Every year, Union County Public Schools (UCPS) recognizes a teacher who is not only dedicated and capable of inspiring students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn, but also establishes an environment that is conducive to the pursuit and achievement of academic excellence.
Ten UCPS Teacher of the Year finalists have been selected from a pool of 53 school-wide Teachers of the Year. On March 5, UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan and Cabinet staff revealed the names of the finalists by visiting the teachers at their schools. The winner will be announced at the annual Teacher of the Year banquet on April 19.
Congratulations to the following UCPS Teacher of the Year finalists:
Benton Heights Elementary – Jennifer West
Jennifer is a pre-kindergarten teacher at Benton Heights Elementary School of the Arts. A graduate of St. Bonaventure University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education as well as a master’s degree in Early Childhood Literacy, Jennifer has taught at Benton Heights Elementary since 2006. With the belief that one of the greatest gifts in life is the love of learning, Jennifer’s goal is to make a child’s first school experience positive, exciting, challenging and intrinsically rewarding.
Monroe Middle – Donnika Kibler
Donnika Kibbler is a sixth grade math instructor at Health Sciences Academy at Monroe Middle. A graduate of Jonson C. Smith and Wingate University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in education, Donnika has taught at UCPS schools since 2006. Donnika is an advocate for student growth and believes all students can grow in an environment that fosters significant relationships and active engagement. She believes positive relationships are the foundation to a successful school year.
Parkwood High – Cheryl Brightsen
Cheryl Brightsen is a math teacher at Parkwood High. A graduate of The King’s College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematical sciences, Cheryl has taught at UCPS schools for nearly 18 years. Cheryl says the biggest contributing factor to a student’s success is what they believe about their abilities, and she strives to create a physical and emotional classroom environment that allows her students to thrive.
Piedmont High – Tiphany Speck
Tiphany Speck is a social studies teacher at Piedmont High. A graduate of Appalachian State University and University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Tiphany has taught at Piedmont High for the past five years. Tiphany believes that education is a fundamental building block for the development and growth of society, and she strives to create a positive atmosphere for all students.
Rock Rest Elementary – Julia Shea
Julia Shea is a fifth grade teacher at Rock Rest Elementary. A graduate of Keene State College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Julia has taught at Rock Rest Elementary since 2014. She believes that to be a successful and truly impactful teacher, she must constantly reflect and adapt to the learning that is going on in her classroom. She prides herself on fostering a longing for learning in her students and putting them in control of their own growth and success.
Sun Valley Middle – Debra Dixon
Debra Dixon is a science teacher at Sun Valley Middle. A graduate of the University of Texas and Seattle University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and a master’s degree in Education Administration, Debra has worked as an educator at various schools across the country for the past 16 years. Debra strongly believes that all of her students can and will learn, and her goal is to be bettertomorrow than she is today.
South Providence – Heather Diaz
Heather Diaz is an Exceptional Children’s program teacher at South Providence School. A graduate of Western Carolina University and Nichols College, Heather has been an educator in school systems across the country for the past nine years. Heather believes that all children can learn and deserve a high quality, accessible education that prepares them to be productive, global citizens. Heather said her students feel valued and respected, and her classroom is a safe place to learn, grow and make mistakes.
Weddington High – Benjamin Lukey
Benjamin Lukey is an English teacher at Weddington High. A graduate of University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English, Benjamin has taught at Weddington High since 2013. Benjamin believes that teachers need to establish and maintain a positive and welcoming atmosphere and have a solemn duty to be positive role models. He strives to manage his classroom according to the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Western Union Elementary – Ashley Erb
Ashley Erb is a fifth grade teacher at Western Union Elementary. A graduate of Appalachian State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Ashley has taught at Western Union Elementary since 2014. Ashley strives to maintain a positive community by creating a place where students learn to collaborate and function in society while obtaining the necessary academic skills to prepare for a more civil, progressive and innovative future. Her goal is for each student to be able to look back on their time in her class and use the skills they’ve gained to care for others, pursue their dreams and never abandon the love of learning with a profound curiosity.
Wingate Elementary — Janna Tolleson
Janna Tolleson is a fourth grade teacher at Wingate Elementary. A graduate of University of North Carolina at Charlotte and West Liberty University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and master’s degrees in curriculum and instruction and school administration, Janna has worked as an educator in North Carolina for the past 26 years. Her personal beliefs about teaching are defined by the acronym CARE: Communicate, Advocate and build trust to Relate. She strives to establish a classroom environment with goal/growth setting, accountability, cooperative groups and specific feedback.