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LCPS names finalists for Teacher of the Year honor

Four educators chosen as their school’s Teacher of the Year have moved forward in the process to name the 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year for Lenoir County Public Schools.

 Four adults, three females and a male, pose in front of LCPS logo.Selected as finalists on Tuesday were Ashley Deaver, an eighth-grade math teacher at Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School; Kathryn Griffin, a first-grade teacher at Banks Elementary School; Katherine Hart, a first-grade teacher at Northwest Elementary School; and Leonard Palmer, the band and chorus instructor at Kinston High School.

The four advanced after a panel of judges interviewed 17 educators named as their school’s Teacher of the Year and reviewed their portfolio submissions, which included a professional biography and an essay on their philosophy of teaching. Those same judges will observe the finalists in their classrooms next month. The winner will be announced April 18 at the LCPS Employee Recognition Banquet, which the finalists will keynote.

“First, I want to share that I am very proud of the finalists and all of the candidates for Lenoir County Teacher of the Year for 2023-2024,” Superintendent Brent Williams said. “These outstanding educators represent true excellence in education. They give all that they have to make wonderful awe-inspiring contributions not only in teaching and learning in the classroom every day, but also in the more holistic processes of mentoring and guiding our students with the consistent goal of overall success in life.”

Although they come from different places and different backgrounds and came to LCPS by different routes, all four finalists share a commitment to that holistic approach to education.

“My great accomplishment and contribution to teaching is to be able to teach some of the students who think they are unteachable,” Ashley Deaver wrote in her professional biography. “I take these students and nurture them all year and create those relationships. It is those relationships that get the students to try and even achieve goals that they never thought they could do.”

For Kathryn Griffin, success as a teacher requires a love of children and a passion for the work. “Teaching is not just about teaching,” she wrote. “On a daily basis, I fill the role of mother, nurse and counselor in my classroom, and I love that.”

Katherine Hart sees her students as “a first-grade family and a part of a community.” She wrote: “When students feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, the work better together. When they walk into the classroom, regardless of what is going on at home, they know they are safe, heard and seen because they are a member of our community.”

Leonard Palmer believes that a lot of what he knows about teaching he learned from teachers in the LCPS schools he attended, teachers who invested in his future. “My belief is your gift will make room for you and bring you before great men,” he wrote. “Better is the end than the beginning. I don’t give up on my group, my team, my students. I demonstrate my personal teaching beliefs by speaking life to my students.”

Together, the finalists represent 46 years of teaching experience. They have been employed by LCPS for all but two of those years.

“These dedicated teachers display every day in their classrooms why they were selected as Teacher of the Year in their schools and why they are, indeed, among the very best of the best in Lenoir County and anywhere else,” the superintendent said. “Lenoir County Public Schools is very fortunate to have all of them represent our school system.”

Deaver came to CSS as a math teacher in 2018 after working for 10 years as an accountant in a Kinston firm. She had previously taught for a year at Savannah Middle School. She earned an associate degree in business administration from Lenoir Community College, a bachelor of science degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting from East Carolina University and licensure for middle grades math from the University of Phoenix.

At CSS, she is eighth grade co-chair, a School Improvement Team representative, school hospitality chair and Honor Society chair. She represented LCPS at the 2022 NC Math Summit at N.C. State University.

Griffin has spent her entire 21-year teaching career at Banks Elementary, where she has taught first grade, third grade and reading recovery. She holds a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from East Carolina University and reading recovery certification from ECU and UNC-Wilmington.

She is a National Board Certified teacher and was her school’s Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014. At Banks, she has served as Science Olympiad coach, grade level chair, School Improvement Team representative and beginning teacher mentor. She has presented at a number of state conferences on digital learning and at district writing workshops and served on the LCPS Writing Task Force.

Hart came to Northwest in 2015 after graduating from ECU with a bachelor of science degree in elementary education. She taught for two years in Chatham County and returned to Northwest four years ago.

She has served on her school’s School Improvement Team and Curriculum Committee and is an organizing force behind Literacy Night and STEM Night at Northwest. She is a resource for beginning teachers on effective literacy practices.

Palmer holds a bachelor of music degree from N.C. Central University. He has led the band program at Kinston High for six years, has collected a number of awards from band competitions during that time and seen several of his students go on to college on music scholarships. Prior to coming to KHS, he taught at Northeast Elementary School for six years.

He is the district’s fine arts lead and a member of the North Carolina Music Educators Association. He is a winner of the Kappa Kappa Psi award for Contributions to Schools.

In addition to the four finalists, educators selected as their school’s Teacher of the Year are Jessica Hill, South Lenoir High School; Meredith Sanderson, Moss Hill Elementary School; Gray Simmons, LCPS Pre-K; Belinda McGinnis, Lenoir County Early College High School; Robin Coley Cobb, Northeast Elementary School; Casey Herring, Southeast Elementary School; Katie McRae, Lenoir County Learning Academy; Megan Rager, Woodington Middle School; Haley Quarles, Southwood Elementary School; Barbara Wright, Rochelle Middle School; Jonathan Smith, EB Frink Middle School, Aaron Murdock, Pink Hill Elementary School; and Emily Daniels, La Grange Elementary School.

Photo caption:

Finalists for the honor of 2023-2024 LCPS Teacher of the Year are, from left, Katherine Hart of Northwest Elementary School, Leonard Palmer of Kinston High School, Kathryn Griffin of Banks Elementary School and Ashley Deaver of Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School.