoming of all students … she makes all students feel proud of their successes, no matter how big or small.”
In her own words: “Trust and understand that teachers truly have the best intentions for their students at heart.”
ACTIVE Academies: Whitney Robinson
Whitney Robinson, a math teacher at ACE Academy, earned the respect of her ACTIVE Academies campus colleagues by demonstrating daily her commitment to help struggling students succeed.
ACE Academy is the school district’s alternative daytime high school, and many of its students are working to overcome challenges from learning to mental health to self-discipline.
“She makes sure students feel welcome in her room and not judged for who they are,” shared a former student, who began her year in Ms. Robinson’s class with depression and anxiety. “She has exceptional teaching skills, and I have seen her take the most unmotivated kids and help them finish credits early.”
A Creekview High School graduate, Ms. Robinson began her teaching career in Fulton County and then returned to Cherokee County to join the faculty at River Ridge High School. After a hiatus to serve as a missionary mentoring teenagers in the Dominican Republic, Ms. Robinson was called back to teaching and joined ACE Academy.
In addition to crafting innovative classroom lessons to reach her students, she also has helped with programs like the opportunity for her students to volunteer in CCSD’s Transition Academy. The Transition Academy, which is on the same campus as ACE, provides vocational and life skills programs for young adults with special needs after they graduate from high school. “My students who have worked in this program have a better understanding and compassion for others,” Ms. Robinson said. “It has been a privilege to watch this program grow and see the impact it has had on ACE students.”
In her own words: “Students need to know that they are capable despite their failures. Their failures do not define them; failure is necessary for success.”