Rockdale County Public Schools announced its top three finalists for Teacher of the Year with surprise visits Tuesday to the classrooms of CJ Hicks Elementary's Breana Vinings Brown, Rockdale Magnet School's Cherie Ullo and Davis Middle's Kim Kammerer.
The finalists are in the running for Rockdale County Teacher of the Year, which will be announced at the Oct. 2 ceremony. Judges will observe each finalist teaching students in his/her classroom and interview the teachers. The Rockdale County Teacher of the Year will go on to represent Rockdale County Public Schools at the state competition.
Breana Nicole Vining-Brown, CJH
Teaching at CJ Hicks Elementary is a homecoming for Breana Vining-Brown.
The third grade teacher is giving back to the place that nurtured her as a child when she attended from second to fifth grade.
"CJ Hicks has always been my home. This is where I started," she said.
A stunned Vinging-Brown hugged the school officials and co-workers after they burst into the classroom Tuesday morning for the surprise announcement. That day's lesson on multiplication and division could wait for a few minutes.
Vining-Brown is the third grade level chair and has taught a single-gender (girls) class for the past four years and "enjoyed every minute of it."
She is no stranger to accolades for her passion teaching and integrating technology. She was named the CJ Hicks Elementary Technology Teacher of the Year in 2013-2014 and was a finalist for Fox 5's "High Five Teachers" this year as well.
Seeing students blossom and grow is her most rewarding experience. Vining-Brown described a student who had come into her classroom at the beginning of the year with "areas of concern noted in her academic record and communicated by her parent." Vining-Brown used the student's excitement with technology to motivate her and she became an honor roll student.
Vinings recently got married in June and is mother to an 11-year-old stepson, 2-year-old son, and is expecting another child. She earned her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education from Georgia State University and is about to graduate with her Master's in Education-Reading and Literacy from Walden University. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, shopping, mentoring, ice-skating and fine dining.
Cherie Ullo, RMSST
In some ways, Teacher of the Year finalist and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology English teacher Cherie Ullo is simply paying it forward in a big way.
As a student growing up in Patterson, located in southeast Georgia,Ullo had inspirational teachers like Gene Baker, now the Chief of Staff in RCPS's cabinet, who was teaching AP US History teacher at the time.
And now, after 14 years of teaching - first at Salem High then at the Magnet School for the last five years - she is seeing the fruit of her investment in her students.
"The most rewarding experience I have had as a teacher is having former students entering the teaching profession tell me that I influenced them to become teachers," she wrote.
The University of Georgia alumnus was attracted to Salem High by the enthusiasm of its staff and its philosophy of educating and expecting excellence in all students.
She is now the chair of the English department at RMSST. Her family includes three children - Morgan, 16, Maybin, 3, Auden, 1 - and husband Bill. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, running, singing and baking.
Kim Kammerer, DMS
When Kim Kammerer and her husband were called to the front office over the intercom system at General Ray Davis Middle School Tuesday morning, she didn't know what to expect.
"It was a little nerve racking because they called us both up over the big intercom, so it made me think that something was wrong," she said.
Every possible terrible thought raced through her mind as she made her way down the halls of the school. She thought about her father, who's sick in the hospital battling cancer. She thought maybe her 8-year-old son, who attends Lorraine Elementary School directly across from General Ray Davis Middle School, might have had a devastating accident and needed medical assistance.
She even thought maybe her 19-year-old son was in trouble.
Josh Kammerer, her husband of 10 years, also had a concerned look on his face. The two made their way to the front office in not saying much to each other, while Kim Kammerer anticipated the worst.
But, when they finally arrived, Kim Kammerer was told that she not only was nothing wrong, but that she was one of the three finalists to win the Teacher of the Year Award for Rockdale County Public Schools.
"I was shocked," she said. "I know that Davis has some amazing teachers so just to be nominated within Davis is an honor, and Rockdale is blessed with a lot of great teachers. So to be in the top three is humbling."
This is Kim Kammerer's 17th year teaching and eighth at General Ray Davis. She is "a math teacher at heart," but is spending this year teaching seventh-grade social studies.
Teaching the young minds of today is something Kim Kammerer has always wanted to do, she said.
"I feel my job is a calling," said Kim Kammerer. "It's something I've always wanted to do and I love what I do. I love forming relationships with the students. I love challenging them and just watching them grow."
In 2001, Kim Kammerer won Teacher of the Year at Edwards Middle School, but didn't make it to the finalist stage. She wouldn't mind taking home the top award this time around.
"It would be an honor to win," said Kim Kammerer. "I would love to represent Rockdale County and kind of get my message out (to the masses) about education and how I feel about that."
In addition to her duties as a teacher, Kim Kammerer coaches the softball team and girls basketball team for the school. Josh Kammerer is a parent liaison at the school and is a coach the football team and boys and girls basketball teams.
Josh Krammerer found out about his wife's progress in the competition Monday afternoon and knew what was waiting for her in the office when they got called out over the intercom.
"I just had to make sure I was looking as concerned as she was," he said.
Kim Krammerer fell for her husband's acting performance.
"He did a really good job of playing it off," said Kim Kammerer," "That really scares me when they call us both over the intercom like that together. All he said was, ‘Yeah. Yeah.'"