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Raising Young Minds: Gainesville, Hall top teachers

POSTED: January 17, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Each year, teachers at every school in Gainesville and Hall County pick the best of their peers to be honored for dedication to education. Each teacher was asked to submit information about their jobs, as well as career and educational backgrounds. The following is based on information each one provided and from personal profiles on school Web sites: 

Centennial Arts Academy
Dawn Barry, an Atlanta native, is in her second year of teaching at Centennial, her fourth year overall. She teaches kindergarten. She earned her bachelor's degree from Dowling College in New York, then went on to teach kindergarten in New York for two years. Barry later returned to Atlanta and now is set to work on her master's degree, either through Piedmont College in Demorest or Brenau University in Gainesville.

Chestatee High School
Nick Scheman taught for six years in his native Chicago, then at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville for nine years. He is in his second year at Chestatee High and is that school's science department chairman. He teaches biology, Advanced Placement biology, English for Speakers of Other Languages biology, Environmental Science, and Human Anatomy and Physiology. He earned a bachelor's degree in zoology from Southern Illinois University and a master's degree in environmental biology from Governors State University in Illinois. He oversees Chestatee's environmental group, which is a member of Georgia's Adopt-A-Stream Program.

Chestatee Middle School
Tracey Kell, an Athens native, has taught for 11 years, six at Chestatee. Currently the media specialist, she has taught math science, and language arts in regular and gifted education and in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Kell has a bachelor's degree in pharmacy, a master's degree in broad science from the University of Georgia in Athens and a specialist degree in school library media from UGA. Kell is pursuing a doctorate from UGA and is secretary of the Leadership Team, Power reading programs coordinator and secretary of the county's School Librarians Association.

Chestnut Mountain Elementary School
Amy Carpenter, a Decatur native, has taught for 11 years, eight in second grade and three in third grade and all at Chestnut Mountain. She earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and her master's degree in early childhood education from Minnesota-based Walden University. She serves on the school's Leadership Team, as grade chair for second grade and as a member of the School Climate Committee. She also is active at her church and is a member of the Georgia Brain Tumor Foundation for Children.

Chicopee Woods Elementary School
Paula Tipton, a Toccoa native, has taught for 12 years, three at Chicopee Woods, or since the school opened. She has taught kindergarten for three years. She earned her bachelor's degree and specialist degrees in early childhood education from Piedmont College in Demorest, and her master's degree in early childhood education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. She co-chaired the United Way campaign at her school and is on the Relay for Life team. She also helps coach basketball at Chestnut Mountain Church.

Davis Middle School
Janet Hart, a native of Charlotte, N.C., has taught for 12 years, including eight at Davis. She has taught language arts and reading in the gifted-education program for 10 years. She earned her bachelor's degree from Georgia State University in Atlanta and has a master's degree in middle grades education from Brenau University. She serves as the Davis Enrichment Team's chairwoman and a member of the school's improvement team. She is a member of Celebration Church in South Hall.

East Hall High School
Stacie Pendley, a Gainesville native, has taught for five years, three at East Hall High. She teaches health care science for grades 9-12. She serves as the youth apprenticeship facilitator for the school and is an adjunct instructor in Lanier Technical College's pharmacy assistant program. She earned her bachelor's degree in biology from Brenau University and her teaching certificate in health occupations from the University of Georgia in Athens. She is working on her master's degree in K-12 education, specializing in leadership. She also serves as the adviser for Health Care Science Students of America's East Hall chapter and is a member of Lakewood Baptist Church in North Hall.

East Hall Middle School
Amy Webb was born in Gainesville and grew up in Cornelia. She has taught for 18 years, three at East Hall Middle. She currently teaches sixth grade English/language arts. She has taught sixth grade for six years, but also first, fourth, seventh and eighth grades, as well as special education, in her career. And she has taught English/language arts for 12 years. She earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education with a minor in art from Piedmont College in Demorest. She earned her master's degree in interrelated special education from Brenau University in Gainesville. She also is a member of Level Grove Baptist Church in Cornelia.

Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy
Kay Law, who lives in Watkinsville, has taught for 22 years, including 19 in first grade. She has worked in the Gainesville school system since 2000, all at Enota. She earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education and master's of education degree from Brenau University in Gainesville. She earned her teacher support specialist degree from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. She is a National Board Certified teacher. She is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma, an honorary educator organization, and has been named a Gainesville-Hall County Outstanding Citizen.

Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School
Mark Graham, a Houston native, has taught for six years, all at Fair Street. He earned his bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Texas; bachelor's degree in education, Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, Tenn.; master's degree in math and science education, Brenau University, Gainesville; and education specialist in English education, University of Georgia in Athens. He works with the school's fifth-grade technology team in preparing for participation in regional and state technology fairs.

David Howard, a Miami native, is an Army veteran. He has taught for eight years, all at Fair Street and including fourth and fifth grades. He earned his bachelor's degree in education from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. The Veterans of Foreign Wars named him Teacher of the Year in 2005. "Aliases include Captain Underpants (a children's literature character) and Sgt. Howard," he said.

Flowery Branch Elementary School
Michelle Palmer, an Austell native, has taught for eight years, six in Cobb County. This is her second year at Flowery Branch Elementary. She has taught third grade for five years, fourth grade for a year and is in her second year as a first-grade teacher. She earned a bachelor's degree in early childhood/elementary education and a master's degree in elementary education from Jacksonville State University in Alabama. She is a member of the Push Rods Car Club in Powder Springs.

Flowery Branch High School
James Wagoner, a native of Delaware, Ohio, has taught theater for 10 years. He studied acting at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre Arts in St. Louis. He earned a playwrighting degree from Georgia State University in Atlanta and a theater teaching certificate from Columbus State University in Columbus. He has worked for more than five years in Theatre and Communicative Arts with Georgia's Governor's Honors Program, heading the theater department in 2005. He also is a sound designer for the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.

Friendship Elementary School
Leigh Tipton, a Macon native, earned her associate degree in fashion merchandising from Gainesville College in Oakwood. Later, after having children, she earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Brenau University in Gainesville. She also earned her master's degree from North Georgia College & University in Dahlonega and her specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. She began teaching in 2001 at Friendship Elementary. She is in her third year of teaching second grade. She also is involved with a tutoring program through her church and is the treasurer of Flowery Branch High School's Touchdown Club.

Gainesville Exploration Academy
Duduzile "Dee" Siphambili, a native of Zimbabwe, Africa, has taught for 13 years, nine with Gainesville city schools. She taught regular education for four years in Zimbabwe before deciding to pursue a degree in special education. In the United States, she started her teaching career at Gainesville Middle School. She now teaches a kindergarten-second grade interrelated self-contained class. She earned a degree in regular education from the United College of Education in Zimbabwe. She has pursued bachelor's and master's degrees in special education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. She also is an active member of Blackshear Place Baptist Church in South Hall.

Gainesville High School
Tracy Robar, an Atlanta native, is in her ninth year of teaching and her second stint at Gainesville High. She has taught Algebra I and II, geometry and, more recently, Honors Algebra II. She earned her bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech in Atlanta and her master's degree in math education from Piedmont College in Demorest. She coaches cross country and the GHS robotics team. She is the lead teacher of the GHS Arts & Sciences Academy and is the math department chairwoman. She is active in her church through choir and the Hispanic, youth and children's ministries. She also is active in several different NASA programs, including the Network of Educator Astronaut Teachers and the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope.

Gainesville Middle School
Iris Butts, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., has taught for six years, all at Gainesville Middle. She has taught seventh-grade life science and sixth-grade math. The past three years, she has taught eighth grade. She earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Tennessee and is pursuing a master's degree in mathematics and science education from Brenau University in Gainesville. She is a member of St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Johnson High School
Kathy Strickland, a Homer native, has taught for eight years, all at Johnson. She began as a social science teacher and has been the Coordinated Career and Academic Education coordinator for five years. She teaches CCAE I, CCAE II and World History. She was employed in the business world for 21 years before she earned her master's degree in teaching and began a new career. In 2005, she earned her education specialist in classroom instruction from Piedmont College in Demorest. She is the pianist for Homer Presbyterian Church and teaches Vacation Bible School. "Riding a 1994 (Harley Davidson) Dyna Wide Glide with my husband is one of my greatest pleasures," she said.

Jones Elementary School
Jill Hilton, a Hall County native, has taught for 15 years, all at Jones and in kindergarten. She earned her bachelor's, master's and education specialist degrees in early childhood education from Brenau University in Gainesville. She also has her English for Speakers of Other Languages and reading endorsements. She serves on the school's activities and Partners in Education committees and is an English for Speakers of Other Languages school facilitator and PTO board member. She is a Gainesville Hall County Junior League member and a Center Point mentor.

Lanier Career Academy
Cathy Kimbro, a Gainesville native, has been an educator for 25 years. She earned her bachelor's degree in home economics and social work from Brenau University in Gainesville and her master's degree in education from the University of Georgia in Athens. She has taught in family and consumer sciences for 14 years. She began in 1995 teaching Parenting for Success at the Gainesville/Hall County Evening School (now the career academy). Three years later, she began teaching family and consumer sciences at the school. She has served on many community boards and committees, including ones representing Gateway House, the American Cancer Society and Teen Pregnancy Prevention.

Lanier Elementary School
Lorrie Miller, a Gainesville native, has taught third grade for five years, including three at Lanier and two at Tadmore Elementary. She earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Maryville College in Tennessee and her master's degree in curriculum, instruction and assessment from Minnesota-based Walden University. She is working toward a degree in educational leadership from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. She is a member of her school's Professional Learning Team, Climate Committee and Advisory Council. She also is a Student Council sponsor and third-grade math leader. She is a member of Cool Springs Baptist Church in North Hall and a Relay for Life family team.

Lula Elementary School
Sheri Skelton, a Gainesville native, has taught for nine years, including six in kindergarten at Lula. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Brenau University in Gainesville and her specialist degrees from Piedmont College in Demorest. At school, she is the Georgia Performance Standards teacher leader for kindergarten, coordinates the attendance program and is a member of the School Safety Team and Media Committee. She is a member of Air Line Baptist Church in East Hall.

Lyman Hall Elementary School
Neusa Wendt, a native of Porto Alegre, Brazil, moved to the United States in 1990 because of her husband's job transfer. She has been an educator for 28 eight years - the first 16 in Brazil. For the past 10 years, she has taught English language learners and Seeking Excellence And Reaching Challenging Heights at Lyman Hall. She developed Building Resources for Intellectual Development and Guided Empowerment of Students in 1998 to serve "culturally diverse talented learners." She also has served as a mentor for new English language learner teachers.

Martin Elementary School
Heather Riley, a native of Anderson, S.C., has taught for six years, five at Martin. She teaches third grade and has taught fourth and fifth grades. She earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education from the University of Georgia in Athens and her master's degree in early childhood education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. She is working toward her specialist degree from Piedmont College in Demorest. At school, she coached a group in "Nutcracker" and an Odyssey of the Mind Team that went to regional and state competition. She also has served as Student Support Team chairwoman for third grade. Away from school, she is active at her church, New Holland Baptist.

McEver Elementary School
Paula Barrett, a Forsyth County native, has taught for nine years, including six at McEver with interrelated resource students. She has two degrees in special education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and her specialist degree from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. She is involved with special-needs students in the community and her church.

Mount Vernon Elementary School
Sherry Twiggs, a Gainesville native, has taught for 20 years, six in fourth and fifth grades at Mount Vernon. She also has taught at North Hall Middle and Martin Elementary schools. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in middle and early elementary education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. She also has taught in Gainesville State College's Summer Scholars Institute. She attends Lakewood Baptist Church in North Hall.

Myers Elementary School
Trina Ledford, who grew up in Hall County and is a 1990 Johnson High School graduate, has taught for 14 years, including eight at Myers in physical education. Previously, she spent six years teaching high school physical education and health and coaching. She earned her bachelor's degree from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. She is a member of Welcome Home Baptist Church, a Relay for Life advocate, a United Way representative for Myers and a school safety coordinator.

New Holland Core Knowledge Academy
Vickie Fletcher, an Oklahoma native, has worked for 13 years in Gainesville city schools, the first six as a paraprofessional. She spent one year teaching a readiness class and has spent six teaching first grade. She earned her bachelor's degree in literature and a grades 7-12 secondary teaching certificate from the University of North Carolina in Asheville. She also earned her master's degree in early childhood education from Brenau University in Gainesville. She also has been a stay-at-home and PTO mom, as well as city system volunteer.

North Hall High School
Eliana Peck, a native of Brazil, has taught Spanish in all grades for eight years at North Hall High. She earned her bachelor's degree in art education through the Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation in Brazil and a master's degree in Spanish language and culture from the University of Salamanca in Spain. She is working towards a doctorate at the University of Málaga, Spain. She also has served as the school's Spanish Club sponsor and a volunteer translator for Catholic Social Services.

North Hall Middle School
Kevan Richardson, a native of Wiesbaden, Germany, has taught for 13 years - four years in Florida, six at Davis Middle School in Flowery Branch and the past three at North Hall Middle. He has taught Georgia History at Davis and North Hall Middle. He earned his bachelor's degree in speech communication from the University of Georgia in Athens and his master's degree in middle grades education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. He also serves as the North Hall Middle cross country coach.

Oakwood Elementary School
Jackie Meyer, a native of Wech, W.Va., has taught for 31 years, 29 at Oakwood. She has taught gifted education classes for the past two years. Previously, she taught second grade for 25 years. She earned her master's degree from Brenau University in Gainesville and has earned her gifted endorsement. She is a member of Christ Lutheran Church in Oakwood and past president of Alpha Delta Kappa Honorary Teachers Sorority, and she participates in the Gainesville Advocacy Program.

Riverbend Elementary School
Stacey Waters, a Gainesville native, has taught for 19 years, all at Riverbend and 18 in kindergarten. "This is what I was called to do," she said. She earned her associate degree from Gainesville State College in Oakwood, her bachelor's degree in early childhood education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and her master's degree in early childhood education from Piedmont College in Demorest. She is active at Talmo Baptist Church, where she serves in the choir, leads the children's choir and teaches in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School and Children's Church. She also volunteers in the Hall County 4-H shooting sports BB program and supports Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society and United Way.

Sardis Elementary School
Kim Allen, a native of Biloxi, Miss., has taught second, third and fifth grades in her six years at Sardis. She earned her bachelor's degree from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and master's degree from Minneapolis-based Walden University and is working toward completion of her education specialist from Piedmont College in Demorest. She is a member of Lakewood Baptist Church in North Hall, and is involved in her son's sports programs and other activities at Sardis.

South Hall Middle School
Brandy Stephens, an Atlanta native and Smyrna resident, has taught for three years, all at South Hall. She has taught language arts, science and social studies in resource and co-taught settings. She earned her bachelor's degree in physical education and health from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and her master's degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Phoenix. She also has certification in interrelated special education. She also has coached after-school sports, tutored in South Hall's after-school program, worked with hospital homebound students and served as chairwoman for the school's United Way campaign. She also has coordinated the school's spelling bee. She teaches physical education and health at Gainesville State College's Summer Scholars Institute.

Spout Springs Elementary School
Cindy Reese was born in Atlanta but grew up in Hall County. She has taught for five years, all at Spout Springs and is in her second year in second grade. She also worked at McEver Elementary School in several capacities while earning her teaching certificate. She earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood education from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega and is working on her master's degree from Piedmont College in Demorest. She is a member of Hopewell Baptist Church in South Hall.

Sugar Hill Elementary School
Melissa Henry, a Gainesville native, has taught for four years, all in kindergarten at Sugar Hill. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in early childhood education from Piedmont College in Demorest. She is a teacher leader for kindergarten, a member of the PTO board and grade level chairwoman, and has served on the school's discipline's committee and in instructional extension.

Tadmore Elementary School
Leslie Powell, a native of Oak Ridge, Tenn., has taught for six years, all at Tadmore. She is in her first year teaching first grade, having spent the previous five in second grade. She earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education and master's degree in leadership from Tennessee Technological University. She is working toward her educational specialist degree in teacher leadership from North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. She also is involved with Tadmore's Relay for Life team.

Wauka Mountain Elementary School
Gretchen Welch, a native of Little Rock, Ark., has taught for 25 years, eight in fifth grade at Wauka Mountain. She earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education with an endorsement in elementary music education from Western Kentucky University and her master's degree from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. She also is certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards as an early adolescence generalist. She serves as a tutor in the school's Explorers' Club and has chaired a committee that serves drinks and prepares the tea for the annual Chicken Pie Supper. She also directs the first-grade choir at First Baptist Church in Gainesville and is flute section leader of Exaltation, the church orchestra. She also is a member of the Northwinds Symphonic Band.

West Hall High School
Joel Aquino, a native of Manila, Philippines, earned his doctorate in geology from James Cook University in Australia. He was a longtime geologist, moving to the United States five years ago. He taught for one year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville before arriving at West Hall High last school year. In his first year, he was recognized by the Center for Educational Policy Research for a course he had developed. He is seeking gifted-education certification through the Cleveland-based Pioneer Regional Educational Service Agency in conjunction with Hall County schools.

West Hall Middle School
Tracy Passmore, an Atlanta native, is in her 15th year of teaching and her 13th year at West Hall. She has taught sixth and seventh grade math and is now in her first year teaching family and consumer science. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in middle grades math and social science from Brenau University in Gainesville and her specialist degree in leadership and supervision from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. She has coached seventh and eighth grade girls basketball for 13 years. For the past two years, she has coached junior varsity girls basketball and helped with varsity basketball at West Hall High School. She sponsors Fellowship of Christian Athletes at West Hall Middle and serves on the Hall County/Gainesville Board for FCA. She is a member of Free Chapel Worship Center in Gainesville.

White Sulphur Elementary School
Norma Jean Cain, a Hall County native, spent six years as a computer lab paraprofessional. She has taught for 13 years, including four in first grade. She was a kindergarten teacher for eight years. She earned an associate degree from Gainesville State College in Oakwood; bachelor's degree, Brenau University in Gainesville; and specialist degree, Piedmont College, Demorest. She attends Lanier Hills Baptist Church in West Hall and is the "story person" for children ages 3-5 in her church.



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