UCPS announces 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year finalists
On Monday, March 20, 10 teachers all began their day in the same way—by waking up, getting dressed and going to work. However, this particular Monday something different happened. Each teacher experienced a unique and special moment that made their day truly exceptional.
On this Monday, Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan, senior leaders and Board of Education members surprised each teacher at their school. As the group entered each classroom, the teachers looked confused by so many visitors. It quickly turned into excitement and joy once they found out they were a 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year finalist.
“I’m so honored and humbled to receive this honor. The students are my joy and sharing this joy with them is really spectacular,” said Kristina Hill, the finalist from Weddington Elementary. “I’m so glad I was surprised with a class of friends in here because we do this together. We learn together every day. That’s what makes this even more exciting, they are seeing their learning matters. I get to see that what we do in here matters.”
Monroe Middle finalist Sarah Lefebvre was almost brought to tears from the emotions.
“I attended Monroe Middle and graduated from Monroe High. It’s a very full-circle moment,” said Lefebvre. “This is a mind-blowing honor. I’ve said it a bunch of times. I think all the teachers in this county are great and I know they work hard. There is something special about the work of the people at our school like ours, so it’s a huge honor to represent that even in a tiny way.”
The 10 finalists were selected from 53 school-based Teacher of the Year winners. The winner will be announced during an award program May 4.
Congratulations to the following Teacher of the Year finalists:
Katelyn Morse - Central Academy of Technology and Arts
Katelyn Morse is a national board-certified science teacher at Central Academy of Technology and Arts. A graduate of Queens University of Charlotte and Clemson University, she has been an educator since 2014. In her classroom, Morse wants her students to leave having learned some new things, practiced how to learn and master difficult topics and be able to analyze and think critically about the decisions they make. " I do case studies and inquiry labs so students can read about all different things and tackle difficult concepts without easy answers. This way, they can practice that decision-making and that risk-taking, while being in my room with me, knowing that my goal for them is the journey, not necessarily the destination. So, if they happen to fail, it is just one more step, not an end."
Sarah Lefebvre – Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle
Sarah Lefebvre is a mathematics teacher at Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle. A graduate of Appalachian State University, she has been an educator since 2005. In her classroom, Lefebvre starts the year with the Week of Inspirational Math. Every day, they work on lessons created by Jo Boaler and Cathy Williams of Stanford University to build a positive math community. The lessons have students working in collaborative groups. Each lesson starts with a hook related to brain research, like how mistakes grow our brains and how speed isn’t the most important thing in mathematics. "This week of inspirational math serves as a strong foundation for focusing on how we can grow and improve through difficult practice. I strive to always praise the process, not just the end result. We also honor the multiple ways to get solutions."
Paige McCay – Hemby Bridge Elementary
Paige McCay is a first-grade teacher at Hemby Bridge Elementary. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, she has been an educator since 2006. McCay provides a welcoming classroom environment where students are motivated, organized and productive. She cultivates a growth mindset where students can be themselves and explore new ideas together. “We display our goals in the classroom and celebrate achievements. We even have a desk fairy that “visits” our classroom leaving motivational notes and rewards inside tidy desks. I also encourage my students to go home and share three things they learn each day."
Melissa Wojtecki – Monroe High
Melissa Wojtecki is an English language arts teacher at Monroe High. A graduate of Florida International University and the University of Phoenix, she has been an educator since 2015. In her classroom, Wojtecki works to link the past to the present when teaching challenging literature. Additionally, she teaches her students to argue coherently, with facts and evidence, while considering opposing sides respectfully. “It can be a challenge to get students to see the importance of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales when they are immersed in Instagram and Facebook feeds. I remind them that Chaucer, like most of us today, struggled to understand injustice and sought ways to voice his concerns in creative and meaningful ways. We read to understand the text, we compare Chaucer’s efforts to current Instagram posts by groups like “People of New York,” and then we create our editorials about community issues that students are concerned about.”
Samantha Sherlin – Parkwood High
Samantha Sherlin is an English language arts teacher at Parkwood High. A graduate of Meredith College, she has been an educator since 2016. In her classroom, Sherlin’s guiding principles are that education should include windows and mirrors for students, education should be expansive, not limited, and schools should be a safe landing place for students to bloom. “When adults limit what perspectives are taught, we are limiting the experiences and connections to the outside world our students can have. I teach English II which focuses on world literature, so I have a perfect opening to broaden my student’s worldview. I do my best to provide students with a wide range of not only texts but also methods of showcasing their learning. I don’t want my students to ever feel boxed into any one perspective or thought.”
Sydney Wood – Rocky River Elementary
Sydney Wood is a fourth-grade teacher at Rocky River Elementary. A graduate of Wingate University, she has been an educator since 2016. Wood is fully invested in helping children who do not feel seen, feel seen. She believes teaching is rooted in family. Sometimes that family looks like an extension of the classroom. “I believe the power of a teacher can help fill in holes that may be in a child’s life. Every child that walks in my room I make sure to let them know how important they are. This visibility comes in several forms. One example is making sure that I know about the student’s personal life or interests. This is centered around personal engagement with each student. It allows the child to feel like they are more than just a student in a classroom, they are also an individual.”
Sarah Newbold – Shiloh Valley Primary
Sarah Newbold is a first-grade teacher at Shiloh Valley Primary. A graduate of Lake Erie College and Walden University, she has been an educator since 2000. In her classroom, Newbold ensures the reading process is constantly referred to and celebrated in all subject areas because literacy is at the core of her teaching style. “I’ve always felt that learning to read is the springboard to opening all other doors in one’s education journey. It is, in fact, the most important gift in education. Being a first-grade teacher, my role in a student becoming literate is a huge one. First grade is one of the most important grades for literacy development and can set the tone for the rest of a child’s reading progress.”
Amy Ellis – Sun Valley Middle
Amy Ellis is a seventh-grade teacher at Sun Valley Middle. A graduate of Ohio State University and Youngstown State University, she has been an educator since 1997. In her classroom, Ellis models Stephen Covey’s 13 tenants to the best of her ability. Building relationships is the foundation for her teaching. “Four key behaviors of high trust that I utilize in my classroom and with my students are talking straight, confronting reality, clarifying expectations and practicing accountability. In utilizing those behaviors, my students know they are safe through the expectations set for them.”
Kristina Hill – Weddington Elementary
Kristina Hill is an art teacher at Weddington Elementary. A graduate of Wingate University, she has been an educator since 2002. In her classroom, Hill empowers students through art. She believes every child and adult is an artist. She creates an environment where failure is understood as a gift to be learned from, fear is checked at the door and wonder is welcomed. “Art teachers facilitate synthesizing ideas into lines, shapes and colors, a universal language that makes for effective communication at any age. I guide imaginations through processes and techniques daily that revisit the truth that, at our core, we are all creators, not just consumers. We solve visual problems realizing there is more than one solution.”
Cassandra Forbes – Weddington Middle
Cassandra Forbes is an eighth-grade math and science teacher at Weddington Middle. A graduate of Walsh University and Appalachian State University, she has been an educator since 2014. Forbes believes in the productive struggle to help students build more confidence in their decisions, think concepts and ideas through on their own, and help develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. “Through productive struggle, students are encouraged to use the curricular vocabulary and as I like to say in math class, “talk math.” I believe if students can talk through how to solve a problem and essentially teach someone else, it demonstrates they truly understand the concept. In my math class, I focus on the “why” instead of just the “how” because this deepens students’ understanding of concepts and also helps develop those critical thinking skills. Focusing on the “why” sets the path to use vocabulary and apply their knowledge to concepts."
View the gallery below for photos of the surprises.