The Tennessee Teacher of the Year program is designed to promote recognition, respect and appreciation for outstanding teachers in Tennessee, to stimulate interest in teaching as a career, and to encourage public involvement in education. Each year, the Tennessee Department of Education applauds teachers who care about children, who devote their professional lives to enriching the lives of Tennessee students, and who demonstrate exceptional gains in student achievement.
Each district in the state may submit nominee(s) for the state-level award. As part of this process, we seek teacher candidates from each school in the district. Oak Ridge Schools would like to congratulate the school-level winners nominated by their principals and peers for the 2020-2021 application. The biographies of the teachers below are written largely in their own words to provide a window into each candidate’s authenticity and commitment to our students.
Oak Ridge Schools Preschool: Principal, Lisa Downard; Teacher of the Year, Kelly Tate
Ms. Tate creates an environment that is welcoming, facilitates learning, collaboration, appreciation, and self-efficacy. For the children in her class, the preschool experience sets the precedent for all future learning. Because there are a wide range of ages and abilities in her classroom, Ms. Tate offers universal supports including visual aids that help children independently utilize the classroom materials and help them feel independent and competent. Kelly encourages and allows all children to utilize these supports if they wish, and notes that most do! She believes it helps children understand that people learn and develop in different ways, and it creates an environment where everyone is viewed as equal. This helps establish a sense of community where children view each other not by what they cannot do, but by what they can do, and what makes each of them unique. Ms. Tate also focuses on social emotional competency, noting that young children often have had few experiences in group social situations and can thus react to conflicts with strong emotions that must be acknowledged and supported. Children are taught empowering calming and conflict resolution strategies. She believes it is precisely this feeling of empowerment that helps children develop a sense of self-worth and respect for others.
Glenwood Elementary: Principal, Ginny Boles; Teacher of the Year, Trudy Cartagena
Ms. Cartagena believes that building relationships is the key to any successful classroom. Her students know that every day they walk into the classroom they are cared for, respected, and loved. Part of building those relationships starts with a hug, fist bump, high five, or handshake in the morning, and ends the same way. Along with building those relationships, Ms. Cartagena emphasizes the importance of a structured classroom management system where all students feel safe and have clear expectations. Trudy makes a point to communicate with both students and parents, through phone calls, e-mails, a classroom app, and parent conferences. She notes that keeping an open line of communication allows parents to stay informed about their child’s progress, holds the student (and parent) accountable, and creates a team-like relationship between the teacher and parent. Read-aloud and novel studies, as well as small group instruction for math are key components in the classroom that help Ms. Cartagena’s students grow academically. She credits mentor teachers with whom she has worked over the past 7 years, whose teaching practices have helped her become the best teacher she can be for her students.
Linden Elementary: Principal, Roger Ward; Teacher of the Year, Becky Sherlock
Ms. Sherlock reflects that special education classrooms, particularly CDC classrooms, are places of unique learning practices that vary from student to student. She enjoys the challenges to meet the needs of all students, while still having lessons that everyone can access and enjoy. Becky believes that communication comes before any other skill. If a student cannot communicate verbally, his/her daily activities focus on verbal communication. If a student has behaviors that impede his/her learning, she focuses on communication with that student as well, as that behavior is also a form of communication. Self-help skills are important in Ms. Sherlock’s classroom. She wants her students to be as independent as possible for life outside of school. Becky’s favorite classroom activities are the weekly cooking units, because students get engaged with the food, allowing her to focus on individual learning goals while creating something collaboratively as a class. It also helps with independence skills for home. Access to general education is of course an essential focus, and she believes that students will rise to the high behavioral and learning expectations of a general education classroom.
Willow Brook Elementary: Principal, Sherrie Fairchild-Keyes; Teacher of the Year, Marti Overton
Ms. Overton and her fellow Willow Brook staff have focused on improving student achievement in literacy. She mentions that Dr. Fairchild-Keyes and academic specialists have worked with her grade-level meetings and school-wide meetings, collaborating with reading specialists, district leaders, special education teachers, and classroom teachers. They have collected data, created assessments, and established action steps to improve instructional strategies that will increase growth students’ literacy. At the beginning of the school year Ms. Overton had 53% of students at or above grade level. At mid-year, 69% of her students were at or above grade level. She expresses a commitment to continue to implement instructional practices that will assist students who are not meeting their reading goals. Marti noted that she attended Willow Brook when she was a student, and received a strong educational foundation by top quality educators. She wants to ensure she provides the same kind of quality instruction, love, and strong foundation that were given to her as a student at Willow Brook.
Woodland Elementary: Principal, D.T. Hobby; Teacher of the Year, Stacy Donald
Ms. Donald’s goal as a teacher has always been to challenge her students to become young mathematicians—mathematicians who develop a lifetime love for learning. This ideology has produced a variety of classroom practices that meet the countless, diverse learning styles of her students. One practice she implements is building relationships with both her students and their parents. After this relationship is established, students are more willing to take on the challenges set before them. Another classroom practice Ms. Donald believes in is the value of practice at home. She says that practice makes perfect, and that this is especially true with young minds. She works very hard to get her students to embrace homework as a path of mastery and a chance for triumph. Ms. Donald tells students she is the coach and they are her players. She has them establish specific goals and work together to accomplish them. She emphasizes the importance of this practice in relation to students’ futures in high school, college, and professional sports so that they can “connect” the importance of team practice to future success. When students begin to ask for homework, she knows she has helped them adopt the importance of, and the need for practice.
Jefferson Middle School: Principal, Phil Cox; Teacher of the Year, Katie Bolling
Ms. Bolling strives every day to be the best leader for all of her students, both in and out of the classroom. She creates a positive learning environment and culture with the ultimate goal that her students develop a love of being physically active so they can build the foundation they need to live a healthy lifestyle well beyond middle school Physical Education class. In her class at Jefferson Middle School, Katie places strong emphasis on physical fitness and collaboratively works to improve students’ strength, flexibility, speed, and agility every day. Standards are based on students’ age and gender, but the ultimate goal is to see individual improvement throughout the school year. Ms. Bolling’s students have the opportunity to participate in multiple team and individual sports and activities, including jump rope, relays, gymnastics, juggling, Wii Fit, ping pong, flag football, angle ball, handball, basketball, softball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, tennis, pickle ball, and 9-square. This wide variety of individual and team activities are offered in hopes that all students will find activities they enjoy. Katie loves seeing students improve from the beginning of the school year to the end, and notes that there is nothing more rewarding than seeing them accomplish individual physical fitness goals.
Robertsville Middle School: Principal, Kirk Renegar; Teacher of the Year, Joanne Bowman
Ms. Bowman has taught approximately 3500 students over 32 years in Ohio and Tennessee. She has always tried to treat students and their families the way she would want her own children and grandchildren to be treated—with respect and kindness. She greets students at the door with a smile, using their names, and welcomes them into the classroom. Joanne loves to tell stories, and loves to hear students’ stories, just to listen to them, make connections with them, and let them know that she cares. Ms. Bowman lets students know that it is okay to make mistakes, and then to learn from them. She laughs with, cries with, and apologizes to students when she makes mistakes, believing it shows that we are all human. Ms. Bowman states that when students know that teachers care, they will love being in the classroom and want to learn.
Oak Ridge High School: Principal, Martin McDonald; Teacher of the Year, Allen Etheridge
Mr. Etheridge tells of many transformations that have happened for his students who have taken on the Major Author Project at Oak Ridge High School—generally, students believe this task will be too daunting, but with many conversations with him, discover the process can be extremely rewarding. He reflects that these conversations do not happen by accident. Allen intentionally talks to his students about themselves and their lives, about what they do for fun, and what they think about when they see the world. He noted that these transformations as a writers do not happen overnight, but are based on creating a relationship that will allow students to talk openly with him as they go through the writing process. This helps students become independent, mature writers. Is it magic? No, Mr. Etheridge believes the magic he sees is the same magic that has proven effective since the days of Socrates: questioning, talking, and listening.
Secret City Academy: Principal, Christopher Scott; Teacher of the Year, Jeff Frendt
A highlight of Mr. Frendt’s teaching began in 2018, when he accepted the challenge to start a FIRST Lego robotics club at the Secret City Academy. Donations by Leidos, The Oak Ridge Public Schools Education Fund, and the Oak Ridge Rotary Club made it possible to purchase some basic materials to get the club started. Mr. Frendt met with students after school once a week, and as a result, the team members expanded their math, engineering, and computer programming knowledge by building and coding Lego robots. In December 2019 Jeff’s team competed at the FIRST Lego Secret City Qualifier, held at Oak Ridge High School. The Secret City “Bad Robots After Dark” competed in every event, excelling in the Core Values presentation. The students’ project involved a concept plan to utilize the former Applewood apartment property as a community garden/art center. The team was presented the “Judges’ Choice” award at the closing ceremony and were recognized at a School Board Meeting. The team’s achievements have led to setting new goals for future competitions and have also increased interest in participation. Mr. Frendt has been part of the efforts to expand the school’s STEM activities, writing several grants for 3D printers and a greenhouse that could potentially give Secret City Academy the resources to expand STEM and offer more enrichment for our achieving students.