Coweta Teacher of the Year finalists, part 2

by Celia Shortt

Last week, “The Newnan Times-Herald” began a three part series highlighting the 2014 Coweta County Teachers of the Year. The series continues today and will conclude in next Sunday’s education section.

Each of these finalists was selected by their peers for the quality of their teaching, professional development, teaching philosophies and methods, community involvement, contributions to education, and their ability to inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn. They are chosen from among the certified classroom teachers in Coweta County Schools, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, including special education, physical education, art, music, and media specialists.


Each has been recognized as the teacher of the year for their respective schools


All the finalists will be honored on May 1 at the Coweta County Teacher of the Program. It will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts. The Coweta County Board of Education presents this program each year with the Newnan Pilot Club.


Jefferson Parkway Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Heather Reaves has been teaching since 2001. She earned her undergraduate degree in K-6 collaborative education from Troy University in 2001 and her masters degree in elementary education from Liberty University in 2011. Currently, she teaches fifth grade at Jefferson Parkway Elementary School.


“One of the greatest links between a student and a teacher is parents,” said Reaves. “Parent involvement in a child’s education is a vital component that must be addressed in our classrooms . . . If parents understand our goals at school, this will help close the gap between parents and teachers, thus creating a better education for our children.”


Newnan Crossing Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Joyce McCain has been teaching since 1995 and earned her bachelor of science in early childhood education and her master of education in 1995 and 2012. Currently, she teaches kindergarten at Newnan Crossing.


“As a spokesperson, I would tell everyone in my profession and the general public to never give up as we are all here for the children,” said McCain. “The children are the reason that I have a job as a teacher and the reason that we have schools … Every single thing that we do as teachers makes an impact on the children.”


Northside Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Beth Willems has been teaching at Northside Elementary since 1998. She earned her bachelor of science in early childhood education and masters from UWG in 1998 and 1999. Currently, she is teaching third grade at Northside Elementary.


“We are constantly told students in the United States are behind academically compared to other countries,” said Willems. “We are told our students do not score high enough on standardized tests when compared nationally . . . But teachers are miracle makers. We can take all those negatives and turn them into positives … The children we teach inspire us to be the best teachers we can because we owe it to our students to prepare them for their future.”


Ruth Hill Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Ami M. Patel has been teaching in Coweta County since 2007. She earned her bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Georgia in 2003, her masters in early childhood education from Mercer University in 2007, and her ESOL endorsement and specialist certification from UWG in 2012. This year, she is expecting to finish her Ed.D in school improvement from UWG.


“We (teachers) make it possible for our students to create a life for themselves they never imagined,” said Patel. “A child may be born poor in this country, but they do not have to be defined by their circumstances. We have the tools to prepare College and Career Readiness as well as bring awareness to opportunities available within a STEM education.”


Thomas Crossroads Elementary Teacher of the Year


JoAnne M. Underwood has been teaching kindergarten in Coweta County for over 30 years. She earned her bachelor of science in early childhood education and a master of education from UWG in 1982 and 1986. She has been at Thomas Crossroads since 1996.


“In order to continue challenging our students, we as educators must continue to challenge ourselves and accept change,” said Underwood. “It is very important to keep up with these changes every day, every month, every year. We live in a technological society. We need to teach the basics, but we also need to stay abreast of new technologies and the many ways to connect with out students, their parents, other educators, and the community.”


Welch Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Sarah M. Leach has been teaching since 2004. She earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in early childhood education from UWG in 2004 and 2005. She teaches first grade collaborative and all subjects at Welch and has been there since 2006.


“Many people feel teachers do not get enough credit for all that we do,” said Leach. “This profession is not about me. It isn’t about my paycheck or benefits. It is 100 percent about the students. Being a teacher and seeing my students grow academically and socially is the most rewarding part. It is an honor to be recognized and has motivated me to continue to evolve as an educator.”


White Oak Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Kimberly Taylor has been since 2002. She earned her bachelor of science degree in laboratory technology from Auburn University in 1995, master of education in early childhood education from Auburn University - Montgomery in 2002, and her specialist certification from UWG in 2010. Currently, she teaches second grade, all subjects at White Oak.


“It is critical for everyone in my profession and the general public to be involved with education,” said Taylor. “It seems very easy to define the issues that hold us back. It is more difficult to get involved and change education issues for the better.”


Willis Road Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Susan Kennedy has been teaching for over 30 years. She earned her bachelor of arts in elementary education/special education from Johnson State College in Vermont in 1980 and her masters in curriculum and instruction from University of Phoenix in 2010. Currently, she teaches special education at Willis Road.


“If we do our utmost as a community to remember each person who touches the life of a child has merit and value, we can meld our technological tools with our human resources,” said Kennedy. “It truly does take a village to educate our children and working as a community, we can accomplish this monumental task.”


Northgate High School Teacher of the Year


Amanda Arnold Connell has been teaching at Northgate High School since 2009. She earned her bachelor of science degree in economics from UWG in 2008 and is working on her masters in educational leadership from Arkansas State University. She received her second education certification from UWG in 2011. Currently, she teaches 12th grade economics and AP microeconomics at Northgate.


“The vast majority of educators are professionals who care deeply about their students,” said Connell. “Teaching is a way of life for most of us. If given the proper support and resources, we are the simple solution to many of the complex changes of today’s world.”


Central Educational Center Teacher of the Year


James Cromwell has been teaching since 2003. He earned his bachelor of science degree in business from Arkansas State University in 1976 and his M.B.A from the University of Tulsa in 1984. Currently, he teaches 12th grade economics at CEC.


“We must implement a nationwide program that measures and rewards success, not only for teaching professionals but those who administrate as well,” said Cromwell. “We must arm ourselves with today’s technology, not simply because it helps us achieve our goals but more importantly because our product understands its value, too.”


Madras Middle School Teacher of the Year


Michelle Clark has been teaching at Madras since 2010. She earned her undergraduate degree from Clayton State University in 2008 and her master of education in elementary education from Grand Canyon University in 2011. Currently, she teaches eighth grade math at Madras.


“Believing in our students is just as important as believing in ourselves,” said Clarke. “For some of our students, we are the only ones who believe in them. It is important to show students that we have not given up on them . . . Each of us can make a difference in a child’s life by simply believing they can be successful.”


Arnall Middle School Teacher of the Year


Rebecca S. Ryals has been teaching in Coweta County since 1993. She earned her bachelor of science degree in home economics education from the University of Montevallo in 1975. Currently, she teaches sixth grade social studies at Arnall.


Arnco-Sargent Elementary School Teacher of the Year


Carrie Walker Dumm has been teaching elementary school since 1999. Since 2009, she has taught fifth grade at Arnco-Sargent Elementary School. She earned bachelor of arts degree in early education in 1999 from Wesleyan College.


“Being given the opportunity to represent our profession, I would want my message to be, ‘Don’t give up.’” said Dumm. “I would want to tell the parents of our students, ‘Don’t give up. Your children need involved parents in every stage of life, especially education.’ I would say to our community leaders, ‘Don’t give up on the education of our youth by attacking the front line and removing the things our students need most to succeed.’ To fellow teachers, I would say, ‘Don’t give up. Becoming a teacher means more than the training, observing, and preparing in our college years.’ And finally, I would tell each of our students, ‘Don’t give up. Dream the biggest dream possible and believe you can achieve it.’”








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