JCPS honors teachers, staff, students and retirees

Jackson County Public Schools honored educators and support staff at last Thursday’s Excellence in Education Awards ceremony.

“Being a part of the school community is not for the faint of heart,” Superintendent Dana Ayers told the assembly at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching. “Whether driving a bus or leading a school, there are obstacles and burdens. However, there are joys beyond measure, celebrations and much love shared with our students, families and colleagues.”

First to be recognized was Principal of the Year Melanie Jacobs from Jackson County Early College. Jacobs is in the running for state Principal of the Year.

A new program recognizes the Assistant Principal of the Year, with Smoky Mountain High School’s Jeremy Cauley named the inaugural JCPS award-winner.

Deputy Superintendent Jake Buchanan took the floor to announce the teacher of the year candidates. Nominees were Blue Ridge School’s Sue Watkins, Blue Ridge Early College’s Brittany Elkins, Cullowhee Valley Elementary School’s Natalie Sutton, Fairview Elementary School’s Mikaela Painter, Jackson Community School’s Christina Daniels, Jackson County Early College’s Inga Sutton, Scotts Creek Elementary School’s Jonathan Cauley, Smokey Mountain Elementary School’s Jenniffer Dall and SMHS teacher Catherine DeWeese.

Sutton, of JCEC, took the award. 

“Ms. Sutton’s love of literature is contagious,” Jacobs told the crowd.

“There is never a dull moment in her classroom as students dive deeply into literature from multiple genres and make connections to their own lives. She is one of those teachers that students remember for a lifetime.”

Next, Human Resources Director Teri Walawender introduced the Support Employees of the Year candidates.

“These employees demonstrate high skills and knowledge on the job, are motivated and interested in their jobs, they are willing to support and cooperate with others, promote collaboration within their work units, are committed to high standards of performance and exemplify professionalism at all times,” she said.

Nominees were Erica Smithdeal of BRS, Leigh Foss of BREC, Odette Kennedy of CVES, Ashley Miller of FES, Michelle Pippio of JCS, Marissa Todd of JCEC, Luisa McMahan of SCES, Mary-Ellen Helton of SMES, Renee Miller of SMHS and Emily Buchanan representing the Central Office, Bus Garage and Maintenance Department.

Kennedy, of CVES, took the award.

“Odette is an Exceptional Children’s Teacher Assistant in the Self-Contained classroom at Cullowhee Valley,” Walawender said. “She is always kind and sees the good in everyone. She is always willing to do whatever it takes to support students and her colleagues.”

Walawender went on to name the Bus Driver of the Year.

Nominated were Sheila Kinsey, Brady Powell, Paul Graham, Dawn Hornbuckle, Wes Willoughby and Michelle Chastain.

Transportation Director Josh Francis announced Scotts Creek Elementary School driver Hornbuckle as the winner. She also works as a school nutrition employee.

“Dawn is valued because she is passionate about serving JCPS students and their families,” Francis said. “Dawn is more than a driver – she is a ‘bus mom’ as her own daughter puts it. Dawn is a “mountain girl” who started driving when her two children started attending school 12 years ago.”

School Nutrition Director Laura Cabe next announced the school nutrition employee of the year candidates: Tonya Plank of SMHS, Kim Robinson of BRS, Elena Alcantar of BREC, Connie Young of CVES, Judy Parris of FES, Susan McCoy of SCES and Melissa Elders of SMES.

“She is one of the favorite staff members at SMHS and always has the best, yet sometimes sarcastic attitude with a smile on her face and love in her heart for the students,” Cabe said of Plank. “She keeps the kids in line, has been known to break up a few scuffles and she always makes sure the kids are not doing anything they are not supposed to be doing but they all love her for it and will wait in her line just to see her.”

Next up was Chief Academic Officer Angie Dills to announce the Steve Jones Servant Leader Award, created in memory and honor of Jones, who served all of Jackson County Public Schools and its community for many years. 

“Throughout his 33 years, Steve touched the lives of many students, staff, parents and community members through his servant leadership attitude and his larger than life personality,” Dills said.

Steve McRae, director of mental health and Project AWARE director  was named the staff recipient of the award, and Tate Schwalm of SMHS was the student winner.

Ayers next honored folks retiring from the school system.

Gladys Bishop, Tina Coggins, Julie Gentry, Ada Hall, Mary Henson, Rhonda Hooper, Jake Johnson, Katee Johnson, Kathryn Kantz, Jackie Methven, Melissa Parris, Cynthia Phipps, Jeffrey Pope, Diane Schallock, Melanie Smathers, Suzanne Tompkins, Caroline Williamson 

“Altogether, our retirees have served 378 years and 1 month,” Ayers said. “On behalf of the Jackson County Public Schools family, we would like to extend a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for your dedication and service to Jackson County Public Schools and our students.”

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