City Schools of Decatur announces Teacher of the Year awardsWanda Nesbitt (center) was named the 2022 District Teacher of the Year for City Schools of Decatur. Photo courtesy of CSD.
Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur has announced the Teacher of the Year awards for 2022 at the district and school levels. The district honored 10 teachers at the Decatur School Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
During the meeting, Director of Community and Government Relations Courtney Burnett introduced each teacher and shared parts of their nominations before announcing the District Teacher of the Year.
Wanda Nesbitt was named the District Teacher of the Year. She was also named the Teacher of the Year at Westchester Elementary School. She is a gifted intervention teacher.
She began teaching at Oakhurst Elementary in 2004, where she taught kindergarten and third grade. When Westchester Elementary opened, she moved to the school to teach gifted and creative thinking classes.
“But teaching at CSD was not her first teaching experience. She landed her first teaching job when she was six years old. She hired herself to teach handwriting to a few neighborhood kids on her back porch. Unfortunately, her class had demanded their snacks upfront and left to play without completing an ounce of work,” Burnett said. “I know that all the countless students over the years are thankful that Ms. Nesbitt did not give up on her quest to be a teacher after her first endeavor failed miserably.”
Some of her colleagues said Nesbitt motivates and inspires everyone around her to do their best. Students want to please her, she is real, and she is present.
“She just looks at you, and you feel your ideas have value. The students know she is there for them, and she wants them to succeed,” Burnett said.
Nesbitt has also taken being the school lead for equity. Advancing racial equity is an imperative and demands that educators take initiative on the school level, Nesbitt said in the application.
“She pushes us to be better,” Burnett said, noting what Nesbitt’s colleagues had said. “She doesn’t judge or make us feel small. She teaches us how to relate to each other and opens our eyes to perspective in a graceful and kind way. I can hear her say, ‘when we know better, we do better.'”
Being Ms. Nesbitt is the job of a lifetime, and she prioritizes her students above all else.
“I teach to impact, show children the countless ways in which their ideas, abilities, experiences and interests are exceptional. Like most teachers, I give a lot to my students, but I am willing to be pulled, stretched, exhausted and even reinvented if it means making a difference in a child’s life,” Burnett said. “I teach with the future of humanity in mind.”
The school-level Teachers of the Year were nominated by their peers, and all nominees must be in at least their third year of employment with CSD. Nominations were required to share how the teacher demonstrates leadership within the school or system; works as a team member of the school and works well with staff, parents, and administrators; and provide evidence of student achievement and engagement by providing a stimulating classroom environment.
The nominations for the school-level Teacher of the Year award are considered by a committee and selected by the principals.
Here are the school-level Teachers of the Year:
Anne Collins is a pre-k teacher at College Heights ECLC. She has been in education for 17 years and has taught in CSD for five years. She has taught pre-k, and first, third and fourth grades.
Her favorite thing about teaching is the connections she makes with her students and families.
“[Anne] work[s] very hard at the beginning of the year to build that connection and work throughout the year to build upon it and strengthen it,” Burnett said. “I have always felt that connection is key to education, regardless of age or grade band. Students must feel seen, loved and safe. When they do, incredible things can and do happen.”
Collins’ colleagues have noticed her passion for connecting with students. They said that her ability to build and sustain meaningful connections is superior, Burnett said.
“What stands out the most is the way she intentionally builds relationships with each student. She makes sure they know without a shadow of a doubt that she believes in them, and because her students know she believes in them, they rise to her expectations,” Burnett said.
Collins also writes letters and mails them to her previous pre-k students before they begin kindergarten, so they remember their pre-K teacher is always cheering for them.
Katie Green is a second grade teacher at Clairemont Elementary. She has worked in CSD for 12 years. She spent her first six years in the district as a kindergarten paraprofessional.
“Katie has an undeniable passion for teaching, and her colleagues had this to say about her. Ms. Green works with students looking for new and innovative ways to motivate them to do their personal best. She is a kind, compassionate and caring teacher who models empathy and patience in her classroom.”
Green’s favorite thing about teaching is the unexpected parts of the job. In her application, she said that as a veteran teacher, one gains insight into how each of their students need entirely different things and those needs change frequently.
“You realize what you need to do to reach every student, at least you think you do until you meet that student,” Burnett said. “That student makes you question how you’ve handled classroom behavior before now, that student pushes you as an educator to learn more, grow more and try new ways to deliver instruction. That student helps you find more patience than you believe to be possible and find more room to love in your heart.”
Marnie Kaplan is a kindergarten teacher at Glennwood Elementary. She has been teaching for 27 years. She previously taught in Colorado, Indianapolis and DeKalb County.
“She says teaching is her heart. When something is in someone’s heart, it shines for all to see, and Marnie’s colleagues see her light shines bright,” Burnett said. “Marnie defines meaningful and motivating. She works extremely hard as a teacher to make sure that her students feel loved and supported.”
Her colleagues also said that Kaplan encourages staff members to be their best and to keep going.
“She has an incredible gift that can make students and teachers believe they can handle anything. She goes above and beyond in all areas of her job,” Burnett said. “Her students are her number one priority, and she is constantly looking for ways to differentiate her instruction to meet the needs of all of them.”
Kaplan’s favorite things about bring a teacher are helping her students find their superpower and learn to believe in themselves, helping them understand the power of “yet” and giving themselves space to persevere through difficult tasks.
“Marnie is the definition of a committed CSD teacher. Her first mission is to always meet the needs of her students,” Burnett said. “She inspires students on a daily basis to be their best and as always looking for ways to take her practices to the next level. Students and parents are lucky to have Marnie Kaplan as their teacher.”
Yolanda Carmichael-Kemp is a kindergarten teacher at Oakhurst Elementary. She has taught at the school for 12 years – 10 years in second grade and two years in kindergarten.
“Ms. Kemp is one of those special types of people that exudes quiet confidence. Her colleagues say Yolanda is a master of her craft,” Burnett said. “When you walk into her classroom, it’s like you’ve walked into a dream of what teaching and learning are supposed to look, sound and feel like. Students are engaged, the grownups in her room are kindly and respectfully engaging with students, and the overall tone is warm, positive and inspiring.”
Kemp’s students know she has high expectations, but also know she is there every good and challenging step of the way.
“Yolanda says I love to see the curiosity in my students’ questions. Their excitement for learning and the best part of my job. I love to teach math. There are so many ways to arrive at the correct answer. I enjoyed having math talks with my students,” Burnett said. “The way Ms. Kemp teaches gives her students confidence in their abilities.
Her coworkers also shared statements about how Kemp teachers and how she builds relationship and connections with her students.
“I can speak from personal experience as a parent of one of her former students – a student that I know could be challenging at times – that every word that was shared about Miss Kemp is 100% accurate,” Burnett said. “She’s a master of her craft, and I am a very thankful parent.
Monica Blackmon is a first grade teacher at Winnona Park Elementary School. She joined CSD in 2011.
She decided to become a teacher after she graduated from college. She worked as a substitute teacher to figure out what age group she liked working with best. She discovered that she belonged at the elementary level and began working as a paraprofessional and became a first grade teacher in 2004.
“Monica says her favorite thing about teaching is the lightbulb moment,” Burnett said. “I love it when students realize their potential, and they finally get it. It being whatever they’ve been working hard to achieve. When the lightbulb goes off, their little faces light up with enthusiasm because they achieved their goal.”
Her colleagues noted she is top-notch in everything she does to motivate and inspire her students.
“Her work ethic continues to inspire me. She works so hard to meet kiddos with what they need, making it fun and engaging along the way,” Burnett said. “She not only inspires her students, but she also inspires those who are lucky to cross her path. She is a gift.”
In the application, Blackmon said her first grade teacher inspired her as a student and made learning fun.
Charee Waugh is a fifth grade teacher at Fifth Avenue Elementary School. She has been teaching for 18 years – eight years teaching third grade in DeKalb County and 10 years teaching fourth and fifth grades at FAVE.
“Charee says I’m proud to be a lifelong learner and set an example for my students to inquire deeply into interests,” Burnett said. “I have a passion for social justice and equity, which I carry with me everywhere I go and it drives how I interact with this world. I recognize the impact that we have as teachers on futures and communities, so I do understand how important our role is in society.”
One of her favorite parts of teaching is helping students grow in confidence and find their voice through building relationships of trust and understanding.
“Her colleagues say Charee always makes herself available to supporting other teachers and staff,” Burnett said. “She’s also part of our equity team at FAVE and encourages other teachers to add accounts from history to educate our students. She’s willing to go above and beyond what’s in the curriculum to motivate her colleagues and her students to inquire deeper into the surface of education for personal and professional growth and knowledge.”
Waugh also received a Good Equity Troublemaker Award last year, which recognizes CSD staff who have been speaking up, speaking out or contributing to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
“Charee says I have a strong belief that true history should be represented in our curriculum and that our students have the courage to learn it,” Burnett said. “Although our fifth grade civil rights standards in history are vague and name a few people that the majority of our fifth graders were already familiar with, my colleagues and I decided we were going to expose our students to diversity represented in civil rights movement, and help them understand the movement was one of many different kinds of leaders and voices.”
Her goal was to bring a more equitable and true picture of the Civil Rights Movement to her students.
Jillian Farley is a fifth grade teacher at Talley Street Elementary. She has been teaching in CSD for nine years, and has been teaching for a total of 13 years. She helped plan and start the house system and is the impetus behind the fifth grade trip to Tybee Island.
“Her colleagues say, I think there are many qualities a leader must possess, but the most important one that comes to mind is integrity,” Burnett said. “Jillian is a person of integrity. She knows the difference between equal and fair, she meets students where they are, to me this is leadership.”
Farley’s favorite thing about teaching is building a classroom community and relationships with her students.
“I always want my students to come to school, and to feel like their classroom is a place where they can have fun, feel accepted and be willing to take risks,” Burnett said. “I believe that establishing my classroom as a safe place allows all of my students to learn to the best of their ability. When my students are willing to take risks, their light bulbs are free to turn on when they have learned something new or achieve something that they once thought was hard.”
She also loves children’s literature and connecting her students to the community through books.
“I think that books are mirrors, doors and windows for all of our students to be able to see themselves or those that may not look like them. I think using a variety of texts in our classrooms allow students to see what the world truly looks like outside of Decatur and will help in preparing them for the world,” Burnett said.
Her colleagues said Farley connects with her students, builds relationships and trust, pushes them to think critical and compassionately, and undoubtedly impart valuable life lessons, Burnett said.
Beverly Beyer is a sixth grade science teacher at Beacon Hill Middle School. She has spent her entire teaching career in CSD. She started 17 years ago teaching first and third grade at Oakhurst Elementary and moved to sixth grade seven years ago.
“Beverly says teaching the content I love with insightful teachers who challenge me and push me to grow every day shows me the move to Beacon Hill was definitely the right choice for me as I shifted into the next stage of my career,” Burnett said.
Her colleagues said Beyer makes personal connections with her students the moment they walk into her classroom. She has also stepped in when sixth grade needed it most by filling in the gaps and going above and beyond.
“She regularly gives her time, her talents and resources, and is always the first to help others,” Burnett said. “Beverly says I love discovering fun ways to teach scientific concepts. Unfortunately, many students come to class with preconceived ideas about how boring school or certain topics are, so I have to find a way to unlock their curiosity.”
Beyer loves how science isn’t just learning for knowledge. It develops the ability to ask questions, gather information and organize and test important ideas.
“It takes a problem solving approach and promotes a positive outlook that can build confidence and support communication and social skills,” Burnett said. “When my classroom is full of actively engaged students questioning, collaborating, having fun while learning, I know I have designed a successful science learning experience. Beverly’s colleagues are inspired by her teaching and how she connects with students. They shared her teaching is the embodiment of the CSD mission. She works tirelessly to see all students of all levels and abilities have equitable opportunities to learn and feel valued.”
Maura Burke is a Latin and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher at Decatur High School. She has been teaching for 23 years and has taught at DHS for 13 years.
“Maura says her favorite thing about teaching is building relationships with my students and being someone they can come to for a snack, or a safety pin or a quiet place to study,” Burnett said. “Recently, between classes, a student came into my room with a handful of points that she needed help counting. New students come to me when our bell schedule has been adjusted and they’re not sure what class to go to next. Every day I’m overwhelmed with gratitude when my students trust me with their needs and allow me to support them as they navigate high school.”
Her knowledge of the school and the way she cares for and makes her students feel loved and valued is what her students need.
“She understands the context, the behavior and often the vulnerability of her students,” Burnett said. “Her colleagues shared deep in the heart of the oldest building, in the oldest part of the school, around the corner, there is a superhero, but not one with a cape or X-ray vision, but certainly one dressed in heels with perfect hair.”
Burke has quietly gone about her job for years, teaching a small percentage of the DHS student body.
“On most days Maura’s classroom is filled with a mixture of several different languages, laughter and sometimes music, and the desks are strewn with scissors, glue, markers and laptops. Students are gathered in groups or perched on her couch and in the middle of it all is Maura mostly running around and differentiating for five to 15 kids at a time,” Burnett said.
She greets her students each morning with a smile and a sincere welcome and she is more than a teacher to her students. She advocates quietly and consistently for her students.
“She is their counselor, their parent, their support system, and oftentimes, the only connection these students have in the system,” Burnett said. “I think sometimes more the only teacher that really knows and truly sees the English language learners. She knows more about their stories than most people. They have been vulnerable with her and she knows their strengths and weaknesses. Maura is the backbone of support for them.”
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