Schools may be closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, but that’s not stopping the Bartow County School System from handing out awards to deserving educators who support the district’s exceptional education students.
Three teachers — Stormy Ruff, Michele Cole and Amber Benefield – were recognized last Wednesday as BCSS Exceptional Education Outstanding Employees, and parent mentor Kim Chester received the second annual Director’s Choice Award.
“Each of our award recipients were nominated by their peers and selected from a committee that reviewed all nominations,” said Tania Amerson, executive director for exceptional education for the school system. “These candidates demonstrate commitment and excellence in their service to our exceptional education students and families.”
The elementary level’s outstanding employee, Ruff is the lead special education teacher at Clear Creek and Pine Log and is a “leader among her peers,” Amerson said.
“She always demonstrates a ‘can-do’ attitude and is willing to help others succeed,” she said. “Stormy is dedicated to meeting the needs of her students and is always willing to go the extra mile. She demonstrates commitment to helping all students achieve at high levels and is a valued member of our exceptional education team.”
Ruff, 35, was thrilled to find out during a virtual meeting that she’d received the award.
“I was honored that my colleagues thought so highly of me to take the time to nominate me and write such kind things about the work that I do,” said the Cartersville resident, who has taught at CCES for 12 years and has been the lead teacher at PLES for three years.
Cole, the outstanding employee for middle schools, is a sixth-grade math teacher at Red Top who “demonstrates commitment to the belief that all students can learn at high levels,” Amerson said.
“She works to meet the individualized needs of the students in her classroom by providing differentiated learning opportunities for all,” she said. “She is supportive of our exceptional education staff and families and is a valued participant in our IEP [individualized educational plan] committee meetings.”
A teacher at RTMS – formerly South Central Middle – since 2005, Cole, 51, said she was notified about the award during what she thought was an IEP meeting on Zoom with lead special education teacher Dr. Debra Warren.
“However, when I joined the online conference and saw my principal, Dr. [Wes] Dickey, along with multiple staff members from central office, my assumptions quickly went out the window,” she said. “I was totally caught off guard and surprised. I’m still astonished and honored to receive such an award. The presenters were upset that they could not have surprised me in my classroom and had to do it virtually.”
The Cartersville resident, who will be moving into a newly built house in Adairsville by summer, got a late start in education, becoming a teacher after being a bus driver, a paraprofessional, a school bookkeeper and Emerson Elementary Principal Nancy Summey’s secretary.
“It was under the leadership and guidance from Mrs. Summey, along with the teachers at Emerson Elementary, that I began college for the first time at the age of 33 to pursue a career in education,” she said.
Amerson said one quality that snagged the outstanding high school employee award for Benefield was “her ability to build relationships.”
“Amber works closely with our students and parents and is able to think ‘outside of the box’ to find creative solutions to meet student needs,” she said. “She is a bridge builder and works collaboratively with general education, administration and parents.”
The lead teacher at Adairsville High for four years – and an inclusion teacher for three years before that – will be taking a position as assistant principal at AHS next year, and Amerson said her co-workers will “miss her in our department but look forward to continued collaboration.”
Benefield, 40, said a few teachers from AHS and central office staff “surprised” her with the award during a virtual meeting via Teams.
“First, I was caught off guard and left speechless,” the Adairsville resident said. “It was special to hear the kind words that was submitted by the teachers that nominated me for the award. I felt like I had won the lottery. The small wins in life are what keeps us going. As educators and to me, this was a big win. At AHS, we are a team of teachers, and they all deserve this award more than I do. I love working with those teachers. They are my family.”
The three winners will receive certificates sometime in the future.
Amerson said she chose Chester, who has worked for the school district for 24 years as a general education teacher, hospital homebound teacher and parent mentor and is mom to three kids who attended BCSS schools, as the Director’s Choice recipient because she “brings her passion for serving students and families to everything she does.”
“She helps to build a bridge of collaboration and trust between the school and families,” she said. “Her balanced perspective helps both parents and teachers to better understand each other’s views and experiences so we can work together to achieve the best outcomes for our students.”
Amerson said during her three years as director, the 16-year parent mentor has been an “accountability partner, an encourager, a resource and a friend.”
“Knowing Kim, we know that the last thing she seeks is recognition; however, we are excited for this opportunity to recognize her and her contributions to the school system,” she said.