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Unicoi County Schools honors ‘Teachers of the Year’

By Richard Rourk

It’s been a trying year for students, fami-lies and educators alike. Yet despite all the struggles with educa-tion during a pandemic, local educators never lost their passion for and dedication to teaching.

Unicoi County Schools recently honored several of those educators with the title, “Teachers of the Year.” According to Unicoi County Schools Director John English, all of the instructors at Unicoi County Schools are “Teachers of the Year,” in his eyes. “Our staff has been amazing through this pandemic and so resilient,” English said. English explained that the “Teacher of the Year” program recognizes and honors outstanding teachers in Unicoi County and across Tennessee. “We applaud teachers who devote their professional careers to enriching the lives of children and who demonstrate exceptional gains in academic achievement and growth in students,” English said. “Congratulations to the 2020-21 Teachers of the Year.”

The 2020-21 Teachers of the Year for Unicoi County are:

Kristen Allen-Love Chapel Elementary School and District PreK-4 Teacher of the Year.

Allen is a teacher at Love Chapel Elementary School with fi fteen years of experience. She is deeply invested in the academic growth of her students but is also a true example of servant leadership. This extends beyond her school, throughout the district, to our community, and beyond. She serves as a school leader and advocates for United Way fundraising efforts. Also, a member of the Lighthouse team as a part of the Leader in Me school initiative at Love Chapel, Allen champions the process and coordinates school-wide work to support life skills students will learn that teach hem how to be leaders, take pride in their work, communicate effectively, and serve on projects that raise awareness and benefit others.

Allen has been a volunteer for Relay for Life for many years and current-ly serves as county Luminary Chair where she oversees the Luminary bags for the annual Relay for Life with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. Recently she collaborated with the Chamber of Com-merce to coordinate a Garden of Hope as an extension of the luminary fundraiser. Allen truly is an encourager, and always aware of those around her. Her efforts are many including valentines to Veterans, working on the Christmas Shopping Tour for over 20 years and coordinating a local FAITH team to honor and encourage colleagues who need additional encouragement as they face difficult situations.

She recently worked with RISE Erwin and Relay for Life on “Paint the Town Purple” in which UCHS students provide assistance painting windows for businesses to brighten up downtown and provide encouraging messages of hope to the community and survivors. In addition to her desire to encourage and lift others, she has also served in key academic roles, including school leadership teams, as a system-level Teacher Leader collaborating on improvement efforts in early literacy, and on Teacher Advisory Councils throughout her tenure giving crucial feedback on instructional decisions related to general education and intervention for students.

Additionally, Allen has served as President of the local Unicoi County Education Association, on TEA state committees and taught adjunct classes in Early Childhood and Development.

Congratulations, Kristen Allen.

Cane Cannon-Unicoi County Middle School and District 5-8 Teacher of the Year.

Cannon is an eighth-grade math teacher at Unicoi County Middle School with seven years of experience. No stranger

to this honor, he was previously selected as school and district-level teacher of the year in the 2016-17 school year. Cannon continues to contribute the greatest joy as a teacher is to see students not only succeed in their education but also grow as individuals in the community. Each year UCMS participates in a food drive initiative to collect and provide food to the families of students in our area.

Each year his students exceed donations goals. Helping students learn about the importance of giving and seeing their excitement in watching donations grow has been one of the highlights of his teaching career, demonstrating his dedication to both the academic and non-academic development of his students. In 2020, a year like no other, Cannon realized he would have to adapt to even more changes in teaching than ever before. As a math teacher using hands-on strategies in the classroom, he realized the need to adapt in a virtual learning environment, which brought challenges he was eager to meet in order to still provide his students with the best education possible.

Cannon, an already tech-savvy teacher began to learn more about new and more efficient ways of data collection. Finding innovative ways to break down data to highlight areas where students may need additional instruction has helped Cannon support students in gaining a better understanding of the material, track their growth and development, and intervene in areas they need additional support. Throughout his tenure, Cannon also has provided before and after-school tutoring and students well into their high school careers continue to come back for support, always to find someone eager to help. Congratulations Cane Cannon.

Kelly Boling-Unicoi County High School and District 9-12 Teacher of the Year.

Boling is a teacher at Unicoi County High School where she teaches grades 11-12 Mathematics.

She has fourteen years of teaching experience, six of those at UCHS. Currently, serving as a SAILS-certified Math teacher she can work with students who may have not met necessary college-ready benchmarks and offer those students the opportunity to take SAILS free rather than pay for remedial classes at the college level. She has made it a professional goal to work to the improvement of overall school culture serving as a standing member on the leadership team at the school and as a teacher leader for the district. She stays towards one hundred percent completion of the program by enrolled students.

Her completion numbers have reached 99 percent, compared to a statewide average of 89%. Boling also coordinates Homecoming Week activities at UCHS to celebrate school and community spirit through fun and engaging activities that culminate with a parade that is a school tradition enjoyed by students and the community.

She works with the Culinary Arts at UCHS to provide unique experiences such as the Mother-Daughter Brunch for candidates as well as collaborates with the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life to promote cancer research and awareness for all students.

Boling hopes to empower students to make a true impact on their community and recently co-sponsored the Chick-Fil-A Leadership Academy at UCHS where students participate in monthly Leadership Labs to learn servant leadership principles and practice student-led community service projects including adopting senior citizens from the area assisted living communities and hosting a 5K fundraising event to support the school library. More recently, Boling has led efforts around virtual instruction to ensure continuity of instruction for all students working remotely or in-person.

Congratulations Kelly Boling.

Lisa Baxter-Community Learning Center Teacher of the Year.

Baxter is a Pre-K teacher at the Community Learning Center and also an assistant girls basketball coach at UCMS. She has eighteen years of experience. Baxter has a strong rapport with her students, families, and colleagues. She is often referred to as  “cherished” by families as they send their children for their first school experience to such a positive and nurturing environment.

Baxter is a school and district leader and learner as witnessed this year as she was charged with teaching our youngest children in-person and remotely.

Committed to maintaining connections with her students and families even during virtual instruction, she offered small group opportunities for students not only to learn academically but to connect with classmates. She also used tools such as Flip-grid allowing students to share their learning through video messages. This provided students in her class the opportunity to see and hear what each student was learning and excited about. Whether in the classroom or the gym, Baxter brings a whole child perspective, a positive attitude, and high expectations.

Congratulations, Lisa Baxter.

Kelly Pate-Rock Creek Elementary Teacher of the Year.

Pate is a first grade teacher at Rock Creek with nine years of experience.

She was selected as a school and district level Teacher of the Year in the 2016-17 school year and is a highly-respected teacher by colleagues within her school and across the district. The landscape of 2020-2021 impacted learning and teaching in so many ways and Pate, as she does each year, stepped up to meet the challenge with grace and resolve. Each school year Pate reflects on how what she does and what she teaches impact the world and helps students’ learning transcend the classroom. This year, that was no different and even more unique as couches, kitchen tables, and bedrooms became classrooms.

Pate wanted students to learn and achieve academically, but also meet the needs of the whole child. Believing social and emotional learning has never been as important as it is now Pate has been committed to supporting students learn and develop compassion, empathy, self-control and respectful communication. Seeing first hand how this pandemic has affected students and their families, Pate prioritized responding with compassion and empathy understanding these are not just important classroom skills, but life skills that will help build the foundation for caring, compassionate citizens. Pate has always been technologically skilled and considers herself a “techy” person, but in 2020 she  immediately began reading and trying to learn more.

During the summer, she worked to become a Google Certified Educator knowing this would not only benefit herself and her students but also her colleagues. She made herself available to her colleagues to ask questions, model new strategies and tools, and learn alongside colleagues as collaboration around virtual learning was becoming necessary.

Pate credits collaboration, teamwork, and respect as transforming school culture and underscoring the notion that professional learning is imperative to ensure students receive a quality education despite the challenges and a changing landscape for teachers and students.

As part of each student’s “journey to success”, Pate begins each year by teaching students the importance of a growth mindset. “Hard things make our brains grow” and “We can’t do it yet” are phrases she uses every single day. Students’ goals are measured and celebrated often. There is a strong connection between the focus of students’ learning needs, goals, and her understanding of the standards to the success found within her instruction and classroom.

Congratulations Kelly Pate.

Dawn Webb-Temple Hill Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

Webb, a fifth-grade teacher at Temple Hill has twenty-three years of experience.

Serving on the school leadership team, she has been an active part in the development of a student-council providing students the opportunity

for involvement and input in their school. Students from third through fifth grade serve as officers and seek elected positions.

These students meet regularly with their principal and are a part of the planning process for school events.

They also provide feedback on ways to promote family involvement and student engagement. One of Webb’s favorite activities is to invite guest speakers to her classroom allowing students to see curriculum connections “come to life”. Community experts come to the classroom and share information about their careers and experiences, bring tools they use on their jobs, and allow students to ask questions about careers they may have never known existed.

Webb also is committed to providing students opportunities to experience field trips (both in-person when possible and also virtually.) Trips and virtual experiences often connect what they are learning in class to opportunities in the real world. She strives to equip students with the desire to become life-long learners and apply what they have learned outside the classroom in real-world situations.

She loves to foster content-rich conversations as well as provide students with opportunities to teach and explain concepts to their peers to demonstrate their growing understanding of the content they are learning.

Congratulations, Dawn Webb.

Kelly Tackett-Unicoi Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

Tackett is an English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Unicoi Elementary with six years of experience. She serves both as a school and district-level Teacher Leader. Tackett facilitates a weekly grade-level collaborative with other fifth grade teachers across the county to preview and plan for upcoming instruction as well as foster conversations around engagement, comprehension, and key assessments.

For several years Unicoi Elementary has been working through the process of becoming a trauma-informed school and Tackett credits her training in trauma-informed practices to an increased ability to support the social-emotional needs of students. She works with the school guidance counselor and other teachers to teach students strategies to recognize and regulate their emotions and use positive calming strategies if they realize they are experiencing conflict or frustration. Tackett feels this has a huge impact on students’ lives both in and out of school. She is also committed to continual parent and family involvement.

Tackett believes that families are the most important influence in a child’s life and education. She works to establish positive relationships with her families each year. She tries to personally meet with each parent/guardian of students in her class. During this discussion, she works with families to identify areas of strength and areas for growth that both she and the family can partner for the best support the child.

Tackett also tries to support regular communication with families through classroom news, updates, photos, and positive individual messages sent weekly. Tackett feels the more positive, consistent communication she has with families will engage and ultimately benefit her students.

Although 2020-21 has made it more challenging, she has been intentional to maintain a strong connection with students. It has also increased her belief that family involvement/ investment in their child’s education is crucial. Virtual learning has provided increased opportunities for families to see aspects of their child’s education like never before and Tackett has embraced both the challenges and opportunities with a positive attitude.

Congratulations, Kelly Tackett.

The Erwin Record congratulates all of Unicoi County’s “Teachers of the Year” as well as all of the hardworking and dedicated staff at Unicoi County Schools.