Amy Coleman has been teaching first grade in Columbia County for 13 years. She began her career at North Columbia Elementary and has been at Riverside Elementary for six years. She holds a master's degree in early childhood education and a specialist's degree in educational leadership. Coleman has been a mentor to several first-year teachers and a master teacher for many Augusta State University apprentices. She enjoys developing creative ways to meet the needs of all of her students.
Carole Ayers has spent 17 years teaching. She first worked as a teaching assistant and became a teacher one year later. She has taught in Gaston County, N.C. (nine years); Richmond County (four years); and Columbia County (four years). Ayers received her master's degree in elementary education from the University of North Carolina and recently received a specialist's degree in educational leadership from Augusta State University. She loves teaching first grade because children that age are so teachable and excited about learning.
River Ridge Elementary
Danielle Callan is in her fourth year as a music teacher in Columbia County. She graduated from Georgia Southern University with a bachelor of arts degree in music education. Callan earned her master's degree in creative arts and learning from Lesley University. Callan values an interdisciplinary curriculum that challenges her students to incorporate the subject they are learning in other classrooms. She is pursuing her specialist's degree in teaching and learning and completing requirements for reading and gifted endorsement.
"Being nominated and then selected by my colleagues was truly a surprise and an honor I had never expected. I teach in a building that is full of gracious, supportive, and talented 'Teachers of the Year' each day," Jane ElLaissi said. ElLaissi received her bachelor of science degree from Georgia Southern University and her master's degree in middle grades education and education specialist in math and science from Augusta State University. ElLaissi has been a middle grades teacher for 24 years, 23 of them in Columbia County.
North Harlem Elementary
Wendy Kersey has taught in Columbia County for 14 years. When she was an Augusta State University student, she completed her student teaching at North Harlem Elementary and has been there ever since. Kersey earned her master's degree from Walden University and has received several awards, including Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year, Who's Who Among America's Teachers and Teacher of the Year. Kersey believes that students need structure, love, excitement, consistency and a positive outlook on themselves and their abilities.
Bel Air Elementary
After teaching and coaching in middle school, high school and college, Kerry Carver is in his 11th year of teaching physical education at Belair Elementary and in his 18th year in Columbia County. Carver appreciates the confidence Belair staff placed in him. In addition to his teaching duties, he is the co-director of Belair's before- and after-school program and teaches math in Belair's Saturday school. Carver was the first physical education teacher in the state to receive the Reading Endorsement from the University of Georgia Reading Consortium.
Sean Crites has just started his 11th year of teaching and his seventh year at Evans Middle School, where he is an eighth-grade math teacher. He is also the coach for the boys' and girls' soccer teams, assistant coach for the boys' golf team and assistant coach for the football team. Crites has a bachelor of science degree in education from Union University in Tennessee and plans to graduate from Lesley University with his master's degree in education in April. While in graduate school, he has learned and applied many innovative ways to keep students interested and involved.
Robyn Eackloff began her 10th year of teaching this fall. She holds a master's degree in English and is working on her specialist's degree. During her time with the Richmond County School System and in her current position at the Columbia County Alternative School, she has championed for children of all academic levels. Eackloff enjoys the challenge of finding ways to engage and involve her students. She is honored to represent CCAS as Teacher of the Year.
South Columbia Elementary
Ivy Thomas, a graduate of Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University, has been teaching in Columbia County for seven years. She was honored to be selected by her peers at South Columbia Elementary as Teacher of the Year. "I decided at a very young age to become a teacher, and teaching students in the classroom has been a lifelong dream fulfilled," Thomas said. She describes a life of hard work in school and home as preparing her for the goals she set. Thomas is attending Southern Wesleyan University to obtain her master's degree in education.
Army veteran Paul Holcomb never thought he would begin his second career teaching America's future. "After I retired and became more involved in my son's education, I realized that teaching was my next calling," he said. Holcomb graduated from Athens State University with a bachelor's degree in elementary education and immediately enrolled in - and graduated from - the master's program at the University of North Alabama. After a year and a half working with the Fort Gordon Youth Center, Holcomb began teaching at Lewiston Elementary. Since then, Holcomb has taught three years of fourth grade and is starting his first year as a fifth-grade teacher. He firmly believes that all students can learn, and he strives to reach and meet his students' needs.
"I am inspired to be the very best teacher by the high caliber of teachers and administrators at Lakeside," Cassandra Gentry said. She taught science for nine years in grades seven through 12 and now teaches physics and chemistry. She earned two undergraduate degrees, one in chemistry from Rosemont College and the second in science education from Montana State University. In 2005, she completed a master's degree in science education from North Dakota State University. She takes pleasure in applying a variety of instructional strategies when teaching and making personal connections with students.
Kimetha Hampton has taught for 12 years. She has made Columbia County schools her home and has taught at Grovetown Middle for the past six years. Hampton has a bachelor's degree and master's degree in math and science middle grades education and a specialist degree in educational leadership. "I am enthusiastic when teaching math and have a passion for helping students understand how to speak mathematically and explain how mathematics applies to life outside the classroom," Hampton said.
Diane Holland has been teaching for more than 29 years, with 23 of those at Harlem Middle. She has a bachelor of science degree from Winthrop University and a master's degree in education from Augusta State University. Holland enjoys guiding sixth-grade students through their first year in middle school. Her dedication to making math understandable and interesting is evident in her classroom. She is extremely honored to represent the exceptional faculty at Harlem Middle.
Stevens Creek Elementary
Deborah Hundt is a graduate of the College of Charleston, with a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Her teaching career began in 1981 as a resource teacher in Charleston County. Three counties and 26 years later, Hundt is in her fourth year at Stevens Creek Elementary as a fifth-grade teacher. During this time, she has been inspired by an excellent team of teachers, a fabulous spectrum of students and a very supportive community of parents. She thoroughly enjoys teaching social studies, working with ESOL and inclusion students, tutoring, writing grants, collaborating with teachers and participating on field trips. In the summer, Hundt is the afternoon director for Kid's University at Augusta State University.
Jeremy Medlin is in his sixth year of teaching chemistry at Greenbrier High School. He has a bachelor of science degree in education with a specialization in chemistry education from the University of Georgia. Medlin's desire to become a teacher began in middle school, but his decision was set in stone after an exceptional high school band director gave him the chance to lead his peers. As a graduate of Greenbrier High School, he vowed to return to his alma mater and give back to the school that helped make him who he is today. Medlin strives to provide his students with an opportunity to make science relatable and to help nurture their curiosity about the world around them.
Media Specialist of the Year
Anna Olliff is in her sixth year as media specialist at Evans Middle School. After graduating from North Carolina State University, Olliff taught high school language arts and literature at high schools in Georgia and South Carolina before relocating to the area. After moving to Augusta, Olliff received her master of library and information science degree from the University of South Carolina and began working at Evans Middle School as a media specialist. Olliff views her role as a facilitator of information literacy and technology skills, teacher and manager.
Darlene Ralph, a teacher for 27 years, was honored to be selected Teacher of the Year for Evans High School. Ralph has a bachelor of science degree in the education of exceptional children from Pennsylvania State University and a master's degree in learning disabilities from West Virginia University. Ralph collaboratively teaches ninth- and 12th-grade communication skills. She has dedicated all her years of teaching to students with special needs. "I especially enjoy assisting high school students as they develop the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful citizens who can compete in the workplace or fulfill their goals for higher education," Ralph said.
Norma Read has been teaching for more than 30 years, beginning her career in Effingham County, then moving to Lincoln County, where she taught second grade for 14 years. For the past 16 years, she has been at Westmont Elementary. At Westmont, she has taught kindergarten through fourth grade. Read received her undergraduate degree in early childhood education from Georgia Southern University. "I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching young children, and it has been rewarding to watch them grow socially and academically. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do than impact the lives of students," she said.
Ashley Renew is honored to be selected by her colleagues as Teacher of the Year for Lakeside Middle School. Renew earned her undergraduate degree in middle grades education from Augusta State University and her graduate degree in education from Lesley University. Renew has presented strategies for teaching students with disabilities to educators at workshops across the area. Renew believes that in order to teach adolescents, one must educate the "whole" child - academically, socially and emotionally. "By serving as a facilitator for their learning, I model strategies for success so that my students view learning as a rewarding lifelong endeavor," Renew said.
Nancy Smith is in her 10th year of teaching sixth-grade language arts at Columbia Middle School. "It has been my goal to be a mentor as well as an inspiration to my students, just as my sixth-grade teacher was to me," Smith said. Her credentials include an undergraduate degree in middle grades education, which she received from Augusta State University. She earned a master's degree in instructional technology from Troy University. "I try to give my students opportunities to study units that motivate them to learn the required content while reflecting their interests."
North Columbia Elementary
Gail Snipes began her 15th year of teaching this fall. As a child, she was inspired to become a teacher by her mother, who was a very dedicated kindergarten teacher. After graduating from Augusta State University, Snipes began her teaching career in Richmond County, where she taught for nine years before coming to North Columbia Elementary in 2002. "My students serve as the constant catalyst that urges me to reflect, examine and improve upon my teaching methods every day," Snipes said. Snipes feels that she not only belongs to a faculty at North Columbia Elementary, but more important, a "family."
Harlem High School
Craig Baker has been teaching and coaching for 13 years. He began his career at South Aiken High School before he and his wife moved to Columbia County. His wife, Diane Baker, teaches kindergarten at Grovetown Elementary. Baker teaches honors physics and the ninth-grade physics classes. "My motto is 'physics is phun,' and I enjoy using real-world examples in my lessons as I teach the principles of physics," he said. Baker has a bachelor of science degree from East Stroudsburg University and is enrolled in Georgia College and State University, where he is pursuing a master's degree in education leadership.
Blue Ridge Elementary
Susan Wagner, a 25-year veteran, said she is "honored and proud to represent Blue Ridge." Wagner has been teaching at Blue Ridge for 20 years, ranging from first to third grade. She now spends her days with first-graders. "Teaching the smaller children keeps me young; and after 25 years, I want to hang onto every ounce of my youth," Wagner said. She received a bachelor of science degree in education from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Shortly after graduation, she married Mike Wagner, and they have three children. Her daughters, Kristen Moore and Andrea Wagner, teach at Greenbrier High School. Her son, Eric Wagner, attends Georgia Southern University.
Kimlyn Thornhill started her career in Columbia County as a special education paraprofessional in 1989. During that year, her desire to work with special-needs children grew. With encouragement from family, she went back to college to pursue a bachelor's degree in education. After graduating from Augusta State University, she began teaching children with special needs at Greenbrier High School, then moved to Martinez Elementary. She now works with preschool special-education children. "I am proud to be a part of the Grovetown Elementary team and feel honored to have been nominated by my peers for their Teacher of the Year," she said.
A passion for science led Susan Weiksner into a career in nursing, and after 20 years there, she fulfilled another passion - earning a teaching certificate. Weiksner is in her fourth year at Greenbrier Middle School and has taught all three grade levels. Her interest in the environment and enhancing the school grounds led her to start an Earth Club three years ago. Weiksner is very honored to be chosen Teacher of the Year among her top-notch fellow teachers at GMS. "I hope I will be remembered as a teacher who not only inspired my students to learn, but also instilled a desire to learn and achieve goals they might not have felt were within their reach," Weiksner said.
Debbie French, a teacher for 27 years, was deeply honored to be named Teacher of the Year for the second time in 25 years at Martinez Elementary. French earned her undergraduate degree at Western Illinois University and early childhood certification at Augusta State University. After teaching two years, she joined the Army, serving a three-year tour in intelligence. French returned to teaching after her service and has taught special education and kindergarten through second grade. "My students make each day complete for me," she said. "They ... have helped make me the teacher I am today. I am excited ... to be a part of the Martinez Elementary family."
Marie Marshall has been teaching for 20 years in the public school system, the past six years in Columbia County. Her teaching experience includes special education, preschool and regular education. Marshall has taught in South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas and west Georgia. "I am glad to be back in my home state and teaching fourth grade at Greenbrier Elementary School and am honored to be named Teacher of the Year at our school. I'm on a great team which makes my job fun," Marshall said. She has a bachelor's degree in education from Augusta State University and a master's degree from the University of South Carolina.
Euchee Creek Elementary
Jimmy Jones is in his 12th year at Euchee Creek Elementary School. He has worked with fourth graders in the areas of reading and math in the early intervention (EIP) program for the past 11 years. Jones enjoys the challenge of working with students in the EIP program and assisting them in developing strategies for achieving success in the classroom. In addition to teaching at Euchee Creek Elementary, Jones also has taught at North Columbia and Grovetown elementary schools. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in middle grades education from Augusta State University.
Izabella Kean, a teacher of four years, was humbled to be selected Teacher of the Year for Brookwood Elementary School. "Being surrounded by highly qualified and dedicated teachers and administrators all throughout my career inspired me to work harder and become the best art teacher for our students," Kean said. She taught in the metro Atlanta area for two years and has been at Brookwood for the past two years. Kean earned two undergraduate degrees in studio art and art education and received a master's degree in art education at Georgia State University.
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