Five teachers named SC Teacher of the Year finalists

Josie Stratton
Josie Stratton
Renee Sanders
Renee Sanders
Jenna Hallman
Jenna Hallman
Rona Neely
Rona Neely
Laura Jean Reed
Laura Jean Reed

STATEWIDE (WIS) - Five teachers have been named as finalists in South Carolina's State Teacher of the Year Program.

State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex said the five teachers, chosen from nominees representing 83 of the state's 85 local school districts, will travel to Columbia March 13 for personal interviews with a seven-member state Selection Committee. They are vying to represent more than 50,000 South Carolina teachers in the National Teacher of the Year Program.

The five teachers, listed alphabetically by school district, are:

  • Jenna Hallman, a science teacher at Calhoun Academy for the Arts in Anderson School District 5
  • Josie Stratton, an English teacher at Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology in Darlington County
  • Renee Sanders, a biology teacher at Johnsonville High School in Florence School District 5
  • Laura Jean Reed, a music teacher at Stone Academy of Communications Arts in Greenville
  • Rona Neely, a math teacher at Bell Street Middle School in Laurens School District 56

The finalists were chosen by a panel of educators and private citizens with no connection to the agency. The names of the teachers and the schools they represent were concealed from the judges during the selection process.

"These teachers are some of South Carolina's best and brightest," said State Superintendent of Education Jim Rex. "They are extraordinary teacher-leaders who strengthen the education profession every day.  All of them are actively involved in their communities. They use experiences inside and outside of the classroom to model what they wish for their students - worlds with tremendous possibilities. I commend each of them on this prestigious honor."

The announcement of South Carolina's 2008-09 Teacher of the Year will be made at the Teacher of the Year Banquet April 25 in Columbia. During the next school year, that teacher will participate in a one-year residency program at the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (CERRA) and serve as a statewide ambassador for the profession. South Carolina's new Teacher of the Year also receives a $25,000 cash award, a Dell laptop computer and a BMW Z-4 Roadster (manufactured at BMW's South Carolina plant) to use for a year.

The four remaining finalists, or Honor Roll teachers, will receive $10,000 each. Local district teachers of the year receive $1,000 each.

This year marks the 43rd year of the South Carolina Teacher of the Year Program.

The 2008-09 State Teacher of the Year will succeed Ann Marie Taylor, a special education teacher at Pine Tree Hill Elementary School in Kershaw County.

The new Teacher of the Year will work with CERRA and the South Carolina Teacher Forum, whose members are district teachers of the year. The residency will include numerous speaking engagements around the state before civic and professional groups interested in education. The teacher also will conduct workshops for other classroom professionals, discuss public education issues with members of the General Assembly and State Board of Education, and work closely with the Teacher Cadet Program, a program that encourages academically able students with exemplary interpersonal and leadership skills to consider teaching as a career.

This year's five finalists (alphabetically, by school district)

Jenna Hallman, Calhoun Academy for the Arts, Anderson School District
Jenna Hallman uses a variety of instructional strategies as she encourages children to think beyond their knowledge level. Her rewards come in many different forms. Most often, they come from the children she serves. She feels successful every time a smile creeps across a child's face as he or she gets excited about a learning experience. She gains satisfaction when she witnesses a moment of discovery during an inquiry lesson. And she is motivated when she sees her children assisting their peers, teaching the strategies and content and showing empathy.  Even the smallest gains in improvement empower her. Hallman has taught for 10 years.

Josie Stratton, Mayo High School for Math, Science and Technology, Darlington County
A 14-year teaching veteran, Josie Stratton left law school to pursue a career in teaching. The rewards that she receives for continuing to teach are tremendous. They come in all forms, like the figurine of a little boy bending down to sail his toy boat in the ocean. The accompanying note read, "I was once like the eager to put my boat in the water, wanting to watch it sail... You added the spars to my ship, and you started its journey to the sea." She believes that it is every educator's responsibility to help cultivate quality teachers. Stratton is a frequently sought workshop presenter.

Renee Sanders, Johnsonville High School, Florence School District 5
Renee Sanders' classroom is a place where minds are challenged, ideas encouraged and thinking validated. Her classroom is fertile ground, where seeds of success are nurtured and cultivated and new and innovative ideas bloom. She believes that community members can provide an additional layer of support and inspiration for students, so she involves them in her classroom as guest speakers and on-site experts. She has found that the accomplishments that she shares with colleagues are her greatest achievements. They promote change, encourage efficacy, offer encouragement, enhance collegiality and transform lives. A recipient of the President's Award for Excellence in Science Teaching, Sanders has taught for 26 years.

Laura Jean Reed, Stone Academy of Communications Arts, Greenville
As part of a military family, Laura Reed moved a lot when she was growing up. That background allowed her the opportunity to experience life in a unique way. It was her own music teacher who uncovered something special in every student and made each of them feel proud and deserving of attention and respect. She helped Reed better understand herself, identify her strengths and weaknesses, be thankful for her uniqueness, and accept her responsibilities as a human being. Today she uses those gifts in her own classroom, where her goal is to help young people realize their innate beauty and to reach students who have not yet come to know and love themselves. She is a 21-year teaching veteran.

Rona Neely, Bell Street Middle School, Laurens School District 56
The product of an abusive childhood, Rona Neely wondered as a child why she was born.  After she taught her grandfather to write his name, she realized that she was born to teach. Today she uses every obstacle and every failure that she overcame to educate and empower her students. Neely believes that children need teachers who encourage them when circumstances seem to leave them hopeless - teachers who will always go the extra mile. Her program, T.E.A.R.S. (Teaching and Empowering Addiction Reared Students), is in the beginning stages of development. Its mission is to educate children about the effects of drugs and alcohol and empower them with the knowledge and resources to break the cycle of abuse and lead more healthy lives. Neely has taught for four years.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle