These are just a few of the words principals used to describe the two Cherokee County teachers who won highly competitive statewide awards for their contributions to innovation in the classroom.
Gov. Nathan Deal recently announced seven winners for the Georgia Innovation in Teaching Competition, and two Cherokee County School District teachers were among the few chosen.
Cherokee County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo said he’s not surprised.
“We believe our teachers are among the most dedicated and talented in the nation, so it comes as no surprise that we would have two of the seven winners of this statewide competition among our ranks,” Petruzielo said.
Creekland Middle School teacher Lindsay Bowley and Avery Elementary School teacher Victoria Sinco won in the competition, designed to recognize and reward teachers who use innovative strategies for teaching English language arts and mathematics.
“Lindsay is our CCSD Teacher of the Year, and Tori is a phenomenal educator, and both are very deserving of kudos for their creativity in the classroom and resulting success,” Petruzielo added.
School principals and other staff were called to nominate teachers for the competition this winter, and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement selected the seven winners to receive the prize of a $2,000 teacher stipend and a $5,000 grant for their school.
Bowley, an eighth-grade English language arts teacher, was named the Cherokee County School District Teacher of the Year for 2014 and has taught at Creekland Middle School for seven years.
Creekland Principal Dr. Deborah Wiseman said she is very proud of Bowley and excited for the school.
“Mrs. Bowley understands that one of the most important aspects of teaching is engaging students in active learning. All of her classroom practices are in support of student engagement from planning and preparation, to establishing a supportive environment, to reflecting on classroom events,” Wiseman said. “She was the perfect candidate for this competition, as she is an innovative teacher.”
Sinco, a fifth-grade mathematics teacher, was her school’s 2008 Teacher of the Year and has been educating for 13 years — seven of which she has spent teaching at Avery Elementary School.
Avery Principal Dr. Pam Smith said Sinco is an outstanding teacher and was an obvious nominee for the competition.
“Her innovative approaches to technology integration, differentiation, and uses of student data made her an obvious choice for me. Tori is highly respected among her colleagues for her teacher leadership abilities, her knowledge and use of student assessment, and her innovative instructional strategies,” Smith said.
The Innovation in Teaching Competition is part of the state’s competitive grant program funded through the Georgia Innovation Fund.
In addition to monetary prizes, the winning educators will be filmed in their classrooms this year and interviewed about their featured unit.
The videos and accompanying educational material will be made available for educators, parents, institutions and other stakeholders through Georgia’s longitudinal data system, Deal’s Communications Office said in a news release.
Wiseman, principal of Creekland Middle School, said Bowley knows how to excite and engage her eighth-grade English language arts students.
“She doesn’t just teach her subject, she teaches children,” Wiseman said. “She also serves as a teacher mentor to new teachers, as well as struggling teachers. After attending professional development, she returns with enthusiasm and ignites that excitement among the faculty.”
Bowley said she was humbled to receive the honor along with six other teachers in the state, and she was excited that a fellow Cherokee educator was also named as a winner.
“This is a huge honor, and I am very humbled to have received it. I know there are a lot of excellent teachers in our state, and I am honored to represent them,” Bowley said.
Bowley said she became a teacher seven years ago because she loves working with teenagers, and has been teaching at Creekland ever since.
“They are at a crucial point in their life when they walk through my classroom doors,” Bowley said. “I live for those moments when they understand that an adult believes in them and desires the best for them. I love seeing the pride in their eyes when they feel that they have done well.”
But Wiseman said there’s a lot more to Bowley’s contribution to the school than class time.
“Mrs. Bowley works to stay abreast of the latest teaching methods by attending professional development. She has been heavily involved in the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project for several years now. At the school level she started a mentoring program for girls here at Creekland Middle School, sponsors the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, BETA Club, has served as Team Manager and Professional Learning Community Facilitator,” Wiseman explained. “Additionally she works closely with special education teachers to provide students with a literature class tailored to their specific individual educational plan goals and objectives.”
For her submission to the Innovation in Teaching Competition, Bowley created a detailed unit that included innovative teaching strategies, connecting English language arts with real-world business opportunities.
“The unit I submitted involved students creating their own business, developing a proposal, designing a marketing strategy, estimating cost projections and practicing speaking in a professional and articulate manner to business men and women who volunteered to work with my kids,” she explained.
Bowley said innovation is necessary if teachers are to reach all of their students.
“Innovation is important because it is crucial to engage students of all backgrounds and abilities. Learning and implementing new and innovative strategies keeps kids on their toes and gets them excited and passionate about the content being taught,” Bowley said.
Wiseman said she was proud of Bowley and the accomplishment speaks to the character of everyone at the school.
“Having a teacher from my school who received this award says that we have high expectations here at Creekland Middle School for faculty and students,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman said the $5,000 grant prize will be used to enhance the school’s technology resources.
“This grant will be used to expand our technological resources to reinforce the county’s STEM initiative and further student progress in science, technology, engineering and math,” she said.
Sinco said she was inspired to become an educator after watching her mother teach and like Bowley, said she was humbled to be selected as a winner for the Innovation in Teaching Competition.
“Teaching and learning was a part of my life from a very young age — it seemed fitting to follow that path when I entered college. I have never looked back and wake up each morning excited to go to work and see my kids,” Sinco said. “I am proud and honored to be nominated and then selected as a winner in this competition. There are so many amazing teachers across the state, it is truly humbling to be recognized as one of only seven winners.”
But Sinco said she doesn’t have awards on her mind when she enters the classroom, she just wants to do what’s best for her students.
“I don’t strive to do something award winning each day — my goal is to do whatever I can to help my students be successful and develop a passion for learning,” she said.
Smith, principal at Avery Elementary School, said Sinco has contributed “since day one.”
“Tori is extremely conscientious. She cares about each of her students and their families,” Smith said. “She often attends evening and weekend events involving any of her students. She is a person of character, always striving to do what’s right. She is an excellent example and role model for her students and her colleagues.”
The principal said Sinco also facilitates Avery’s school-wide data spreadsheet, serves as the school’s webmaster, sponsors the National Jr. Beta Club and Technology Team, serves as the school’s Khan Academy facilitator, conducts math workshops for parents and serves on the school’s Media/Technology Committee.
Sinco has taught at Avery since the school opened seven years ago, and has experience teaching students in third through sixth grade. Sinco said innovation isn’t just important, “it’s vital.”
“Students enter the classroom on varying levels with different learning styles and interests — what works for one student, will not work for all. I find this especially true in the teaching of math. All of my students are different,” she said. “Without innovating teaching practices, I would not be able to provide each child with the education that he or she deserves.”
Sinco’s submission for the Innovation in Teaching Competition focused on teaching students based on their needs.
“Students are grouped according to ability and readiness,” Sinco explained. “These groups experience tiered instruction, activities and performance tasks that best meet their individual needs. My use of Khan Academy has revolutionized differentiation — remediating and accelerating my 34 students individually. In addition to Khan Academy, technology is infused in our daily curriculum.”
Sinco said she uses creative methods of teaching to help keep her students engaged.
“QR code scavenger hunts, math-casting and cross country team competitions using Skype and Zondle are just a few of the ways I enhance instruction and engage students. Our daily use of Edmodo allows students to collaboratively discuss with their peers, seek math assistance from anywhere they have Internet access and creates a network of learning that stretches far outside the four walls of my classroom,” she said.
Smith said Sinco is just one example of the many outstanding educators at Avery Elementary.
“Tori is a reflection of the caliber of our teaching staff. I am thrilled that Avery is represented by one of our best,” Smith said of Sinco. “Tori, after all, was elected by her colleagues as Teacher of the Year during our inaugural year.”
Smith said the $5,000 grant prize may be used to purchase additional technology for the school’s Bring Your Own Learning Device initiative in fifth-grade, but said they haven’t made a final decision on how to use the grant yet.