SCS honors 2021 Teacher of the Year award winners

Published 9:29 am Friday, December 10, 2021

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The Shelby County Board of Education and Shelby County Schools Education Foundation honored the district’s 2021 Teacher of the Year award recipients at a celebration on Thursday, Dec. 2.

This year’s awards recognized McKayla Hester as the 2021 Elementary School Teacher of the Year, Elizabeth Howard as the 2021 Middle School Teacher of the Year and Vicki Jackson as the 2021 High School Teacher of the Year.

In addition to their awards, each recipient was highlighted in a video with comments from their colleagues and students.

Hester, a kindergarten through third-grade intervention teacher at Vincent Elementary School, was described as nice, generous, funny, trusting, helpful and authentic.

“She is just someone who is absolutely awesome,” VES Principal Dr. Tonya Borden-Hudson said. “She has a lot of strength and determination. Whenever she is faced with a challenge, she is going to always overcome that challenge no matter what it is, and she’s going to do it with a positive attitude.”

Despite being diagnosed with breast cancer this summer, Hester has remained dedicated to her job at VES, where she said she has received “nothing but family vibes” since she started teaching there two years ago.

“They are the most welcoming, considerate, loving people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, and they have done a really good job, especially over the last six months, of really taking care of me in my own personal struggles,” Hester said. “For them to consider me somebody that is deserving of a recognition, when I feel like they should be the ones receiving the recognition, really means a lot to me.”

Hester has taught for eight years and also serves on the Problem Solving Team, which helps teachers plan and implement tiered interventions for students who need more intensive academic support.

Hester also serves on the school’s Parent Involvement Committee and is the sponsor of the Reader Leaders student leadership team and co-sponsor of the VES News Team.

The district’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year winners also included Kerri Parker, Wilsonville Elementary School; Elizabeth Roberson, Shelby Elementary School; Krista Bender, Oak Mountain Intermediate School; Charelette Smith, Oak Mountain Elementary School; Amanda Hyslop, Montevallo Elementary School; Kelley Deason, Linda Nolen Learning Center; Niki Burke, Inverness Elementary School; Melynda Parker, Helena Intermediate School; Patrick Riley, Helena Elementary School; Leigh Sullivan, Forest Oaks Elementary School; Emily Vansant, Elvin Hill Elementary School; Ashley Grainger, Chelsea Park Elementary School; Adalene Symons, Calera Intermediate School; and Dana Janney, Calera Elementary School.

Howard, an eighth-grade math teacher at Chelsea Middle School, has taught for 16 years.

CHMS Principal Cynthia Cruce said Howard is a cheerleader for her students.

“She’s very conscious of the fact that her words matter so much with kids,” Cruce said.

Two of Howard’s students said she always helps students when they need something, and she listens to them and makes sure they understand concepts before moving on to new material.

When her colleague and friend Julie Yeager became ill last year, Howard said she started recording her lessons at night with Screencastify to be posted to Yeager’s classes the next day so her students could continue moving forward with their learning.

After Yeager died, Howard said she wanted to honor her memory by being her best for students.

“My first thought went to Julie Yeager because she taught next door to me and she was my biggest cheerleader,” Howard said of when she heard about her award. “In that moment, I did not cry. In that moment, I felt immediately this would have made Julie happy because she cheered for me all the time.”

Howard earned National Board Certification in 2020; serves on the school’s Leadership Team and Continuous School Improvement Team; serves as a mentor and Shelby County Tech Spark for 2021 eMERGE Technology Cohort; and is a participant in the Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Math and Science program and the National Board Academy in 2021.

Howard also serves as the Math 8 Accelerated Math Team coach and the PowerSchool trainer for her school during the recent migration to the new student management system.

The district’s Middle School Teacher of the Year winners also included Talerie Jackson, Montevallo Middle School; Elizabeth Birdsong, Columbiana Middle School; Kaylin Knox, Vincent Middle High School; Samantha Keaney, Helena Middle School; Haley Gunnels, Oak Mountain Middle School; Courtney Tincher, Calera Middle School; and Susan Hancock, Montevallo High School.

Jackson is an Algebra 1 and Geometry teacher at Oak Mountain High School.

A National Board Certified teacher, Jackson has taught in Shelby County for 17 years, 14 of which were at OMMS prior to OMHS.

“Mrs. Jackson is one of the more dynamic teachers that I’ve ever seen,” OMHS Principal Andrew Gunn said. “Everything she does in the classroom is done with purpose and done the right way.”

Gunn said a memorable moment this year was seeing students react to hearing Jackson announced as Teacher of the Year at the homecoming pep rally by chanting “MVP.”

“It really shows how your students feel about you and how much they value you,” Gunn said.

Jackson was honored in 2016 as the Shelby County Middle School Teacher of the Year and as a Jacksonville State University Teacher Hall of Fame finalist.

One of her students noted Jackson’s desire to help and encourage students, while another described her as a “school mom” to her, and someone who is nurturing.

One of Jackson’s colleagues said she has the ability to teach math to students at all learning levels and to remain patient throughout the process.

Jackson also serves as a mentor to students, even starting a group called the Young Women’s Club at OMHS to empower and educate female students.

“I am just overwhelmingly honored and humbled,” Jackson said of her award. “I teach with the best, and I mean that. I see these people on a daily basis going over and beyond the call of duty. The fact that they see me and they see value in what I do, I’m very humbled.”

The district’s High School Teachers of the Year winners also included Rebecca Hicks, Shelby County High School; Blake Ray, Career Technical Educational Center; LaTasha Thomas, New Direction; Melissa Copeland, Helena High School; Serra Ashley Smith, Chelsea High School; and Jason Hamlin, Calera High School.