2019-20 Teachers of the Year honored

Aja Ledford, the school system's teacher of the year, has a plaque on her door noting that honor.

Aja Ledford, the school system’s teacher of the year, has a plaque on her door noting that honor.

Aja Ledford, selected as the Jackson County School System Teacher of the Year, got a special designation for her classroom door at Maysville Elementary School Feb. 5. The small plaque, inscribed with her name and the special recognition, was presented from the school district by her principal, Dr. Michelle Archibald.

The Jackson County Board of Education honored all 10 of the individual school’s Teachers of the Year at its January 13 meeting at Jackson County Comprehensive High School. A reception that preceded the board meeting was catered by students in Brooke Curtis’s Family and Consumer Science class and attended by the honorees, their families and friends, BOE members, and school system staff. See photos from the reception on our district Facebook page.

The winners’ biographical information, submitted by the teachers and their principals and presented by Dr. Selena Blankenship, assistant superintendent for human resources and student support services is posted below along with a picture of each honoree with his/her principal.


Ellie Baldwin and her principal, Allyson Pennington - East Jackson Elementary School

Ellie Baldwin and her principal, Allyson Pennington – East Jackson Elementary School

Ellie Baldwin is a fourth-grade teacher at East Jackson Elementary.

Ms. Baldwin is a “Double Dawg,” earning both a Bachelor in Education in Early Childhood Education and a Masters in Reading Education from the University of Georgia. Ms. Baldwin also holds several endorsements.

Before coming to Jackson County, she taught in Clarke County and Henry County where she was nominated as an “Innovative Teacher” for her creative teaching strategies and lessons.

Ms. Baldwin believes in getting her students actively engaged in learning every day by providing instruction based on best practices and by thinking outside of the box. Baldwin loves to create units and integrated lessons that help build authentic connections between her students’ interests and the curriculum.

Ms. Baldwin strives for her classroom to be a place where students look forward to coming every day, where they expect a challenge and some fun along the way, and most importantly, where they know they are valued.


Principal Todd Graichen with April Duffey - Gum Springs Elementary School

Principal Todd Graichen with April Duffey – Gum Springs Elementary School

April Duffey began her 26th year in education this year and currently teaches fourth-grade writing, reading, and social studies at Gum Springs Elementary School.

This is her second year in Jackson County and feels fortunate to have found a place that has renewed her passion. Ms. Duffey is also excited to have found a school where the colors are red and black like her beloved Georgia Bulldogs!  She loves attending Georgia football games with her husband and daughters.

Ms. Duffey also loves to travel. Italy, Ireland, and most recently Alaska are some of her favorite places. She’s still hoping to make it to Hawaii one day!

Ms. Duffey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from the University of Georgia as well as a Masters of Arts in Elementary Education from Piedmont College.

She enjoys co-teaching and feels the diversity of having different teachers in the classroom has many benefits for students.  Ms. Duffey believes that all children can grow with love and support.

Creating a personal relationship with each student fosters growth and productivity.  A quote that is meaningful to her: “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”- Dr. James Comer


Aja Ledford, Jackson County's Teacher of the Year, with her principal, Dr. Michele Archibald - Maysville Elementary School

Aja Ledford, Jackson County’s Teacher of the Year, with her principal, Dr. Michele Archibald – Maysville Elementary School

Aja Ledford is a third-grade teacher with 9 years of experience in the classroom.  She currently teaches at Maysville Elementary School, and she was selected as the Jackson County School System teacher of the year.

Previously, she taught first grade at both Maysville Elementary and  West Jackson Primary School.

Mrs. Ledford holds a Bachelor of Art in Early Childhood from Gainesville State College and a Masters of Art in Early Childhood Education from Piedmont College.

She is presently working on an Education Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction at Piedmont College.

Mrs. Ledford’s teaching philosophy is “Love first, teach second.”

She believes that building relationships with kids and earning their trust is the first step toward educating them.

She is dedicated to educating and developing in every child their full potential.


Kim Johnson, principal, with Hannah Doster - East Jackson Middle School

Kim Johnson, principal, with Hannah Doster – East Jackson Middle School

Hannah Doster teaches the fifth-grade advanced content class at North Jackson Elementary School.

She started teaching a fifth-grade class at NJES in 2016. She firmly believes that every child has the ability to learn. Miss Doster believes that students unlock their potential as learners through building positive relationships with each person in their learning environment, embracing remarkable and genuine experiences, and being willing to take risks to grow socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively.

Miss Doster holds a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education degree from Brenau University (2016), Gifted Endorsement from Northeast Georgia RESA (2017), Reading Endorsement and Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of North Georgia (2019).

During her time at North Jackson, Miss Doster has served on various committees including the Teacher Leadership Team, Sunshine Committee, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Committee, and Panther Team, North Jackson’s first responders’ team.

Miss Doster’s dedication to the growth of students at her school has extended to planning and executing the first overnight trip for North Jackson students to Rock Eagle 4-H Center and serving as an advisor for the Student Leadership Team and Science Olympiad.


Amanda Carmichael and her principal, Resa Brooksher - South Jackson Elementary School

Amanda Carmichael and her principal, Resa Brooksher – South Jackson Elementary School

Amanda Carmichael is the K-2 Special Educator of Moderate/Severe/Profound Intellectually Disabled students at South Jackson Elementary School.

She is a graduate of Columbia International University, where she earned degrees in Elementary Education (P-8th grade) and Biblical Studies. She also earned a Masters of Education degree in Interrelated Special Education with an add-on in Mental Retardation from Brenau University.

Mrs. Carmichael’s goal for every student, whether they spend one or four years in her classroom, is that they are more capable than when they first arrived. That begins with meeting each student where he or she is currently functioning. Mrs. Carmichael is always looking for ways to accentuate her students’ individual abilities.

Mrs. Carmichael’s duties outside of the classroom include coordinating the Jackson County Special Olympics (JCSO). She started as a co-coordinator in 2005, took over as head JCSO coordinator in 2015 and continues to hold the position. Mrs. Carmichael currently (2018 to present) leads peers at the county level in the Verbal-Behavior Milestone Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP), instructing how to evaluate students and utilize the county required guidelines.

Mrs. Carmichael is also a longstanding member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE).


Stephanie Cleveland and her principal, Dr. Amity Hardegree - West Jackson Elementary School

Stephanie Cleveland and her principal, Dr. Amity Hardegree – West Jackson Elementary School

Stephanie Cleveland is the elementary music specialist and chorus director at West Jackson Elementary School, teaching grades K-5.

She studied music as a vocal major and holds a Bachelor of Music from Shorter College and a Master of Music Education from The University of Georgia.

Ms. Cleveland is passionate about helping her students develop their own unique musical skills and abilities that prepare them for a lifetime love for music. She fosters connections to careers in music through opportunities with composition, performance, advertising, audio/visual programs, and sound engineering.

After experiencing a teaching-related voice disorder in 2016, she champions the preservation of the vocal health of her fellow teachers and has presented on this topic at the Georgia Music Educators Association In-Service Conference and World Voice Day at Emory Healthcare.

Ms. Cleveland is also an advocate for technology integration in the music classroom and was a first-round JCSS 1:1 Chromebook grant winner. She was recently chosen to present a session at the upcoming 2020 GMEA In-Service conference on how to use Chromebooks in the music classroom. She resides in Jackson County with her husband and three children.


Dr. Derek Davis and his principal, Kim Johnson - East Jackson Middle School

Dr. Derek Davis and his principal, Kim Johnson – East Jackson Middle School

Dr. Derek Davis has been teaching special education for 23 years and is currently a special education teacher and PBIS coach at East Jackson Middle School.

He teaches the Intensive Social Interventions (ISI) class in which he works with students of varying academic abilities who have emotional, behavioral and or social challenges. Mr. Davis also coaches Varsity boy’s soccer at EJCHS.

Dr. Davis earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Houston in 1992, a MAT from Piedmont College in 1998, a Specialist degree in School Behavior Management from the University of Georgia in 2007, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Georgia in Gifted and Creative Education in  2012.

Dr. Davis began his career in education as a high school social studies teacher but became a special education teacher in 1997 and has spent his career working with students who have emotional and behavioral challenges. As someone who struggled in school as a child, he values having the opportunity to help those for whom school can be frightening and challenging.

His favorite quote about learning is from Albert Einstein.  “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

He tries to teach every child that they are important and have value. He wants them to know that their future is theirs to create.


Amy Myers and her principal, Dr. Melissa Conway - West Jackson Middle School

Amy Myers and her principal, Dr. Melissa Conway – West Jackson Middle School

Mrs. Amy Myers teaches sixth-grade English Language Arts at West Jackson Middle School.

She teaches on Team 603, Panther Nation. This is her 15th year teaching, and she has taught first, second, third and sixth grades.

Mrs. Myers attended Troy State University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Education degree.  She attended Brenau University to earn her Masters of Education degree and then went on to attend Piedmont College for her Educational Specialist degree.  Mrs. Myers also received her gifted endorsement through North Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA).

Mrs. Myers’ educational philosophy is that every child who enters the classroom is unique, capable, and in need of something.  It is extremely important to meet their needs, both academically and emotionally, by providing a positive environment to help foster the students’ love of learning.  Students do not all learn the same way so it is important to meet each one’s needs so they can grow. By showing them they are important and loved each day, they begin to realize they are capable of incredible things.  All it takes is a little effort on the part of the educator to help build up students’ so they can be more than they ever dreamed or imagined.


Principal Chanda Palmer with Jessie Wood - East Jackson Comprehensive High School

Principal Chanda Palmer with Jessie Wood – East Jackson Comprehensive High School

Jessie Wood teaches 12th-grade economics and ninth-grade civics at East Jackson Comprehensive High School.

Mrs. Wood also coaches the girls’ golf team and sponsors student council, and she supports her colleagues as the social studies department chair and the eighth-grade instructional coach.

Since beginning her career in 2009, Mrs. Wood has kept a quote from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address displayed in her classroom as a reminder of her teaching philosophy and purpose as a social studies teacher. It reads, “Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”

With an associate’s degree from Young Harris College and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Georgia, Mrs. Wood set out to Georgia State University to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching with a focus on Secondary Social Studies education. She began her teaching in Clarke County at Hilsman Middle School. Mrs. Wood recognized the opportunity to further her education and obtained a Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction from Piedmont College. By 2015, Mrs. Wood joined the staff at East Jackson Middle School, teaching eighth-grade English language arts and Georgia studies.

All of these experiences and interactions with students have allowed her to live up to the task set forth all those years ago by President Kennedy.


Craig Ellis and his principal, Jason Wester - Jackson County Comprehensive High School

Craig Ellis and his principal, Jason Wester – Jackson County Comprehensive High School

Craig Ellis is currently in his 14th year of teaching and his fifth year at Jackson County Comprehensive High School where he teaches economics, Advanced Placement (AP) Macroeconomics, and AP United States Government and Politics to students in grades nine through 12.

He holds an associate degree in Applied Technology in Hotel, Restaurant, and Tourism Management from Gwinnett Technical College, and a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Education in Social Studies education, both from the University of Georgia. Mr. Ellis is a former Georgia Economics Teacher of the Year who is actively involved with the Georgia Council on Economic Education, attending workshops, assisting with workshops, leading students in the Stock Market Game, the Economics Challenge, and the Georgia Personal Finance Challenge.  He is also an AP Reader for Macroeconomics.

Mr. Ellis believes that it is up to educators to provide the type of learning environment where relationships are important, relationships that both challenge students and push them to be their best.  Because of these relationships, students can be successful throughout their school years as well as be prepared to leave the security of their school environment knowing they can accomplish great things.