Jackson County Public Schools celebrated the annual “Excellence in Education Awards” May 20 in the auditorium at Smoky Mountain High School. The event is held each year to honor retiring employees and recognize the recipients of the Teacher of the Year and Support Employee of the Year awards.

The 2019-20 JCPS Teacher of the Year is Dawn Gilchrist from the Jackson County School of Alternatives. She is a high school English and language arts teacher. Although she has been teaching for 32 years, this is her first year with Jackson County Public Schools.

Gilchrist was excited for the opportunity to teach at the Jackson County School of Alternatives, because she is drawn to students with varied backgrounds. She cites the influence of her parents and extended family in fueling her desire to help students find their niche in the world and figure out the one gift they have that perhaps they did not know.

“How teaching differs from other work is that we are rewarded with knowing that our product is other human beings, and that is the enormous responsibility that lies behind what we do and say in our classrooms,” she said. “It is an incredibly difficult job if we do it right, and I cannot imagine any work that could fill me with any more wonder than what I now experience after more than 30 years in this field.”

Other candidates for JCPS Teacher of the Year were Tracie Holden (Blue Ridge School), Allison Hawkins (Blue Ridge Early College), Anita Coggins (Cullowhee Valley School), Pam Martin (Fairview School), Jo Ellen Hamilton (Scotts Creek School), Amanda Hall (Smokey Mountain Elementary School) and Kim Bryson (Smoky Mountain High School).

The 2019-20 Support Employee of the Year is Audrey Rice from Blue Ridge School and Blue Ridge Early College. Rice has been at Blue Ridge since 1990 when she began working as a school bus driver. Some of her favorite memories are from years when she drove activity buses for the school sports teams as they traveled to away games.

She began working fulltime at the school as a custodian in 2000 and became a receptionist and administrative assistant in 2008 when Blue Ridge Early College was formed.

Rice said the thing she enjoys most about working at Blue Ridge is the students coming into the office to give her a hug and tell her how much they love her.

Other candidates for JCPS Support Employee of the Year were Lisa Nelson (Blue Ridge School), Jenni Clawson (Central Office), Sue McGaha (Cullowhee Valley), Alex Gonzales (Fairview), Shannon Woodring (Jackson County Early College), Ollin Dunford (School of Alternatives), Ali Grasty (Scotts Creek), Tasha Bell (Smokey Mountain Elementary) and Derinda Morgan (Smoky Mountain High).