- W.C. Friday Middle School
Awards presented to ‘Of the Year’ winners
For Immediate Release
June 1, 2021
Contact: Todd Hagans
Chief Communications Officer
Office: (704) 866-6118
Gaston County Schools names ‘Of the Year’ winners for 2021-2022
Truist Bank serves as sponsor for Excellence in Education awards announcement
Gastonia, N.C. – Six employees received the most prestigious honors presented by Gaston County Schools during the 2021 Excellence in Education awards announcement. Truist Bank sponsored the program, which was held on Tuesday, June 1 at the new CaroMont Health Park, home of the Gastonia Honey Hunters baseball team.
The ‘Of the Year’ winners, who were named during the 9:00 a.m. ceremony, include:
▪ Teacher of the Year: Staci Nezezon of Pinewood Elementary School;
▪ Principal of the Year: Tyler West of Pinewood Elementary School;
▪ Assistant Principal of the Year: Bridgette Best of Pleasant Ridge Elementary School;
▪ New Teacher of the Year: Maddison Szucs of Robinson Elementary School;
▪ Teacher Assistant of the Year: Wanda Marlowe of Catawba Heights Elementary School; and
▪ Central Office Administrator of the Year: Brett Buchanan, director of Career and Technical Education, Academic Services Department.
Below is biography information for each award recipient:
■ Gaston County Teacher of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Teacher of the Year is Staci Nezezon from Pinewood Elementary School.
After working for six years as an English as a Second Language teacher in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, Nezezon joined Gaston County Schools in 2019 as a third grade teacher at Pinewood. She has served as Pinewood’s literacy teacher and taught virtual classes this year for second grade. Nezezon obtained a bachelor’s degree in childhood education and a master’s degree in education – literacy specialist from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
The finalists for Teacher of the Year included Savanna Abernathy, Bessemer City Central Elementary School; Natalie Childers, Gardner Park Elementary School; Bethany Hartley, Hunter Huss High School; and Casey Miller, Stanley Middle School.
■ Gaston County Principal of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Principal of the Year is Tyler West from Pinewood Elementary School.
West joined Gaston County Schools in 2005 as a third grade teacher at Rankin Elementary School where she was nominated for Gaston County New Teacher of the Year in 2005-2006 and named the school’s Teacher of the Year for 2007-2008. She was promoted to assistant principal at Bessemer City Middle School in 2012 and was appointed principal of Sherwood Elementary School in 2014 before transferring to Pinewood in 2018. West holds a bachelor’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in education leadership from Appalachian State University.
The finalists for Principal of the Year included Kevin Doran, Cherryville High School; Jill Payne, Hawks Nest STEAM Academy; Loretta Reed, Woodhill Elementary School; and Torben Ross, Robinson Elementary School.
■ Assistant Principal of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools Assistant Principal of the Year is Bridgette Best from Pleasant Ridge Elementary School.
Best joined Gaston County Schools in 2016 as an instructional facilitator. She was promoted to assistant principal at Woodhill Elementary School in 2017 and transferred to Pleasant Ridge Elementary in 2019. Best obtained a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in education from Virginia State University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Wingate University.
The finalists for Assistant Principal of the Year included Cassie Bryson-Evans, Brookside Elementary School; Miranda Buchanon, Springfield Elementary School; Jennifer Cabe, Holbrook Middle School; Michael Dermott, Mount Holly Middle School; Adair McKay, Grier Middle School; Janet Ramsey, Forestview High School; Lynn Stamey, Robinson Elementary School; and Jada Warnock, Cherryville High School.
■ New Teacher of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools New Teacher of the Year is Maddison Szucs from Robinson Elementary School. The award is named for the late Linda Israel Rader, who began the school district’s professional development program for teachers.
Szucs, currently a first grade teacher, joined Gaston County Schools in January 2018 as a fourth grade teacher at W.A. Bess Elementary School, and she completed her student teaching at Page Primary School in 2017. Szucs earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Appalachian State University.
The finalists for New Teacher of the Year included Hayley Bigelow, Holbrook Middle School; Elizabeth Inzana, Hunter Huss High School; Vekiza Williams, Woodhill Elementary School; and Olivia Wylie, Stanley Middle School.
■ Teacher Assistant of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools Teacher Assistant of the Year is Wanda Marlowe from Catawba Heights Elementary School.
After serving as a volunteer with Gaston County Schools for 16 years, Marlowe accepted a job in 2017 as a teacher assistant at Catawba Heights, working in the second grade. She currently is a teacher assistant for kindergarten. Marlowe attended Central Piedmont Community College.
The finalists for Teacher Assistant of the Year included Jenny Emerson, Cherryville Elementary School; Dana Hannifin, Springfield Elementary School; Giana McGuire, Pinewood Elementary School; and Peyton Walls, Stanley Middle School.
■ Central Office Administrator of the Year
The 2021-2022 Gaston County Schools Central Office Administrator of the Year is Brett Buchanan, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE).
Buchanan joined Gaston County Schools in 2014. He began his career in education in 1999 as a CTE teacher in Burke County. Under his leadership as CTE director, Gaston County Schools currently ranks first in the state for the number of CTE credentials earned by students and first in the state for the percentage of students earning more than one CTE credential in a specific career field. Buchanan obtained a bachelor’s degree in technology education from N.C. State University and a master’s degree in educational media from Appalachian State University.
The finalists for Central Office Administrator of the Year included Chad Duncan, director of athletics; Shannon Hullett, director of elementary instruction; Curtis Poplin, technology network systems manager; and Alan Sprout, technology operations manager.
The Gaston County Schools Human Resources Department organizes the annual awards program and facilitates the ‘Of the Year’ selection process. The Excellence in Education ceremony pays tribute to the school district’s most outstanding educators for their exceptional leadership and many contributions to the public schools in Gaston County.
Superintendent of Schools W. Jeffrey Booker said, “The Excellence in Education program gives us an opportunity to bring attention to the extraordinary efforts of our teachers, administrators, and others, who go above and beyond expectations to inspire success and a lifetime of learning in our students. We congratulate the award recipients and salute all educators in Gaston County Schools for what they do to support children.”
Dr. Booker added, “We would like to thank Truist Bank for sponsoring this important employee recognition program. For years, BB&T – now Truist – has been a significant business partner for Gaston County Schools, and we sincerely appreciate the bank’s support of this year’s Excellence in Education event so we could honor our outstanding educators with a special ceremony at the new CaroMont Health Park.”
As the Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year, Nezezon and West will represent Gaston County in the regional competitions for 2021-2022.
While it is unusual to have the Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year from the same school in the same year, it has happened before in back-to-back years. In 1997-1998, South Point High School’s Sheri Little was named the Principal of the Year and Mamie Chisholm was selected the Teacher of the Year. The next year (1998-1999), Ashbrook High School’s Trip McGill was named the Teacher of the Year and Gary Short was chosen the Principal of the Year.
In addition to Truist serving as the event sponsor, Courage Kia in Gastonia presented prizes to each ‘Of the Year’ winner, including a $100 gift card for dinner at The String Bean restaurant in Belmont and a free oil change at the Kia dealership on Wilkinson Boulevard.
The awards announcement was recorded, and it will air on Spectrum Cable Channel 21, the Education Station for Gaston County Schools, the week of June 14-20 at 10:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 11:00 p.m. each day. The video will air at other times during the summer, and it will be available for viewing on the Gaston County Schools website and YouTube channel.
Click here for the Excellence in Education program.
VIDEO: Excellence in Education Awards Announcement
VIDEO SLIDESHOW: Our Teachers of the Year by School