Congratulations to Oak Ridge Schools Teachers of the Year

The Teacher of the Year program recognizes and honors outstanding teachers in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Education staff 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. Goals of the program are to:

·       Promote effective teaching practices by recognizing and rewarding outstanding teachers.

·       Engage regional teachers of the year in education policy making through the Teacher Advisory Council.

·       Encourage participation by every school in the state so that all Tennessee teachers may be recognized and rewarded.

·       Build a network of local and state corporate sponsors.

·       Provide a network for teachers to share effective practices.

·       Encourage a sense of professionalism in teaching.

·       Encourage greater participation in building a strong community-school partnership.

By participating in the Tennessee Teacher of the Year program, educators may:

·       be celebrated and honored for making exceptional gains with students,

·       expand knowledge of education policy and participate in local, state, and national policy discussions,

·       serve as spokesperson and advocate for the education profession,

·       receive state and national professional learning opportunities which improves teaching and learning practices,

·       hone public speaking skills,

·       meet and network with other exceptional teachers across the state and build lifelong friendships and professional colleagues, and

·       become inducted into an amazing network of statewide awardees, and become connected to an impactful, ongoing body of work that engages you as a professional long after an awardee’s service year.

As part of this process in Oak Ridge, we seek teacher candidates from each school in our district. We would now like to congratulate the school-level winners nominated by their principals and peers for the 2021-2022 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.


Teachers of the Year

Oak Ridge Schools Preschool: Kimberly Thornhill

Ms. Thornhill reflects that for many students, Pre-K is the initial exposure to school and the world outside their homes and families.  She is committed to making the first year of school an excellent experience for her students to encourage a love of education. Kimberly says she makes a practice of meeting students where they are academically, socially, and emotionally, and building on these skills through positive interactions and hands-on activities. Through family communication, she ensures that the lessons learned in the classroom are carried over into the home and community, sending weekly newsletters detailing skills learned in class.

Glenwood Elementary: Yi Ching “Kat” Sakovich

Ms. Sakovich says being a language learner herself helps her see some of the difficulties that her students face. She reflects that her lessons are rich in curricular content, with small group instruction that provides many opportunities for students to practice their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. Kat believes learning a language through meaningful content is much more effective than grammar drilling. She uses various educational software tools to encourage students to work independently and collaboratively. Kat states, “Students with self-evaluation skills can promote their learning. I encourage students to record themselves reading or speaking after we finish learning together. That way, they can listen to themselves and think about what they can do to improve their English.” Ms. Sakovich likes to incorporate small experiments or other activities, because when seeing, touching, and doing, students are more likely to use words to communicate.

Linden Elementary: Erica Hixson

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.

Willow Brook Elementary: Michelle Goethert

Mrs. Goethert has utilized Oak Ridge Schools AccessOR 1:1 devices and educational tools to meet new learning challenges, especially during the pandemic, beginning with the virtual learning period implemented in March of 2020. Michelle incorporated new learning strategies using multiple educational platforms to deliver music instruction. She provided professional development sessions to colleagues and continues to support them in their digital teaching. She believes that students need basic digital skills to succeed in their PreK-12 education and beyond and has thus re-modeled her music education program to help her music students become tech savvy.

Woodland Elementary: Carol Lawson

Mrs. Lawson’s first grade team frequently uses data to determine student needs. They begin with common assessment data to determine what students know prior to instruction so they can differentiate instruction for students based on reading level, as well as phonics and math readiness. Mrs. Lawson’s whole-group lessons provide grade-level instruction for all students, while meeting individual needs in small groups through extended support activities. Professional Learning Community (PLC) discussions about student data lead to enhancing teaching practices, emphasizing what is working in the classes where students are performing well, and what to do for those students who need reteaching. The use of data is integral in Mrs. Lawson’s practices for ensuring the growth of all Woodland first graders and allows our team to grow together seeing all students in every first grade classroom as “our kids.”

Jefferson Middle School: Alex Goldberg

Mr. Goldberg reflects that the way he teaches his students results in growth and learning, and one of his strengths is in generating student-led questioning. He learns who they are as people and tries to understand what they are bringing to the room every day. He pays careful attention to who is quiet or who can’t see, as “Sometimes the quiet ones want to be called on, they just don’t how to participate yet, or they have been ignored for too long.” Alex learns about students’ math mistakes and what holds them back from progressing, and uses that to figure out who needs to be pushed or bumped up to another level of math. Mr. Goldberg believes in flexibility when it comes to giving students multiple chances, especially struggling learners. If something goes wrong, he is not afraid to admit it and adjust course to ensure students have what they need to succeed.

Robertsville Middle School: Jason Nussbaum

Mr. Nussbaum believes that the best place to start is with an understanding that all kids can learn and maintaining a mindset that he is a facilitator of learning. Students must take pride in and have confidence in what they are doing, and when they do not, he guides them to those understandings. Jason reflects that relationships are key to student growth and thinks this is too often overlooked in education. Students need to feel respected, appreciated, and loved, and when those needs are met, people will naturally work collaboratively toward positive results. He has seen a lot of personal and student growth over the years with these principles in mind.

Oak Ridge High School: Jeff Miner

Mr. Miner says his priority is to build relationships with students, to get to know what they are interested in outside of school, to create intentional connections so they know he cares about them. Classroom management and structured discipline are also important. He has high expectations for students to learn to think for themselves so they can analyze and apply what they know. To ensure maximum growth and mastery of content standards, Jeff provides multiple opportunities for reinforcement and reteaching. Students who are willing to learn are rewarded for their efforts, regardless of the time it takes them to get there. Coach Miner says he tries to make learning hands-on and relevant, and that teaching biology lends itself to both of these goals through labs, activities, and simulations.


              Congratulations to Oak Ridge Schools Teacher Assistants of the Year

Teacher Assistants of the Year

Oak Ridge Schools Preschool: Sandra Vasquez

About half of the students in Ms. Vasquez’ classroom are dual language learners. At the beginning of the year they spoke very little English, but through routine and repetition they are now able to understand instructions given to them solely in English. Little if any translation is now needed. The students have been able to learn at the pace of the rest of the class, which is a great achievement.

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.

Linden Elementary: Marissa Topliss

Students who enter Ms. Topliss’ small intervention and enrichment reading groups are identified as achieving (or soon-to-be approaching) their current academic grade levels in reading and comprehension. The focus for each group is to inform students about the importance of discerning between genres, fostering independent reading and comprehension, decoding, and vocabulary. She conducts formal and informal assessments weekly or bi-weekly depending on the group level, to gauge that each child receives the most benefit from her instruction and are accurately placed in appropriate reading groups. Periodically, she meets with classroom teachers to review student growth and skills in need of improvement.

Willow Brook Elementary: Tina Marascia

In the Discovery Center, Ms. Marascia teaches grade-level science standards to every Willow Brook student and introduces them to the scientific method. She encourages them to wonder, guess, test, evaluate, and learn. She pre-teaches and re-teaches for other teachers. Students get additional opportunities to hear and understand the lessons in the Discovery Center to gain a greater understanding of their regular classroom content. Hands-on activities connect students to the lesson using tangible objects.  Students become scientists, collecting data and evaluating it. Mrs. Marascia shares her love of science and the excitement that comes when students learn something new, answering questions they can best learn through scientific means and methodology.

Woodland Elementary: Shaynne Thompson

As a kindergarten teaching assistant, Mrs. Thompson develops growth in students by teaching them to think, work, and to learn how to learn. Every day, she works in small groups with students and in whole-class settings to assist in teaching the curriculum. While working with students on phonics and reading skills, she also assists them in developing confidence, which helps them improve reading skills. Students are taught to try their best and accept mistakes as learning experiences. Shaynne sets a foundation based on thinking, working, and learning, to allow students to grow to their full potential for success in the future.

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.

Robertsville Middle School: Kathryn Boullie

Ms. Boullie creates “application” documents for each student, and works with them to memorize how to write their full names, their birthdates, complete addresses, and their parent’s names and phone numbers. While this doesn’t seem to be a difficult task for middle school students, this is extremely complicated for students in her special education classroom. Because most of her students are nonverbal, any way of identifying themselves in case they are ever lost can be a lifesaving skill. Two of her three students are now able to write their personal information with little to no prompting.

Oak Ridge High School: Lori Gupton

This year has been a complex and challenging time to be in health care. At Oak Ridge High School Nurse Gupton’s role has been exceedingly involved with COVID infected students, and staff. The contact tracing of high school students is enormous. We have had many students affected by COVID-related issues, either directly or indirectly. There is constant documentation and communication with all involved. Lori’s role in contact tracing involves investigation on a daily basis, and she strives to protect our students and staff in every way possible during this global pandemic.