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CCSD Announces 2024 Teacher of the Year Finalists

CCSD Announces 2024 Teacher of the Year Finalists

The Cherokee County School District this week surprised four teachers with the news they are finalists for the 2024 CCSD Teacher of the Year award!

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower visited their classrooms to announce that the judging committee selected them as the top teachers of all CCSD schools’ and centers’ Teachers of the Year.  

They are: Crystal Bennett, Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy, fifth-grade math, science and social studies teacher; Shannah Dean, Etowah High School, visual arts teacher; Stephanie Hopersberger, fifth-grade math, science and social studies teacher, Liberty Elementary School; and Anna Marie Zincone, Freedom Middle School, Family and Consumer Science (FACS) and eighth-grade science teacher.

“Congratulations to our amazing finalists and thank you to all of our teachers for their dedication to our students and our community,” Dr. Hightower said.  “Our finalists are incredible examples of our school district and our profession, as each exceeds expectations for outstanding classroom instruction, support for students and colleagues and engagement in their school community.  As their colleagues and students shared in letters of support, these teachers are the best of the best.”

Each year, four finalists – two selected from all elementary school-level winners and two from all middle, high and centers honorees – are selected by a committee of retired educators, community leaders and the current CCSD Teacher of the Year.  Their selection is based on essay answers to questions about their careers and their views on teaching and education, and letters of support from principals, colleagues, students and parents.

The CCSD Teacher of the Year, who is one of the four finalists, will be announced during CCSD’s Legacy Makers celebration for all school honorees this spring.  The CCSD winner will represent the school district in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.

Read about each of the finalists below: 

Crystal Bennett of Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy

Crystal Bennett of Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy

Crystal Bennett believes in the transformative power of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

Now in her 13th year as an educator, the fifth-grade math, science and social studies teacher sees daily how lessons focused on exploration and innovation increase student engagement and inspire a love of learning.

“My classroom motto, ‘You are capable of amazing things,’ empowers my students,” said Ms. Bennett, who as a child attended Ball Ground ES where she now teaches.  “I believe that an engaged learner is a motivated learner.”

Just as her lessons transform student learning, they also sometimes literally transform her classroom.  One such lesson is “Operation Day,” when her classroom turns into a hospital overnight.  Students scrub in using black-light activated glowing germ-detecting soap.  Then they robe up in hospital gowns, masks and gloves and rotate between surgical tables to complete various lessons.  It’s a cross-curricular learning event that involves math, social studies, science and technology lessons.

Continuously raising standards for herself and her students is a hallmark for Ms. Bennett, according to Principal Melinda Roulier.

“Whether it’s dressing up in a crazy outfit, using her karaoke machine to make up songs or turning her whole classroom into a triage unit … you can be sure Ms. Bennett will do whatever it takes to help her students deeply understand the standards they are expected to master,” she said.  “Her passion for education, dedication to her students and contributions to our school community make her an outstanding choice for this recognition.”

Crystal Bennett of Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy

Shannah Dean of Etowah High School

Shannah Dean of Etowah High School

Shannah Dean doesn’t get to keep her greatest masterpieces: her students. 

A 13-year educator, Ms. Dean teaches all levels of visual arts and is known for her great skill and care in including every student, no matter their artistic or learning abilities.  

“I feel my classes give students a unique ability to express themselves and I am welcoming to whoever they are,” said Ms. Dean, who also graduated from Etowah.  “I teach art skills to help students improve, but my main goal is to give them a place to belong and ability to know that they are important.”

As her colleagues and former students attest, she sees the artist in each student and helps them see opportunities to share their art in the world, whether as a career or a creative outlet.  Among her greatest achievements is the establishment of Etowah’s AP (Advanced Placement) program for art, which has grown to three college credit-level courses.

“What Shannah accomplishes academically in a classroom is astonishing.  She successfully manages multiple levels of different visual arts courses with varying curricula in the classroom at the same time.  She excels in supporting and teaching a variety of different techniques and projects all within the same classroom all while instilling a love of arts in her students,” said Jennifer Jones, CCSD’s administrator for humanities and fine arts.  “Shannah is an integral part of the art educator and artist community in Cherokee County.”

Shannah Dean of Etowah High School

Stephanie Hopersberger of Liberty Elementary School

Stephanie Hopersberger of Liberty Elementary School

Stephanie Hopersberger, known as “Ms. Hops,” embedded character education lessons and service learning into her classroom “before it was ‘cool.”’

The fifth-grade math, science and social studies teacher welcomes students at the door with the choice: handshake, hug or high-five?  And then it’s onto the morning meeting where students reflect on a character education topic and also can share what’s on their minds – or hearts.  They embark on community service learning projects together, often spurred by concerns shared by students during morning meetings.  

Over her 12 years as a teacher at Liberty, Ms. Hops has seen these strategies for positive student engagement and character education spread across the school, school district and nation.  Liberty’s success earned it national recognition and, along the way, led Ms. Hops and her colleagues to add new programs to help students, like the support group for students whose parents are divorcing … again, prompted by student conversations in morning meetings.

“While I was doing a small part within a school, it still makes me feel like a pioneer on the path for schools to create better humans for a better future and society,” she said.  “With classroom connections, we create an environment where learning flourishes and students feel seen and valued.  The essence of teaching lies in the relationships we build.”

Her colleagues and students agree and are quick to share their love for Ms. Hops.  “I have never had such a caring or exciting teacher in my entire life,” one student shared.  “No one can nor will out-teach Ms. Hopersberger.” 

Stephanie Hopersberger of Liberty Elementary School

Anna Marie Zincone of Freedom Middle School

Anna Marie Zincone of Freedom Middle School

Family and Consumer Science is today’s version of home economics, and in Anna Marie Zincone’s class the emphasis is on the science.

After 17 years of teaching middle school science, Ms. Zincone two years ago expanded into teaching Family and Consumer Science (FACS) as well.  Through her nine-week FACS class, students see their years of science learning blended into real-life experiences as they cook up delicious “lessons in chemistry.”

“Whether it’s the mysteries of science or the life skills nurtured in practical courses, my goal is to illuminate the path between the theoretical and the practical,” she said.  “It’s about bridging the gap between the lessons and the challenges our students face outside these walls.”

Ms. Zincone also adds a delicious dash of fun to her FACS classes through inventive pop culture-inspired lessons like “Kitchen Crime Scene Investigation” and “The Food Truck Project” … combining skills such as kitchen safety and sanitation with report writing and food preparation with social media marketing.

“Anna spends time helping students connect their own experiences to their content,” said retired teacher Mary Chapman, who previously taught Freedom’s FACS classes.  “She doesn’t just explain the content, she uses the content to problem solve.  Anna’s many hours of planning and preparing classroom lessons are evident through student engagement and enthusiasm to learn.  She represents CCSD as a compassionate and strong professional.  Her passion for all students and their success is what makes Anna the perfect candidate to represent our schools.”

Anna Marie Zincone of Freedom Middle School

The Legacy Makers banquet, and the prizes to be awarded to all of the honorees, are made possible by presenting sponsors: Cherokee County Educational Foundation, Credit Union of Georgia, Northside Hospital Cherokee and Shottenkirk Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Canton.  Additional financial and in-kind sponsorship opportunities are available; interested businesses and organizations are encouraged to please contact Penny Dempsey at or 770.479.1871.