East, south area schools select Teachers of the Year

Susan EspirituEast Knox, South Knox

Last week, schools announced teachers selected by their peers to represent the school as 2023 Teachers of the Year. The Knox County Teacher of the Year for each grade band will be announced from all district-wide delegates in February.

We were able to connect with many from the east and south side of Knox County to recognize those educators.

Fair Garden Family Center at 400 Fern Street recognized Pam Hill from its staff as the Teacher of the Year.

Pam Hill, Fair Garden, pre K

Sunnyview Primary School proudly announces Ali Umbarger, or Mrs. Ali, as she is called, as its Teacher of the Year.

Ali Umbarger- Sunnyview Primary School kindergarten teacher

Sydney Upton, Sunnyview principal says of Mrs. Ali, “She is dedicated to her little ones and does all she can to make sure that they are ready for first grade. She loves building relationships with her students and families. You will often see her attending their sporting events or any extracurricular activities and her favorite part of the day is calling names for afternoon bus duty and getting to talk with the families. “She is a leader in our building, as she serves on our Leadership Team, Behavior Team and also is a Lead Teacher Evaluator. One of Umbarger’s favorite things is when a child accomplishes something for the first time and they look at her like ‘oh you were right, I can do this’.”

 Carter Elementary School chose two teachers as Teachers of the Year.

Alejandra Berry, an ELL teacher who is a former kindergarten teacher and in her sixth year of teaching ELL, has a history or being nominated for this honor, having been Carter Teacher of the Year in 2020. Berry says, “I was put here to be an ELL teacher and to represent students that are just as diverse as I am. I represent the voice for the students in my community that otherwise wouldn’t have one because of a language barrier. Some people go on mission trips to be a faithful servant, but I do it here every day when I work. I give it 100% for that reason.

“I share a strong bond with the community of diverse language learners that come to learn from me. I am after all bilingual and understand exactly how hard it is to embrace the language while learning in school, and there lies my super power. I teach like I was teaching to God’s children and I love what I do because I do it with that in mind.”

Dakota Marshall teaches first grade and has seven years of experience, with four of them at Carter. Marshall says, “I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a positive role model for my students. I love watching my students try difficult things, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Watching my students realize they can do difficult things is my favorite part of my job! I am so grateful to serve in the community I grew up in.”

Dogwood Elementary School chooses three educators from the staff: two teachers and one teaching assistant.

Renee Ragle teaches special education and has taught at Dogwood for 17 years. She currently serves on the Community School Committee and Site Steering Committee. Lana Shelton Lowe, principal of Dogwood, says, “She has prioritized building relationships in the building and community, helping improve the education gaps and student achievement. This year, Renee is working in a new position as a special education teacher. Even though the new position came with many challenges and a learning curve, Renee has embraced those with hard work, a positive attitude, an open mind and a loving heart.”

Renee says, “It is an honor being selected as teacher of the year by your peers. It is not just a reflection of me, but a reflection of the fellow teachers, coaches, leaders, administration and children that I have had the privilege of working with over the years. Their leadership, guidance, patience, compassion, dedication and love have helped me grow into the educator that I am today.”

Casey Shanklin teaches third grade with experience in teaching multiple grade levels. Lowe says, “Beyond her teaching responsibilities, she possesses a keen expertise in technology and actively participates in the Ambassador program, where she imparts leadership skills to older students.

Her passion lies in nurturing not only academic knowledge but also soft skills among her students. Under her guidance, both her ambassadors and classroom pupils learn essential social skills such as handshakes, offering congratulations, and maintaining eye contact during conversations. Mrs. Shanklin expressed deep gratitude for being chosen by her colleagues for this distinguished award.”

Dogwood staff also chose a teaching assistant of the year, Ashley Caraco. Lowe says of Caraco, “She is a dedicated and passionate teaching assistant. She ensures our school provides all students with the best possible services. Of course, she has a unique perspective since her children also attend our school.”

Caraco says, “As a parent, I loved Dogwood, and now I get to love it as a part of the staff. I like doing new things every day and helping improve children’s education in our community. I also value the sense of pride and teamwork among our staff.”

Gap Creek Elementary staff voted first grade teacher Kalan Lancaster as Teacher of the Year.

Kalan Lancaster, first grade teacher at Gap Creek Elementary

Principal James Slay says she is  “a dedicated and passionate teacher. She works tirelessly to ensure that her students have access to high-quality education. She is creative, inquisitive and consistently seeks feedback from others to perfect her craft of teaching. She’s caring and perceptive. She creates meaningful relationships with the students and they absolutely adore her. We are blessed to have her at Gap Creek!”

Mount Olive Elementary selected special education teacher, Appen Lee, to represent the school as Teacher of the Year. Lee has taught special education at Mount Olive Elementary for over 22 years and principal Robert Angel says, “She enjoys working with children that have different learning needs and she likes to help them reach the goals they set for themselves.”

Appen Lee, special education teacher at Mount Olive Elementary School

Congratulations to all these educators for being recognized by their peers for their excellence in serving their students and their fellow staff members.

 We look forward to showcasing more teachers as we receive information from the schools not listed in these areas.

All of us have a story and I want to tell yours! Send them to susan@knoxtntoday.com


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