The Cherokee County School District today surprised four outstanding teachers with the news they are finalists for the 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year award!
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower visited their classrooms with balloons, flowers and the announcement that they were selected by the judging committee as the top four teachers of all CCSD schools’ and centers’ Teachers of the Year.
The finalists are: Cherokee High School science teacher Jon Gustin, Hickory Flat Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Gina Haggerty, Little River Elementary School art teacher Emily Mickel and Sequoyah High School math teacher Andrew Oberlies.
“Congratulations to our finalists, and thank you to all of our teachers for their continued dedication to excellence,” Dr. Hightower said. “The four finalists we celebrate today are the best of our best. I’ve read their applications and letters of recommendation, and there are common threads: deep subject knowledge, outstanding instruction, willingness to take on new challenges, mentoring peers, and, above all, how much they truly care about their students. As one student wrote in her letter, her teacher ‘is always there to help me.’ Thank you for being the helpers we all look for in life.”
The four finalists – two selected from all elementary school-level winners and two from all middle, high and centers honorees – were selected by a committee of retired educators, community leaders and the current CCSD Teacher of the Year. Their selection was based on essay answers to questions about their careers and their views on teaching and education, and letters of recommendation from Principals, colleagues, students and parents.
The CCSD Teacher of the Year, who is one of these four finalists, will be announced during the Legacy Makers celebration this spring. The CCSD winner will represent the School District in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.
The Legacy Makers banquet, and the prizes to be awarded to all of the honorees, are made possible by presenting sponsors: Cherokee County Educational Foundation, Credit Union of Georgia, Northside Hospital Cherokee and Shottenkirk Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Canton. Additional financial and in-kind sponsorship opportunities are available; interested businesses and organizations are encouraged to please contact Penny Dempsey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770.479.1871.
From left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Cherokee HS Principal Rodney Larrotta, Cherokee HS Teacher of the Year and 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year Finalist Jon Gustin, and CCSD Chief Operations Officer Dr. Debra Murdock.
Cherokee High School science teacher Jon Gustin
“Am I just teaching students the standards, or am I teaching them to be valuable participants in the community?” is the question Cherokee High School Teacher of the Year Jon Gustin poses to the teachers he mentors.
For Mr. Gustin, his constant mission is the latter. The 13-year educator, who teaches environmental science classes including the Advanced Placement (AP) course, has earned the respect of his students, their parents, his colleagues and educators districtwide through his dedication to elevate learning beyond expectations.
His instructional skill led to his appointment to assist the school district’s Office of Curriculum & Instruction in developing argument-driven inquiry lessons. These challenging lessons hone critical thinking skills and give students the opportunity to lead in their own learning.
“These investigations really define who I am as a teacher, by allowing students to reach their true potential,” said Mr. Gustin, who now trains colleagues in developing these lessons. “I truly believe that by having high expectations and appropriate supports, the students will always rise to the occasion and flourish.”
Mr. Gustin, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science education, not only teaches students in the classroom, but he also leads them through the environmental action club, diversity club and conversation club to engage in their school and community.
“He has been a key factor in accelerating the way we help students here at CHS,” an administrator shared. “He does not blink when we have tough choices to make, yet he is always the first to give of his time and lead by example. He is one of the truest Warriors among us.”
Hickory Flat ES Teacher of the Year Gina Haggerty listens as Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower tells her class she has been selected as a finalist for 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year.
Hickory Flat Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Gina Haggerty
Over her 23 years as a teacher, Hickory Flat Elementary School Teacher of the Year Gina Haggerty has taught many lessons to her fourth-graders.
Like the Westward Expansion lesson, during which students learn about the struggles of the homesteaders … and reflect upon their own challenges, like moving and being the new kid at school. Through her dedication to advance students’ critical thinking, the lesson has evolved to include content mapping, problem-solving and Adobe Spark presentations of persuasive arguments, in the mindset of that time, as to why (or why not) they should go West.
“This unit best describes me as a teacher because I pride myself on creating a culture in my classroom where students show empathy, face adversity with confidence and compromise,” she said.
Ms. Haggerty has learned lessons from her students as she has developed this classroom culture. The morning meeting, or as she calls them “family meetings,” are where classmates, by sharing from their own lives, learn compassion, empathy, grit, perspective and resilience.
“Our days begin with building relationships and making meaningful connections,” she said. “If you’ve made connections with students and parents, they are more likely to be open and talk about adversities. This connection helps me better understand what’s driving students’ behavior and find strategies to help.”
Parents value the care she takes to connect with their children. “She helped my daughter gain her independence, gave her a drive for self-improvement and was 100% engaged in the process of learning,” one mom shared. “Mrs. Haggerty is committed to making sure they all succeed.”
Little River ES Teacher of the Year Emily Mickel reacts with surprise when Principal Matt Freedman and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower interrupt art class with the news that she is one of four finalists for CCSD Teacher of the Year.
Little River Elementary School art teacher Emily Mickel
Cherokee County School District art teachers craft lessons that cross curriculum, blending history and literature with techniques that span time and culture. And Little River Elementary School Teacher of the Year Emily Mickel is a master.
One such lesson is based on a book by a contemporary African American artist, connecting art, literature and imagination through story quilts. After listening to the artist’s book, students discuss its meaning and then design a quilt reflecting their own dreams. Within that square, students use pastels, paint, crayon, marker, colored pencil to share their dream in full color.
Some draw their future selves, while others choose designs -- like gears to illustrate the dream of becoming an engineer. Ms. Mickel assembles the squares into a class quilt.
“Students see the finished product of putting each quilt square together to make a beautiful, collaborative piece of artwork,” said Ms. Mickel, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in her field. “There are so many valuable life lessons that students learn with this project.”
Ms. Mickel brings art to the entire community by organizing a school art show for which she frames a piece of artwork by each of the school’s nearly 1,400 students. Her efforts in and out of the classroom have earned the respect of colleagues and parents and the adoration of her students.
She recognizes students for excellence with plastic rainbow pieces to display on their desk, a colorful reminder of how much she values them. “She is truly kind,” one student shared, “She is highly creative and talented .. she is always there to help me.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower shares the news that Sequoyah High School Teacher of the Year Andrew Oberlies is one of four finalists for 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year.
Sequoyah High School math teacher Andrew Oberlies
Sequoyah High School Teacher of the Year Andrew Oberlies teaches brilliant students incredibly challenging lessons.
Example: his favorite lesson is “the derivative in calculus is the rate of change of a function.”
The 17-year teacher has mastered the science of teaching the rigorous -- Advanced Placement calculus, pre-calculus and multi-variable calculus – to gifted learners who will, in turn, challenge him. And he’s refined the art of reaching through the equations to build relationships with students. For these relationships, Mr. Oberlies realized early on, lead to greater student success.
“Students need to know that I am always willing to help them in math, but, more importantly, in life,” said Mr. Oberlies, who is frequently named by STAR Students, valedictorians and salutatorians as the most influential teacher in their time as students. “I believe education must include social emotional learning along with dialogue regarding character education and a respect for others. Beyond mathematics, it is the life skills I have taught that will help students beyond the classroom.”
His belief it not just theory, as students back it up with the evidence of their lives. One past salutatorian shared that Mr. Oberlies cared so much for each of them as students that he noticed their struggles, academic and personal – and always reached out to them. It’s common to see his classroom filled during his planning period with students looking for help -- with math and with life.
“When I lost my way, he would carefully remind me of the person I had told him a thousand times that I wanted to be,” she said. “The care and support that he provided me helped put me on the track to success.”
Above: CCSD Teacher of the Year Finalist Jon Gustin of Cherokee HS shares a laugh with his principal, Rodney Larrotta. Below: Dr. Hightower asks students in Mr. Gustin's environmental science class what they like most about their teacher.
Above: From left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Hickory Flat ES Principal Kerry Estep, 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year Finalist Gina Haggerty, and CCSD Chief Operations Officer Dr. Debra Murdock. Below: Ms. Haggerty is surrounded by her students offering congratulations and hugs for being selected as a finalist for 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year.
Above: From left, CCSD Chief Operations Officer Dr. Debra Murdock, Little River ES Principal Matt Freedman, 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year Finalist Emily Mickel, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Hightower. Below: Students in Emily Mickel's art class applaud the news she is a finalist for 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year.
Above: From left, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower, Sequoyah HS Principal Bob Van Alstyne, 2022 CCSD Teacher of the Year Finalist Andrew Oberlies, and CCSD Chief Operations Officer Dr. Debra Murdock. Below: Students in Mr. Oberlies' AP Calculus class share what they admire most about their teacher.