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2023 School Teacher of the Year Profiles - continued

Holly Springs ES STEM Academy: Cathy Hazzard

TOTY 2023 Holly Springs ES STEM Academy Cathy Hazzard

The most amazing thing about Cathy Hazzard, according to her colleagues, is not her exemplary classroom instruction or extraordinary relationship building skills.

It’s “her being her” – a patient and kind person with an incredible work ethic and humble spirit that benefits both her Early Intervention Program kindergartners and her colleagues.

“Coming in from car rider, another duty she has, I noticed her picking up trash in the car rider loop while the drizzling rain was coming down,” a colleague said.  “I asked her ‘What are you doing?  You think you have to do that now?’  To which she replied with a smile, ‘Well, I saw this trash, and I had a bag to put it in.’  I thought, ‘There she goes being Cathy Hazzard again.’”

Her positive attitude toward her colleagues, students and their families alike, has earned Ms. Hazzard nominations for Teacher of the Year many times before over her career, but she deferred them every time until this one.  

As one parent shared, Ms. Hazzard is more than a great teacher – she’s a champion for her students.

“She has been the champion who has shown our children the power of connection, and through her kindness, she has impacted my family’s life,” the mom said.  “She loves her students, cares for them and always finds a way to make them feel they’re loved, they matter and that they are capable of success.”

In her own words: “Being a student advocate does not have to be a grand gesture; little actions may make the most significant difference in a student’s life.  Listening to our students and focusing on their needs creates a culture of safety and love and enables them to thrive.”

Indian Knoll ES: Jason Bermudez

Meet a 2023 School Teacher of the Year: Jason Bermudez of Indian Knoll ES

Indian Knoll Elementary School PE teacher Coach Jason Bermudez teaches all of the school’s 860 students, and he works to get to know each of them.

More than their name, the 20-year educator also learns their birthday (and leads the PE class in serenading birthday students), the sports they like best and who they are as young people.

He does this through his PE program, the excellence of which earned him the statewide 2023 elementary school PE teacher of the year award, but also through numerous special events he coordinates.  The school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports celebrations live up to their “house parties” name under his enthusiastic leadership, and his field day is legendary for its number and quality of fun events.

“Coach Bermudez has made PE my favorite subject,” shared a former student, who participated in his classes from kindergarten through fifth grade.  “I looked forward to PE because I knew it would be something new and different each day.”

His jokes made them laugh, the birthday celebrations “made us feel special” and field day is nearly everyone’s favorite day of the year, he said.  “Not only does Coach have great ideas for new games, but he also taught us how to be respectful of others.  For example, he would tell us that everybody makes mistakes so there is no reason to get mad at your teammates during a game for making a mistake.”

In his own words: “My teaching philosophy is to create a classroom environment where students feel safe, respected and can have fun.  I love bringing smiles to my students’ faces and teaching the joys of physical activity.  If I’m in class, walking the halls or greeting students off the bus or car line, I’m always making students laugh and having fun.”

Johnston ES: Cristina Markley

TOTY 2023 Johnston ES Christina Markley

Cristina Markley begins writing lessons for her second-graders with an assignment that defines her as a teacher.

For the Heart Map, students each receive a piece of paper with a large heart printed on it.  She asks them to write down words that explain what is close to their heart.  She models this by sharing her own words: “my family,” “my pets,” “school,” “friends,” “the mountains,” “fishing.”  She explains that these also are things she knows “she could write a lot about.”

Students fill their paper hearts with their own words.  They use the heart to choose topics for writing assignments throughout the year.

But the hearts do more.  If they’re willing, students show their hearts to their classmates.  “This not only allows students to get ideas from their classmates for more words they can add to their own hearts, but also allows them to get to know their classmates on a deeper level and make connections with them.  Students of all backgrounds and abilities make deeper connections with their classmates while realizing that they really aren’t so different from one another.  Students not only get to learn more about one another, and me, but they also get to dig deep into what is important to them.”

This care for her students as individuals and mission to build meaningful relationships with them and their families makes Ms. Markley a standout among colleagues, her principal said.  “All students in her classroom feel important and valued.  She takes the time to get to know her students as individuals and incorporates their interests into the learning in her classroom.”

In her own words: “By investing my time and heart into my students and their families, I see student learning and success because they know I care.”

Knox ES STEM Academy: Nina Eidson

Liberty ES: Mike Rostin

Little River ES: Josh Sams

Little River ES 2023 TOTY Josh Sams

Josh Sams knows firsthand the power a teacher can have on a student’s success and self-confidence.

When he was in high school, Coach Sams struggled with algebra.  His math teacher became frustrated and told him, if he didn’t learn it, he would “never amount to anything in life.”

It crushed him, but Coach Sams reflected on the many other teachers who supported him and encouraged him.  It was then that he realized this power and determined that he wanted to use it for good.

Over his 10-year career as a PE teacher, Coach Sams has done just that, according to his students, their parents and his colleagues.  They praise him for his constant positive attitude, his encouragement of others and his willingness to help them individually and help the school as a whole succeed.

“He is a kind and patient teacher and a positive male role model for all students,” a colleague shared.  She noted that among his many additional roles, Coach Sams heads the school’s employee wellness committee and its walking club and leads the school’s United Way campaign.  “He welcomes all opportunities to support the teachers and students of Little River and does so happily.”

In his own words: “It is not always easy taking the time necessary to cultivate relationships with students that result in a positive and successful experience for students in the classroom.  While it is not easy, it is necessary and is worth all the effort that goes into it to see student growth as a result.”

Macedonia ES: Elizabeth Coker

TOTY 2023 Macedonia ES Elizabeth Coker

Elizabeth Coker found her dream job as a kindergarten teacher at her alma mater.

“Being able to return to work at my former elementary school and to walk the same halls and to teach within the same walls as my former teachers has been a dream come true,” said Ms. Coker, a 14-year educator.  “Teaching kindergarten has been the love of my professional life.  There is never a dull moment or lack of inspiration from my students.”

Her students, their families and her colleagues think she is the dream come true.

“Mrs. Coker is everything you hope for in a teacher,” shared a former student, now in fourth grade.  “She taught me it is OK to speak up even if I didn’t have the answer the first time.  She showed me how I could do things I didn’t know and then celebrated with me when I got them.  She is still one of the first smiles I see when I walk into the school.  She still makes me feel safe … and is the best teacher there is.”

Ms. Coker is known for her dedication to building relationships with students and their families and is equally respected for her investment in developing lessons using research-based instructional strategies.  As a former principal shared: “To me the ultimate compliment for any teacher is for another teacher to say, ‘I want my child in that class.’  If I had a kindergarten student, I would say this about Ms. Coker without hesitation.”  

In her own words: “I want parents to know that I see their child, their whole world, as more than just a data point or another face.”

Mill Creek MS: Angie Graves

Meet a 2023 School Teacher of the Year: Angie Graves of Mill Creek MS!

A three-time Teacher of the Year winner, Angie Graves sees her greatest reward in her students’ success.

Now in her 16th year as an educator, Ms. Graves teaches Special Education students struggling with emotional and behavioral challenges.  She uses an open growth mindset model that encourages students to change their mindset for greater success in learning and life.

Students assess their own behavior, give each other feedback, work collaboratively to problem solve and learn to be self-aware and to self-advocate.  As many of her students struggle with acceptance by peers, Ms. Graves works with her colleagues to make the school more inclusive for not only her students, but also for all students with differences.

“In such a difficult job that many would never consider, Mrs. Graves exhibits the love and compassion these students need in their lives,” a colleague shared.  “These students come to her with not only behavioral needs, but academic needs and trauma, and she loves them where they are.  It has been exciting to see the difference she has made in students’ lives … she reaches the whole child and sends them out as better human beings.  I am proud to say she is not only my friend, but my hero.”

In her own words: “My desire is for my class to be thought of as just another class.  They focus on lessons and projects.  The class is full of smart, inquisitive students who enjoy telling jokes, playing video games and telling stories about themselves and their families – typical middle school students.”

Mountain Road ES: Dr. Lorie Mick 

Dr. Lorie Mick

An expert teacher of students with autism, Dr. Lorie Mick looks for ways her students can fully engage in the world around them.

Some of her students don’t use words, and some struggle to connect with others in typical ways.  Now in her 20th year teaching, Dr. Mick finds creative solutions to help students overcome those challenges.

One such lesson centers around the book “What If Everyone Did That?”  Through it, she teaches the concept of community, which students put into action by walking the playground one day to look for and pick up litter.  

She teaches a big lesson to the whole school each year through Cougar Cares.  This club, which she co-sponsors, pairs students with typical learning abilities with students with learning differences.  Through the club, students with autism and other special needs improve their social skills.  The peer helpers learn more about classmates’ special needs and develop greater empathy.

A former student’s mom said her son made remarkable progress in Dr. Mick’s class and continues to do so because of her positive influence.  “She is 100% who he needed as a teacher,” the mom said.  “She even takes time out of her weekends to attend his football games.  She comes out to cheer him on and it means the world to us and him.  We are so thankful for her every day.”

In her own words: “The most important aspect of our job is to inspire students to reach their full potential by exposing them to an inclusive learning environment where everyone is respected, valued and knows their worth.”

Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy: Charm Cochran

TOTY 2023 Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy Charm Cochran

One of the most important lessons Oak Grove ES STEAM Academy Special Education teacher Charm Cochran leads each year is simply called “Feelings.”

While its name may be simple, the content is anything but, as it helps students understand their own feelings and the feelings of others to help them be more successful in school and in life.

This is an incredibly important lesson for Ms. Cochran’s kindergarten and first-graders, whose special needs can make it harder for them to express feelings and recognize them in others.  This challenge makes it harder to forge friendships and understand how negative behavior affects others.

“Understanding and expressing our emotions appropriately is a key component to life,” said Ms. Cochran, who is in her sixth year as a teacher.  “When students look back on being in my classroom, I hope they have fond memories of feeling loved and accepted.”

Her principal said Ms. Cochran’s deep understanding of children’s needs and her ability to teach with innovative strategies make her a role model educator.  “Ms. Cochran leads her students through challenging activities, problem-solving tasks and rigorous learning by exhibiting patience, empathy and respect for all.  I have never seen such a beautifully run classroom.” 

In her own words: “When we, as educators, can build relationships with students, help facilitate their friendship building and teach meaningful rigorous lessons to our students, we can create a love to be at school and in return a love for learning within our students.”

R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy: Whitney Tippens

Meet a 2023 School Teacher of the Year: Whitney Tippens of R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy

R.M. Moore ES STEM Academy kindergarten teacher Whitney Tippens is guided in her classroom by nine reminders.

Look at your students.  Smile at your students.  Speak to your students.  Demonstrate model behaviors for your students.  Listen to your students.  Observe your students.  Expose your heart to your students.  Be a constant for your students.  Learn from your students.

She uses this list daily to stay focused on students’ well-being and her own “why” for teaching.  “My greatest hope as a teacher is that my students leave my classroom feeling loved, with a sincere passion for life-long learning,” said Ms. Tippens, who is in her 13th year teaching.  “Every day, I come to school with a purpose and true excitement, striving to shape my students into the best versions of themselves as individuals and students.”

Her experience makes her an outstanding teacher, but her enthusiasm, empathy and ethics are why she’s an educator beloved by students, their families and her colleagues.  “I do not believe Mrs. Tippens can not smile.  Her smile is the first thing you notice when you see her.  She is one of those people who makes everyone around her feel better about the world,” her principal shared.  “She is a leader, a motivator and a master educator.” 

In her own words: “You can witness the stress of the day melt away with a simple smile.  We do not know the situations a child faces before walking into their classroom in the morning.  Happiness and positivity are contagious.”

River Ridge HS: David Harrison

TOTY 2023 River Ridge High School Teacher of the Year David Harrison

River Ridge High School teacher and coach David Harrison grew up as the child of a principal and media specialist.

He was determined to pursue a different path but, after graduation, also heard that same call to teach and lead.

“I came to realize my true passion is creating a fun, engaging classroom where students enjoy learning,” said Mr. Harrison, who now is in his 19th year as an educator, currently teaching U.S. history and AP Psychology.

His students, their families and his colleagues say they’re grateful Mr. Harrison listened to his calling, as his professionalism, enthusiasm and caring heart have made a positive difference in their lives.

“Something that I believe makes Mr. Harrison stand out among other teachers is how he is truly worried about his students,” shared a former student.  “During one of our projects in AP Psychology, he called each student one by one outside the classroom to ask about their grades in all their classes, how they were feeling about their grades and giving them feedback to improve.  It is not only about how he teaches his students, but also how he cares about them inside and outside the classroom, trying to help them in order to be successful.”

In his own words: “When a community feels connected and motivated to work together, they strive to work even harder to benefit one another.  At RRHS, it is our goal of seeing our students graduate, prepared to be leaders, which is the focus of our community and motivates our actions.”

Sequoyah HS: Jennifer Loudermilk

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Jennifer Loudermilk’s love of language has inspired successful new programs at her school.

Now in her eighth year teaching Spanish at Sequoyah High School, Ms. Loudermilk is known for reaching learners of all abilities.

During her tenure, she has earned Advanced Placement (AP) Spanish Language and Gifted certifications to teach the most academically challenging Spanish classes.  She has overseen International Skills Diploma Seal and Seal of Biliteracy programs and the National Spanish Honor Society to support highly dedicated students.  And she has developed a Spanish language program focused on workplace language skills and open to all students including those with learning disabilities or other special needs that make learning a second language more challenging.

“Jennifer works tirelessly to provide the support needed for all students to be successful, regardless of their learning level,” a colleague shared.  “I have witnessed first-hand Jennifer’s unyielding dedication to reaching and teaching every student, every single day.”

Beyond the world languages program, for which she also serves as department chair, Ms. Loudermilk supports students by sponsoring the diversity club and by using her theatre skills to assist the drama club.  As a former student shared: “Mrs. Loudermilk helps switch on the lightbulb for students, inspiring their passions and helping to build their work ethic.”

In her own words: “I believe if students are given the proper tools and guidance they can reach immeasurable heights.”

Sixes ES: Melissa Perryman

TOTY 2023 Sixes ES Melissa Perryman 12 23 23

Many of Special Education teacher Melissa Perryman’s students cannot speak for themselves.  She not only finds ways to communicate with them, but she also speaks up for them.

“I am an advocate for my students on a daily basis,” said Ms. Perryman, a 29-year teacher who is in her 17th year at Sixes Elementary School.

Through her advocacy, her students make progress in their communication, academic knowledge, behavior and social skills.  Her school also has become more inclusive with greater opportunities for students with significant special needs to spend time with peers. 

One mom shared that her daughter over several years in Ms. Perryman’s class has gone from speaking one to two words in kindergarten to now mastering a vocabulary of many words and the ability to ask for what she needs and write some words.

“Each child has a unique set of goals, and she is determined to help each child succeed and not only meet their goals, but exceed them,” the mom said.  “And that’s why there is no other teacher who I feel exemplifies what a teacher of the year is other than Ms. Perryman.”

In her own words: “I believe all students deserve the chance to discover their skills to self-regulate their emotions, be given the opportunity to learn to communicate to the best of their ability and become independent in their daily skills, and all the while know they are in a safe environment.”

Teasley MS: Cody Lamanac

TOTY 2023 Teasley MS Cody Lamanac 1 13 23

Cody Lamanac started his teaching career as a high school student.

As a Sequoyah High School senior, he participated in Work-Based Learning, through which students spend part of their school day working in a job aligned with a potential career pathway.

As an After School Program worker at Indian Knoll ES, Cody found his path and continued working there as he pursued his bachelor’s degree, taking on a program coordinator role and additionally working as a substitute teacher.

He joined the Teasley faculty five years ago as a math teacher and quickly became a teacher leader, serving as a lead teacher, professional learning community facilitator and club sponsor, while also earning a master’s degree in education.  His peers selected him as Teacher of the Year, he was invited to join CCSD’s recruitment ambassador team and he was selected for this year’s Superintendent’s Leadership Academy class for teacher leaders.

“Cody is the kind of educator who leads without being asked and influences others without an ounce of pride,” a colleague shared.  “His motivation is exclusively driven by what is best for kids.  For these reasons and more, he has been entrusted by many with so much responsibility early in his career.  He epitomizes the kind of teacher that should be honored with the recognition of Teacher of the Year.”

In his own words: “I live and work by the old saying of ‘can’t never could’ and work each day to empower my students to believe in themselves to achieve!”

Tippens Education Center: Valerie Dunn

Woodstock ES: Molly Niemeir

TOTY 2023 Woodstock ES Molly Niemeir 1 20 23

Woodstock Elementary School teacher Molly Niemeir grew up in the community where she now teaches kindergarten.

She was inspired early on to become a teacher and participating in Woodstock High School’s teacher cadet program confirmed for her that she was on the right path.

“I have had the privilege to see just how much heart teachers put into their work as a student before following in their footsteps as a teacher myself,” the nine-year educator said.  

Ms. Niemeir now inspires her own students to dream big.  One of her former students has a special poster on her bedroom wall that reads “You’ve Got This!” 

“It’s the mantra she sees every day as she wakes, and every night as she lays her head down on her pillow,” the student’s mom said.  “It makes her whole being smile; it causes her to feel loved and supported; and it reminds her of her beloved kindergarten teacher, Ms. Niemeir.”

For the poster was made by Ms. Niemeir who brought it to the student to cheer her on at a race in which she was running.  It’s one of many examples shared by parents and colleagues of how Ms. Niemeir believes in her students, inspires them and makes each one feel seen and appreciated.

In her own words: “I believe one of the most important initiatives for students in today’s world is providing students with an environment in which they feel loved, supported and cared for.”

Woodstock HS: Lauren Cannon

TOTY 2023 Woodstock HS Lauren Cannon 1 27 23

Lauren Cannon believes that every teacher is an English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher.

While her title at Woodstock High School is English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, Ms. Cannon has made it her mission to help colleagues in all teaching roles see the value in learning instructional strategies to support English learners.  She has succeeded by leading professional development programs to provide her fellow educators with new insights and teaching tools … and she has succeeded by changing hearts and minds.

“My building is full of compassionate educators who, given the right education and knowledge, can and will teach any student who comes their way,” said the 16-year educator, who specializes in teaching ESOL English classes and co-teaching ESOL students in social studies classes.

Her fellow teachers say her passion for supporting the success of every student needs no translation.  “Lauren has a heart for all students and believes that every child deserves the best possible education.  She not only believes this, but she lives this through her actions every single day without fail,” a colleague shared.

In her own words: “When people ask me what it’s like teaching ESOL, I tell them: ‘I love it because I get to teach the whole student.  We serve as social workers, counselors, college admission advisors and friends.’”

Woodstock MS: Amanda Anderson