The Cherokee County School District surprised four teachers last Wednesday with the news they are CCSD Teacher of the Year Finalists.

Superintendent Brian Hightower visited the four teachers’ classrooms to announce their selection, from the field of all CCSD schools’ and centers’ Teachers of the Year, to vie for the top honor.

“We’re so proud of our ‘Final Four,’” Hightower said, noting that the committee of retired educators and community leaders who make up the judging committee had a tough job in selecting them from a pool of CCSD’s finest. “As I read their applications, what struck me was how they not only are excellent educators, but they also go above and beyond to show their students how much they care about them.”

The finalists are: Barry Dalton of Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy, Tracie Galvis of Cherokee High School, Karen Garland of Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy, and Ansley Sand of River Ridge High School.

The CCSD Teacher of the Year, who is one of these four finalists, will be announced during the Legacy Makers celebration next month. The CCSD winner will represent the school district in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.

The finalist selection was based on teachers’ answers to questions about themselves and their views on teaching and education, and letters of recommendation from principals, colleagues, students and parents.

Barry Dalton, Hasty Elementary School Fine Arts Academy

Wednesday was Coach Dalton’s first day back at work after the birth of his family’s new baby.

He received more of a welcome than expected, with the surprise presentation in his third-grade PE class by the superintendent.

“He’s all in,” Hightower said to the gym filled with students, as he shared with them the many attributes that make their 12-year teacher a winner.

Hightower noted that not only does Dalton make sure his students learn about health and PE, he also works to develop their resiliency and “grit” — both in gym class and through schoolwide positive behavior and mentoring programs he helps lead.

Third grader Adam Strawser wasn’t surprised to see his teacher honored.

“He gives us a great education. He keeps us healthy and strong,” he said. “And he cares about us.”

Tracie Galvis, Cherokee High School

Tracie Galvis was decked out in cowgirl gear today for the school’s homecoming dress-up day.

It shows in a visible way how much the seven-year teacher cares about connecting with her students, and that Warrior pride wins them over, as well as their parents and her fellow teachers.

Galvis teaches algebra to students learning English as a second language and she also heads up the English for Speakers of Other Languages department. Her drive to relate to students comes from a desire to help them succeed and is fueling the school’s ESOL CHOICE program, a new intensive mentoring and support initiative to help students at higher risk of not graduating on time.

“We couldn’t do what we’re doing here without you,” Hightower said of her instrumental role. “You always put kids first.”

Her students agree: “She’s amazing,” senior Manuela Restrepo said. “She helps us with everything.”

Karen Garland, Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy

You never know what you’re going to find when you walk into Karen Garland’s science classroom.

Some days it’s butterflies. Some days it’s reptiles. Some days it’s dozens of hands covered in dirt from gardening.

But every day, it’s smiles, light bulbs and laughter.

“You make learning fun for the kids,” said Hightower, adding that he’s known Garland since she began teaching in CCSD seven years ago after a career as an environmental educator for the Chattahoochee Nature Center and Georgia Conservancy. As whispers of the news spread down the hall, one by one her fellow teachers snuck in to applaud their colleague, who’s described as a real-life Ms. Frizzle of Magic School Bus fame.

Students like Mide Thomas can’t wait to tell you about their favorite teacher.

“I love how she’s all about science,” the second-grader said with great excitement, “and she can always answer almost any question about science!”

Ansley Sand, River Ridge High School

Ansley Sand teaches classrooms filled with some of the brightest students in CCSD.

They aren’t easily impressed, but she’s won them over in her Advanced Placement history and psychology classes with her skills in relating lessons to their own lives and ensuring they know how much she cares about the latter.

“She cares deeply about the subject matter, but, most importantly, she cares about you,” Hightower told the class, as he shared the news of their teacher’s honor.

Principal Kerry Martin said Sand, who was a student at Woodstock High School while she was a teacher there, has grown into a model teacher who amazes everyone with her knowledge and dedication.

“Her classroom is student-centered,” Martin said, adding that often those students are out of their seats engaged in collaborative activities.

Sophomore Brooke Scepaniak was happy to see her teacher honored.

“She pushes us forward,” Brooke said. “She does what’s best for us in class.”

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