Earlier in the week, we announced our school-level teachers and teach assistants of the year. In Oak Ridge Schools, we like to recognize outstanding educators because they care about children and devote their professional lives to enriching the lives of our students. This year, we would like to congratulate one district-level teacher (Erica Hixson) and two district-level teachers assistants of the year, (Catherine Tidwell and Samantha Kerley) who tied with the application review panel for their exemplary service. Each has a brief biography below, written largely in their own words.

District Teacher of the Year, Erica Hixson, Linden Elementary School Music Teacher

Mrs. Hixson’s contributions toward student growth include engaging lessons, knowledge of students, effective modeling, common assessments, and cross-curricular connections. She looks for new ways to keep students excited about learning. For example, while 4th graders learn about Native American history, standards such as analyzing rhythm notation are taught using Native American music while students create drumbeats on a community drum in drum circles.

Erica starts each class by singing and reading to her students as a performance model, allowing for introduction to a variety of forms of literature and music styles, and including historical elements of various authors and composers. She says she and her students love the expanse of musical styles and genres they experience over and above curricular expectations.

The engagement is high because students have hands-on music-making experiences that include a variety of instruments, reaching a broad range of student interests and needs.  Classroom practices and opportunities to expand musical learning experiences continue to evolve as technology advances.


Glenwood Elementary: Catherine Tidwell

Mrs. Tidwell works as an interventionist with math and reading students. She determines what skills they need to improve so they can better learn in whole-group settings. She uses hands-on manipulatives and games to allow her students to have a tactile and visual understanding of concepts and skills. Games allow students to learn while having fun. The goal is to move students back into the regular classroom. This year, by the second nine weeks, all students in her first-grade math group had tested out of her group, ready for the regular classroom. Each of her fourth-grade students made progress on their quarterly assessments. Two of them tested out of her group and returned to classroom.



Jefferson Middle School: Samantha Kerley

Ms. Kerley contributes to several classrooms throughout the day, approaching each day as a new opportunity for growth, both personally and with her students. She focuses on reaching students when they don’t understand at first and providing motivation as needed to complete work. She reflects that sometimes a student just needs an adult who cares about them, creating a connection with them so they know where to turn when they need help. Ms. Kerley attends as many Zoom virtual class meetings as possible to help support the teachers and students. During virtual meetings, students get to see her without a mask on, which is very helpful with creating connections. Ms. Kerley says that growth and learning are not always measured by grades. Personal growth is her favorite type of growth that she gets to see during each school year.