The tradition of Clay County teachers choosing peers to represent their respective schools as Teacher of the Year continues. From those chosen, one special teacher is named Clay County Schools’ District Teacher of the Year which takes the person to a regional competition.
Bobbie Jones: District Teacher of the Year
HHS Principal Jim Saltz and the high school are proud Jones has been chosen as Clay County Schools Teacher of the Year.
“We know she will represent us well at the regional competition. Jones is such a vital part of the HHS community,” Saltz said. “In the subject area she teaches, Career and Technical Education Business, Finance and Information Technology, it takes a teacher with special skills and talents to be able to effectively lead her students to achievement. Jones is that special teacher. She not only excels in the delivery of the academic realm of her subject, but also provides the skill-based instruction that is necessary for successful completion of the program and the aligned employability credentialing. Jones readies our students for life and fosters our mission of preparing our students to be globally competitive citizens with high moral character.”
Saltz continued, “As being selected as the HHS Teacher of the Year shows, Jones’ colleagues respect her as a professional and understand the role she plays in the success of our school. For example, during the challenging times that COVID-19 has created for education, our schools’ efforts to continue to reach our students both academically and emotionally were influenced greatly by Jones. Being an expert in the digital age and its components in remote learning, Jones provided leadership and support to our entire school community. In fact, through the student organization she sponsors Future Business Leaders of America, two of her students placed first in the state competition and finished in the top 15 nationally. This was all done remotely and Jones made sure the students didn’t miss a beat and were able to fully participate in the competition.”
In addition to Jones, Clay County Schools teachers for the 2020-2021 school year are:
• Hayesville Middle School Teacher of the Year - Amanda Gaddis
• Hayesville Elementary School Teacher of the Year - Jessica Hughes
• Clay Schools Exceptional Children’s Program Teacher of Excellence - Judy Jennings
• Hayesville Elementary School Teacher Assistant of the Year - Kim Shaheen
Once again, the Clay County Progress is sharing these special teachers’ stories with readers. Clay County District Teacher of the Year, Jones, explained why she enjoys teaching so much, “The moments where I see I have made a difference for another person. Those moments can vary in reason or inspiration but I live for those moments.”
The career and technical education teacher has taught for more than 20 years, yet her story is a little different than what led many educators to teach. A native of Fayetteville, N.C., Jones said a chance encounter with a former teacher ultimately convinced her to switch careers.
“Many people were influential in this process,” she explained. “Since I came out of a lucrative accounting career to teach, I would have to say it was one meeting I had, at an eye appointment, with my high school calculus teacher that finally pushed me into taking action to become a teacher,” Jones said. “So I give credit to Mr. Perrish of Fayetteville, N.C.”
When asked for a favorite teaching memory or funny story she cherishes, Jones shared a poignant memory from Hayesville High School.
“This was tough to answer. So many funny and emotional moments exist in that 20-plus year journey. I decided that one time I cherish the most is the coming together among the students, community and surrounding area that I experienced when one of my students passed away. Any emergency brings people of Clay County out of these hills and they are not afraid to help, but the outpouring of love, support and goodness of everyone was beyond anything I have ever experienced.”
Jones moved to Clay County eight years ago and married Danny Jones.
“My husband was born and raised here and he serves on our local school board. I thank God every day for his compassion and grace in serving our family and our schools,” she said. “If you know him, you will know I am not exaggerating when I say there is never, ever a dull moment.”
Together, the couple has six children and six grandchildren. “I am so very proud of all our children,” Jones added. “Josh and Amber live here in Hayesville and have a son going into first grade this year. Daniel and Molly live in Blairsville, Ga. and are expecting twin boys this August. Rebecca lives with us and is so special. She is finishing her teaching degree this December. Her dad is a retired teacher, her late mother taught kindergarten — it is in her blood. I am so glad she also works with our school system. My oldest, Kasey is married, a BSN-RN and currently serves as a clinical educator with Cape Fear Valley Medical in Fayetteville. My middle child, Victoria graduated from Hayesville in 2018 and is scheduled to graduate from Western Carolina University this December, thanks to Hayesville-Tri-County’s excellent dual enrollment program which allowed her to finish her bachelor’s degree in two and half years. She is going on to pursue her doctorate in physical therapy. My youngest graduated this year and plans to attend N.C. State University in fall.”
She continued, “I love to work on our farm, spend time with our family and spend hours in these beautiful mountains on hot summer days fishing.”
Jones has begun planning how to prepare for the Regional Teacher of the Year competition in October. “I’m going to network with some others,” she said.
Hayesville has two former regional teachers of the year and a regional principal of the year. Plus, Clay Schools Superintendent Dale Cole was the North Carolina Principal of the Year prior to relocating here. “I can get lots of guidance,” she smiled.
In the meantime, Jones offered this encouragement to student: “If every one of my students past or future, could learn life is a journey that we must work hard, learn every day in every way, and never settle, I will have made the difference I set out to make.” Jones ended, “I strive to give my classes a variety of opportunities to explore their strengths and weaknesses. If they can get a taste of success, I believe they will begin to seek bigger dreams.”
Jones has been a mentor to HHS teacher and coach Will Penland, who said, “Jones is a selfless leader who puts her students and colleagues before herself. She has been an unbelievable mentor to me over the last four years.”
HMS: Amanda Gaddis
Hayesville Middle School Teacher of the Year, Amanda Gaddis started teaching six years ago. She has taught at HMS the entire time, but her desire to teach began as a little girl.
“I have a note I wrote when I was in first grade that sits on my desk and reads, ‘I would like nice sweet children. They could have snack whenever they wanted. I would not send much homework,’” she said. “Although my idea of the classroom was probably a little skewed, I knew that in the classroom was where I wanted to be from a young age. When I was in elementary school, I also used to love getting the class Valentine list each February, because that turned into my class roster when I played school in my basement.”
Gaddis always loved school. “I enjoyed school so much that I really have never stopped going,” she said. “When I finished my bachelor’s degree at Western Carolina University, I immediately began my master’s degree at WCU the next fall. I followed that with an AIG certification, National Board Certification and Post-Master’s Certificate in Educational Leadership. I have had a number of teachers influence me throughout my 24 years as a student. I had a number of educators in my family who have also been positive influences on me in the classroom.”
Not only did she like going to school, but she enjoys almost everything about teaching.
“I think that students, especially middle school students, are so honest. They have such innovative minds and I enjoy seeing their creativity and thought processes come alive in my classroom,” Gaddis explained. “I enjoy bringing experiences to the classroom and getting outside of the four walls of my classroom, as much as possible. In doing so, I hope to expose students to experiences that will hopefully influence them for a long period of time, or perhaps help to navigate them into a career or degree pathway. Mostly, I enjoy forming relationships with students that last for years and hopefully a lifetime. At the end of each school year I always ask students to come back to visit and they do. It’s always special to catch up and to see how they have grown as individuals.”
Her favorite teaching moments are ongoing. “My favorite memories are the little conversations that happen during class or between classes, when I get little glimpses of the things that make students who they are,” Gaddis said. “The conversations when I hear about mountain biking, hunting stories, dance class, who scored big in last night’s game and just personal life experiences that make each student unique. The moments when students say, ‘thanks for coming to my game,’ ‘thanks for being at my meet’ or when former students pop into class just to say hello. Those are the memories I cherish.”
Gaddis was raised in Cherokee County.
“I was a rival Murphy Bulldog, until I came to Hayesville,” she laughed. “Luckily, I was placed with Heather Plemmons for my student teaching experience.”
Plemmons is now the HMS assistant principal, but formerly taught eighth grade science. “That was a wonderful experience I am forever thankful fo, because it led me to a forever mentor and friend, as well as my first job at HMS. I taught seventh grade math for one year, before moving to eighth grade science five years ago. My Clay County roots run deep because that’s where my mother’s family is from.”
Gaddis is the daughter of Donald and Cindy Gaddis and the granddaughter of former teacher and principal Verlon Martin, Jr. In addition, she is engaged to marry Hayesville grad Tim Coker on Aug. 8.
Gaddis wants students to have these take-aways from her: “I hope my students know that I care and they see me work hard and continue my education and they will be influenced to do the same,” she said. “I trust that each student sees it’s OK to be a little silly and goofy at times. Hopefully, students learn that every obstacle they face is a learning experience. I want students to be prepared and successful in their future and to understand that their teachers want what’s best for them. I would like for students to soak up science outside of the classroom. Mostly, I want my students to always come back to visit and keep me updated on their journey.”
HES: Jessica Hughes
Hayesville Elementary School Teacher of the Year Jessica Hughes began her teaching career 15 years ago after deciding to become a teacher at a very young age.
“I can remember playing teacher when I was very young,” she said. “I would make up assignments and have my family members complete them for me to grade. I had several wonderful teachers who spoke highly of the profession who also influenced me to become a teacher myself.”
What does Hughes enjoy most about teaching? “I most enjoy my connections with students and their families,” she said. “It is so wonderful to have a new class community each year to learn and grow with.”
Hughes shared an example of that with a special memory.
“One of my favorite memories comes from EOG, end of grade, test prep a couple of years ago. We called it the ‘End Game.’ We formed teams based on different “Avenger” characters placing every student in our grade on a team. Then each student would earn points all through the week to try to be the top competitor from their home room to represent their character. I loved seeing everyone work so hard and cheer each other on as we reviewed for the test. We played games like cookie face, fastest to build a puzzle, basketball shoot off and running relays.”
Hughes has lived in western North Carolina her entire life. “I graduated from Young Harris College with my AA and then went on to graduation from WCU with my education degree,” she explained. “I am happily married with three wonderful boys who are all students at Hayesville. I enjoy spending time with my family on the lake and watching baseball.”
Her students are also very important to her. “I want each student to know they are loved and are important to me and to their school and community,” she said. “I strive to instill a sense of belonging and make sure each student knows they can grow and succeed in their own way. I want every student in my room to be their best selves.”
Exceptional Children’s Program: Judy Jennings
Judy Jennings’s title as HM/HHS EC teacher may not be one a lot of people are familiar with, but her role is an important one. As an educator for more than 25 years, Jennings specializes in exceptional children. Her MA Ed in Special Education-Low Incidence Disabilities, for Kindergarten through grade 12, reflects the person who influenced her to became a teacher to begin with.
“Dr. Sandford Roth,” she explained. “He had his doctorate degree but was still a Pre-K teacher in a special education classroom. He and the assistants inspired me as a 16-year-old high school volunteer from an elective class for juniors and seniors. He gave me a 4-piece puzzle and said, ‘Take this puzzle home and come back tomorrow with an explanation of how you will teach Jacque to put it together.’ I came to the realization that there were multiple ways. He said, ‘Always remember that. There are multiple ways to teach a skill, but there may be only one way that works for a particular student.’ I was hooked on being an educator. What an exciting job.”
Jennings enjoys the connections she has built the most.
“I love the relationships and connections made through learning and teaching,” she said. “Every year is something new and every year I get to meet new students and journey with them and their families on this adventure we call education. Change is consistent, so having these relationships and connections to support each other has been amazing.”
After 25 years, she can recall many special moments. “I cherish the memories of whenever we find a way and a student makes a breakthrough,” Jennings said. “I love and cherish when a student struggling to read says, ‘Wow! I just read that.’ and starts enjoying books for the first time.”
She continued, “One break through moment stands out. A student won his local and state science fair competition by presenting with his AAC device-a device that speaks for him as he had complex cerebral palsy and his verbalizations were hard to understand. The pride in his face, his parents and education team was something I’ll never forget. Collaborating with speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists, as well as the student and parents, made that moment possible.”
Jennings and her family relocated to Hayesville from Burlington, N.C. two years ago.
“I am married to a wonderful husband, Hugh Jennings and we have three children,” she said. “Two years ago I fell in love with Hayesville and researched Clay County Schools. I found a job at HMS so we took a leap of faith and moved here. I love Jesus, my family, our school system, this community and anything to do with the outdoors. Clay County teachers and administrators have been awesome for our kids as we had one in each school last year.”
Jennings hopes her students know how she feels about them. “I pray that every student and their families know just how much they are loved by me and their school community,” she added. “That they have a purpose and gift to share with this world. I hope when they leave my class, they feel competent, safe, and secure in who they are and their ability to learn new things.”
HES Assistant of the Year Kim Shaheen
HES Assistant of the Year Kim Shaheen went to school when her kids did. She started volunteering in 2011, then about the time her youngest son started school, she started working at HES. She is now starting year five working in education.
“All of which I have been blessed to work in the library at Hayesville Elementary School,” she said. “I was determined to be as supportive as I could for my kids’ teachers
and school system. My love for children and wanting to see each and every one be their best and have their own successes — that is where my love for education began.”
Shaheen volunteered and substituted many times in the classroom of Missy Johnson who taught her oldest son for first and second grade. “She, and other teachers I subbed for were who I watched pour all they had into their students,” Shaheen said. “I knew that’s where my heart lies, too. I’m so grateful to work alongside so many talented, inspiring and wonderful teachers.”
Her favorite thing about teaching is the students.
“I find so much joy everyday through each of them,” she said. “Interacting with them and, as funny as it may seem, learning from them. As long as I’m able, I will enjoy and love what I do.”
Though it has only been a few years, Shaheen has a lot of fond memories from teaching.
“There are so many memories. I see all students K-4 once a week, so I see, hear and encounter a lot. I guess the best memories are the ones where students come to see me when it’s not their library day. Or the stops on the sidewalk from former HES students. Or the little notes I find on my desk. These moments are heartfelt and sincere. But I will say that there are so many funny moments — so many.”
Shaheen has been married to Kevin Shaheen for 23 years. “We have three amazing children,” she said. “Kayla, who is a 2008 graduate from HHS and currently 12 years active with the U.S. NAVY; Kyle, who is a rising eighth grader; and Kabe, a rising fifth grader — both at HMS.”
Shaheen hopes students have learned some things from her during their library visits. “Be kind. Show empathy. Have compassion. Be your best; everyone’s best is different,” she ended. “Try and then try harder. You can do it. I believe in you. I love you.”
Like educators everywhere, Clay County’s teachers have persevered during the pandemic and subsequent shutdown, all while dealing with unprecedented circumstances. For that, they should all be given awards.