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Meet Our 2021 District Teachers of the Year
Meet Our 2021 District Teachers of the Year
Posted on 09/21/2020
Learn more about this year's accomplished District Teachers of the Year!BCS Communications

The Buncombe County Schools Teacher of the Year program is an annual tradition promoting excellence in education, and is an opportunity for teachers to recognize peers who exemplify the profession and its values.

On Friday, May 8, 2020 BCS Teacher of the Year Ms. DeLana Parker of Charles T. Koontz Intermediate School unveiled the seven district finalists through an online announcement on behalf of this year's teacher-led selection committee. These seven District Teachers of the Year were chosen from among all 44 school Teachers of the Year and represent the best of the best! On Friday, September 11, 2020, Mr. Jason Rhodes of Buncombe County Middle College was selected to represent all of Buncombe County in the North Carolina Teacher of the Year program.

Learn more about this year's finalists through the speech and essay excerpts below. Created during this past year's Teacher of the Year program, these recent writings reveal the wisdom, experience, excellence, and care that these educators bring to their classrooms each day. They also bring hope during a particularly challenging year for teachers as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic.

Congratulations to our seven Buncombe County Schools District Teachers of the Year: Jason Rhodes, Sara Moore, Toby Anderson, Kathryn Strickler, Leanne Gosey, Maureen Wellbery, and Malorie Morrill.

Jason Rhodes, At-Large and Buncombe County Schools Teacher of the Year

Jason Rhodes, Buncombe County Middle College
(At-Large)
Excerpts from Mr. Rhodes' July 28 speech to the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:

That sense of connection is very important to what I do, and it’s vital to teaching success during this time of COVID and remote learning. Ok, it’s vital to learning all the time. I say 'hi' to every kid, every day. I make sure I speak to each of them and acknowledge them further. I listen to what matters to them, and I let them be free to be who they are.

My 'why' for teaching is this: I want to help teenagers navigate what can be a tough time in life. I want to provide them safety and a place where they’re loved unconditionally. And I want them to learn to think critically and creatively.

My job matters because education is the foundation for broadening our imagination, and when we can use that imagination anything is possible. I love working with high school students. One thing I always tell my students at the end of the first day is that I loved you before I met you, and that’s why I’m here.

Sara Moore, Enka District Teacher of the Year

Sara Moore, Pisgah Elementary
(Enka District)
An excerpt from Ms. Moore's July 28 speech to the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:

Perspective. Opportunity. These words are common but the power behind them can be instrumental for educators and students if we embrace their meaning. We need to remember that during a very rough time for our world and our nation, there are opportunities to learn and exemplify hard work and empathy. This is what we ask of our students: use what you know but always be willing to learn more and take on opportunities for growth. As educators, we have the privilege of an audience and the opportunity to open avenues of discussion and access areas of the world that can enrich our lessons.

What if we saw this was an opportunity to supply our students with texts and resources that are, as Rudine Sims Bishop says, "mirrors, windows and sliding doors” to experiences that are in and out of our knowledge base and comfort zones. This is an opportunity to authentically and truly educate by embracing all the beautifully gray areas of perspective available to us and listen, experience, and learn right along with our students. This is an opportunity for us to tap into our unique talents and collaborate as we learn new ways of educating, together. We have an opportunity to model for our students, how to handle adversity, survive tough growth, and show courage in doing 'hard things.'

Malorie Morrill, Erwin District Teacher of the Year

Malorie Morrill, Woodfin Elementary
(Erwin District)
An excerpt from Ms. Morrill's Teacher of the Year essay highlighting her impact on student learning:

A successful education is one which empowers students to become problem-solvers in their own lives. For students to be able to seek, access, and use information to solve any problem they encounter, they must consistently practice making relevant connections between new content and their prior learning. These connections are made outside of a 30-minute intervention session or the four walls of a single classroom. For learning to occur, students must be able to find relevance in instruction and build knowledge through collaborative and creative experiences that extend beyond the reading of a book.

As an elementary reading specialist, I help students to build foundational literacy skills as they begin to read the world around them. This process does not stop with decoding and comprehending words on a page, but continues as students learn to engage with these words to create new meaning. Students learn to evaluate the sources of information, determine their relative importance, and synthesize new information with what is already known to develop informed viewpoints and design unique solutions to challenges in their world.


Toby Anderson, North Buncombe District Teacher of the Year

Toby Anderson, North Buncombe High
(North Buncombe District)
Essay excerpts by Mr. Anderson about his impact on student learning:

On the first day of class, I always explain that I expect my students to follow two rules: 1) I expect them to have opinions and be willing to voice them in a civil manner; and 2) I expect them to provide factual evidence that supports their position. I explain that there will be disagreements and opinions that others will not agree with (including myself); however, the founding fathers understood the need to respect others opinions, to listen to those opinions, and to work towards a compromise and resolution that would benefit all American citizens. I am constantly amazed by how my students articulate their thoughts and opinions, how they listen to the arguments of those that might disagree, and walk out of my classroom with a more thorough understanding of the material.

A few years ago, the presentation on the 2nd amendment (the right to bear arms) led to an amazing discussion on the state of mental health in our society. Students spent thirty minutes to an hour discussing the stresses and difficulties of their senior year of high school and how these stresses led to depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. I was able to share with my students in a nurturing, safe environment, the many resources that our school system provides for students. Tears were shed and connections were made between students that provided greater impact than any "teacher-led lecture" could have made. This powerful discussion led students to a better understanding of mental health issues, resources, and how mental health applies to the 'right to bear arms.' It also strengthened my teaching philosophy that I am a teacher of students, not a subject.


Leanne Gosey

Leanne Gosey, Charles D. Owen High
(Owen District)
An excerpt from Ms. Gosey's July 28 speech to the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:

Even in uncertainty, our call as educators remains the same. Even when much of our world presses the pause button, we continue to move forward because we have no other choice. We are still preparing students for their tomorrow, even in a pandemic. As many of us now know, continuing to learn and grow through uncharted territory is part of that preparation.

As we continue to navigate these new waters, our instructional content remains the same. Our approach, however, cannot. We must teach students to be coach-able, flexible, and willing to adapt to new situations. We must work together to teach students the crucial skills necessary to be successful in this new learning environment. We must still prepare them for the future, no matter how uncertain. Even when everything around us seems to change, our “why” must remain a constant in everything we do.


Kathryn Strickler, Reynolds District Teacher of the Year

Kathryn Strickler, Cane Creek Middle
(Reynolds District)
An excerpt from Ms. Strickler's July 28 speech to the Teacher of the Year Selection Committee:

Often students are praised for what they know; strong homework or test grades; winning a game or competition. It’s great for adults to reinforce good habits among young people, but during this time I think it is important we all understand that our lives are not the same as they once were, which may give us a different, and perhaps more productive, perspective on success.

We have all experienced trauma since the onset of the pandemic, and many of our community members have risked their lives in order to make our lives better. Rather than focusing solely on academic material this school year, I’ve become even more persistent about ensuring students take time to be thankful, appreciative, understanding and thoughtful, even creating assignments that involve documenting thankfulness, showing kindness, and appreciating the work of others. So many of us are worried about students falling behind – but the truth is, we’re all behind together. We’re all working through this simultaneously, and in order to stay afloat and experience future success, our students must first and foremost be provided with opportunities to build skills to manage their own emotions and feel and show empathy for others. In doing so, we prepare our students to navigate whatever life may throw at them.


Maureen Wellbery, Roberson District Teacher of the Year

Maureen Wellbery, Avery's Creek Elementary
(Roberson District)
An essay excerpt from Ms. Wellbery's Teacher of the Year portfolio:

We, as educators, parents, and in general all stakeholders, have the ability and the responsibility to empower our children. In the article, "Empowering Students: Pedagogy that Benefits Educators and Learners", by Catherine Broom (2015), the author states that "inquiry relationships and community building" are paramount to this success. She goes on to explain that when we empower others, it permits them to take control of their lives and produces "positive changes."

Students who do not exhibit good self-esteem have already labeled themselves as failures, someone who has little control over their lives. "Building confidence develops optimism which leads to action" (Banack, 2007).

Reflecting on my teaching experience I recall helping parents of my then kindergarten students by giving advice how to empower their five-year old child. My suggestion was to allow their child to choose between two shirts to wear for school in the morning. Parents can offer ones that are appropriate, but the child has the power to make the final decision.

Trust through building relationships with students will result in these desired outcomes. Students who feel they are valued and important in the eyes of their teacher or care takers will take risks. There is a saying which states: "The greatest risk in life is to take no risk at all." I enjoy sharing with my students each year the many risks I have taken. They enjoy hearing of my living and working overseas and exploring the many countries I visited. Sharing stories of one's life is an excellent way to show students that it's okay to be nervous or afraid of something new, but once conquered it builds enormous self-esteem.






Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin, shanon.martin@bcsemail.org, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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