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Ullo named Teacher of the Year for Rockdale public schools
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Cherie Ullo with gift baskets and donated prizes - photo by Hunter Ames

RCPS 2014-15  School Level Teachers of the Year

Elementary Schools

Barksdale - Sherry Webb
C.J. Hicks - Breana Vining - Brown
Flat Shoals - Evelyn Culver
Hightower Trail - Anna Ransom
Honey Creek - Elizabeth Williams - Trau
J.H. House - Annie Lester
Lorraine - Becky Anderson
Peek's Chapel - Femi Hill
Pine Street - Harold Jean-Jacques
Shoal Creek - Donesha Smith
Sims - Sonja Camp

Middle Schools

Conyers - Sherea Johnson
Davis - Kim Kammerer
Edwards - Scott W. Clark
Memorial - Shannon Turner

High Schools

Heritage - Julie Kimble
Rockdale - Lauren Arrington
Rockdale Magnet - Cherie Ullo
Salem - Dan LaVorgna

Non-Traditional Schools

Alpha Academy - Tiffany Mills
Open Campus - Claudia Black
Rockdale Career Academy - Wes Goodman

IN BRIEF: Cherie Ullo, English teacher at the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, was named the 2014 Rockdale County Teacher of the Year in a ceremony Thursday night at Rockdale Career Academy.

"I am so, so thankful to be here tonight," she said. Ullo thanked her husband Bill, three children - Morgan, 16, Maybin, 3, Auden, 1 - and Magnet School administrative team and family.

Teaching is in Ullo's blood and she joked that with parents, grandparents and other relatives who were teachers, she started becoming a teacher at birth.

She recalled her first year teaching at Salem High where she learned from then-Principal Bob Cresswell that successful students make a personal connection with their teacher first before they connect with the subject. "The students look to us not only for instruction but for guidance and instruction as well."

In keeping with her etymology class, Ullo explained that the Old English root of the word "teach" means to show, or sign, miracle, keepsake, memento. "If we point out the wonders, marvels, miracles of our subject, won't we aid in teaching them?"

Rockdale Magnet School principal Dr. Debra Arnold described the challenge of finding an English teacher comfortable and fitted to a STEM environment. Arnold said of Ullo, "Students respond to her excitement in the classroom."

"Cherie is a teacher that I respect and admire and she inspires me to read.... Her passion for literature is so engaging," said Arnold.

Arnold said Ullo's philosophy can be summed up as "The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the more you grow" and the more students can exhibit their own voice.

Last year's Teacher of the Year, Kim Manget, a math teacher, outlined the teacher of the year process by the numbers. Studies have found effective teachers work an average of 53 hours a week, and Manget assured the audience the teachers on the stage have worked far more as they come early, stay late and work at home. The teachers of the year are dedicated to bringing success to all 16,400 students. "All means all," she said.

Superintendent Richard Autry said, "Before you can teach the mind, you have to reach the heart. Our students don't care how much we know until they know how much we care." The teachers of the year demonstrate competence and quality along with the humanistic characteristics of compassion, kindness and a genuine love of students, he said. They are creative, plugged into technology in the classroom, lifelong learners.

The three TOTY finalists this year were Ullo, Kim Kammerer, and Breana Vinings Brown.

Gen. Ray Davis Middle School's Kim Kammerer, a former math and current social studies teacher, named her elementary and junior high teachers, along with track and basketball coaches, as among those who influenced her to become a teacher. She and her husband of 10 years, Josh, have two sons.

English teacher Cherie Ullo has taught for 15 years, the last five at Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, is the current chair of the English Department. Her father was a math teacher and assistant superintendent and her mother was a German teacher, grandmother a second grade teacher, and grandfather a high school teacher. The most rewarding experience she's had as a teacher is having former students share with her that she influenced them to become teachers.

CJ Hicks Elementary teacher Breanna Vinings Brown is a former Technology Teacher of the Year, recently married, has an 11-year-old stepson and she and her husband are expecting. She said the most rewarding experience teaching that comes to mind was seeing a student who was struggling blossom through the use of technology.

Prizes included plaques, donated items, gift cards from Cannon Financial Strategists, $300 cosmetic gift basket from Belk, and for the winner a $500 check, $500 Kroger gift card, and a three-day, two-night vacation package to St. Simons's Island. For the full list of sponsors, see "Related Content" to the left.

The 22 school-level Teachers of the Year were chosen by their peers. The Rockdale County Teacher of the Year will go on to compete at the state level for Georgia Teacher of the Year.