- Gwinnett County School District
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2021 Teacher of the Year: Katie Blum named Gwinnett County’s top teacher
An elementary school teacher who relishes hands-on learning activities with her students and collaboration with peers is the 2021 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year (TOTY). During the annual Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year program on December 10, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks announced Katie Blum of Sugar Hill Elementary School as the recipient of the school system’s highest teaching honor. Due to pandemic restrictions, the celebratory event for the six TOTY finalists, their guests, and a small audience took place at the school district’s Instructional Support Center. While the event—which recognized all 139 local school Teachers of the Year—was live streamed, a recording is available on the GCPS website and via the GCPS TV app.
Prior to earning the school system’s top honor, Blum was first named the 2021 Gwinnett County Elementary School Teacher of the Year. She was selected as Gwinnett’s top teacher from a group of six finalists, which had been narrowed to three level winners. Kelley Donovan of Coleman Middle School is Gwinnett’s 2021 Middle School Teacher of the Year and Philip Peavy of Paul Duke STEM High School is Gwinnett’s 2021 High School Teacher of the Year.
The TOTY selection process began at the start of the school year when thousands of teachers from throughout the district nominated and selected 139 teachers to represent their local schools. A selection committee later narrowed the group to 25 semifinalists, and finally to the six finalists. In addition to the three level winners (Blum, Donovan, and Peavy), the other three finalists were Lena Alonso of Lilburn Elementary School, Julianne Purnell of Five Forks Middle School, and Danielle Swaby of South Gwinnett High School.
Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year and Elementary School Teacher of the Year
When students walk into Katie Blum’s classroom, they enter a safe space where curiosity, wonder, critical thinking, and self-efficacy are encouraged and nurtured. Blum believes that creating a safe and trusting classroom environment where students feel accepted, loved, and supported ensures that students are mentally prepared for creativity, learning, and high-order thinking. She says, “Although many students may remember little about their 2nd grade year, my students will leave 2nd grade with strengthened abilities to question and think critically, and most importantly, to believe in themselves to succeed.”
Blum has been an educator for five years, all of them with GCPS. She started her GCPS teaching career in 2016 at Sugar Hill Elementary School where she taught kindergarten. Later that year, she transferred to Riverside Elementary School where she taught kindergarten and 1st graders in the Reading Early Intervention Program and 4th and 5th graders in a technology class. In 2017, Blum returned to Sugar Hill Elementary where she teaches 2nd grade.
Blum earned her bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a master’s degree in Teacher Education, both from the University of Tennessee. She holds a specialist’s degree in Teacher Leadership from Georgia College and State University.
She believes that, in order to become an educator who makes a difference in students’ academic and personal lives, one must first become a culturally responsive educator. “It is essential that in GCPS, one of the largest and most diverse school systems in America, that our teachers work together to become culturally responsive,” Blum explains. “Teachers must build much-needed relationships and trust, meet students where they are, create learning partnerships, and intentionally teach through the specific pedagogy in order to develop students from dependent learners to independent learners who are ready for rigorous learning environments.”
Blum uses non-linguistic graphic organizers and builds upon students’ prior knowledge, background, and social experiences to create culturally relevant learning tasks. As a result of these and other strategies, her students are ready to learn and know that they are capable of amazing things.
Blum’s commitment to “paying it forward” and “giving back” fueled her desire to mentor student teachers and to become a co-leader of Sugar Hill Elementary’s Teacher Mentoring Program. She says, “Throughout my journey in becoming an educator, I was truly blessed to have many teachers and veteran educators guide, mentor, and help shape me to become the educator I am today.” That support made Blum reflect on how she could play a larger role in her school’s culture to support new educators. She shares that her school’s Teacher Mentoring Program is reaping rewards for both teachers and students. Blum explains, “Our new teachers have reported that they love having a designated person to go to for advice, a listening ear, and feedback and we have seen great evidence that the collaboration between teacher mentees and mentors is having a positive impact on students.” For example, students have benefited from the rigorous, scaffolded, and meaningful lessons that the new teachers were able to develop with the help of their mentors.
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Kelley Donovan, 6th Grade Humanities Teacher,
Coleman Middle School
Kelley Donovan has a love and passion for collaborating with other educators to enhance or improve lesson plans to benefit students. She says, “I believe I become a better teacher when I receive feedback and input from other professionals because it inspires me to be better. As a teacher, I strive to make my classroom and content engaging, relatable, interdisciplinary, and enjoyable. Being a teacher at my school means that we plan our lessons in a way to provide our students with a memorable experience each day that they are here.”
Donovan is a veteran educator with nearly a decade of experience, all with GCPS. She started her educational career at Duluth Middle School in 2012, where she taught 6th grade Language Arts. In 2016, she transferred to Coleman Middle School where she teaches 6th grade Humanities. Donovan has a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Development from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in Language Arts and Social Studies from Georgia State University.
Her philosophy and beliefs about teaching align with her school’s belief statement that all students can learn at high levels with the proper supports in place. She says, “I am intentional about providing a safe and respectful learning environment for all students so they feel comfortable with taking risks, making mistakes, sharing ideas, and celebrating successes.” One way she does this is to expose her students to books that help students see themselves in what they are reading. She explains, “It is crucial that I open my students’ eyes to different worlds where they can make connections between themselves and characters that look like them, act like them, and think like them.”
High School Teacher of the Year
Philip Peavy, Cybersecurity and Game Design Teacher (10th–12th Grade),
Paul Duke STEM High School
As a Cybersecurity and Game Design teacher at Paul Duke STEM, Philip Peavy is in uncharted territory and he loves it. He explains, “The ‘Cable Unit’ in Introduction to Cybersecurity is unique to my classroom because it is not done anywhere else in the state or country. Cybersecurity is a new subject around the nation so I develop my entire curriculum. I make the content relevant by providing [students with] skills that are authentic to real-world experience.” As a lifelong learner himself, Peavy is committed to professional development, attending monthly GCPS Career and Technical Education professional development as well as industry conferences to stay on top of the latest industry trends, and to sharpen his teaching skills and methods. “I take these strategies back to my school where I share them with my colleagues and implement them into my classroom,” Peavy said. “Sometimes a strategy works well. Sometimes it might not work out. As a class, we are committed to finding what works best for everyone to learn.”
Peavy, who began teaching in 2013, joined GCPS in 2018 teaching Introduction to Digital Technology and Computer Science Principles at Paul Duke STEM High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Middle Grades Education from the University of Georgia and completed his master’s degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University.
Peavy says his most significant accomplishment as an educator was earning the 2020 Georgia Aspirations in Computing Education Award, which recognized his work to support and encourage female and underrepresented students in computer science to get more involved in technology classes and careers. “It is my students who inspire me to be the best that I can be because every day they show up ready to learn and have fun while doing it.”
As Gwinnett County’s 2021 Teacher of the Year, Blum will receive an annual award of $1,000 and the other two level winners will receive $750 each year, for as long as they are employed with GCPS. The three level winners also received a laptop. The finalists received a one-time award of $500. The five finalists who did not win the county honor also received a $250 grocery store gift card and gift basket. Each local school winner received a one-time award of $200, a plaque, and a TOTY cup.
As the overall winner, Blum also received a crystal peach, a $500 grocery store gift card and gift basket, a commemorative ring, and the use of a new car for one year. GCPS would like to thank this year’s sponsors, including the presenting sponsor Peach State Federal Credit Union, for their support of great teachers and for making this celebration of outstanding teaching possible.
Peach State Federal Credit Union
AIG Retirement Services
Hayes Chrysler Dodge Jeep
The Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc.
Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation Fund, Inc.
Marsh and McLennan Agency, locally known as J. Smith Lanier & Company