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Kendall Walton is the 2024 Teacher of the Year

The cafeteria at Holmes County High School buzzed with excitement the evening of Jan. 10 as guests enjoyed delectable eats and waited for one of the district’s most anticipated annual awards ceremonies to begin.

This was the district’s seventh year recognizing the Teacher of the Year and fourth year recognizing the School Related Employee of the Year.

The night started with a reception sponsored by Community South Credit Union and crafted by Sheila Richards and the HCHS Culinary Department.

Director of Student Services Matt Tate started the program by welcoming guests to the presentation. Before the school winners were announced, Superintendent Buddy Brown took a few moments to remember two dear former teachers who recently passed away, Martina “Bo” Williams and Beth Gavin, who both unquestionably left their marks on Holmes County students.

The first recognition of the evening went to Bethlehem School’s employee of the year, Willis Trant, who has taken exceptional care of his school as the lead maintenance person.

“He is a walking encyclopedia regarding systems and maintenance, and he loves to share his knowledge with anyone who will listen,” said Bethlehem School Principal Dr. Lindsey Tate. Tate described how proactive Trant is when it comes to keeping the aging facility clean and in top working order.

At Bonifay K-8, Rebecca Sparks captured the employee of the year honor. Sparks is a paraprofessional in the media center who has brought her vision of a journalism elective class for middle school students to fruition and grown it exponentially in two years.

“Mrs. Sparks fosters independence and creativity within her classroom by pushing her students outside of their comfort zone,” said Bonifay K-8 K-4th Grade Principal Tiffany Steverson. “She supports her students and encourages them to take on new and challenging tasks.”

Sparks and her students are behind documenting the many memories being made at Bonifay K-8. Steverson described Sparks as a team player who models what it means to have Blue Devil pride.

Candi Meeks was named Holmes County High School’s employee of the year. Meeks was unable to attend the event. HCHS Principal Laurence Pender said Meeks “does it all.” Meeks collects lunch money from students and fills numerous supporting roles throughout the school day and at school events.

“It’s a pleasure having somebody that when you ask they just jump on it and give it 100 percent,” Pender said. “She knows everybody. Most importantly, she knows the students.”

Over at Ponce de Leon Elementary School, Carol Alford was selected as employee of the year. Alford has been with the school district for 28 years and has done everything from driving school buses to clerical duties and serving as bookkeeper.

PDLES Assistant Principal Sonya Motley said Alford should be recognized as a key employee because of her dedication to being at work arranging for substitutes, taking care of finances and leave time, and for loving on the students and staff.

“She always has an open door and is just a phone call away whenever anyone has a need,” Motley said. Motley added that the most commendable thing is how Alford shows concern for students and the school’s staff.

Natasha Adams was named employee of the year at Ponce de Leon High School where she has served as a paraprofessional.
“This past year, she has been my go-to person,” said PDLHS Principal Anissa Locke.

Locke said Adams kept classes covered and manned every station from the copy room to the front desk and sitting with students in detention.
Adams recently accepted a position at Bonifay K-8 to work with prekindergarten students which Adams said is her dream job.

“I will miss her, and we’re very proud of her,” Locke said.

Poplar Springs High School’s employee of the year is Susan Lane, the virtual lab facilitator for the past 10 years. Poplar Springs Principal Laura Watford said Lane keeps students organized and moving on track as they take online courses and is the first line of defense when technology goes awry.

“She is always eager to assist the faculty and staff with technology issues,” Watford said, adding that Lane also arrives early and stays late when it’s time for state testing.

Once each school’s employee of the year candidates were announced, Brown had the pleasure of announcing that Bonifay K-8’s Rebecca Sparks is the district’s 2023 School Related Employee of the Year.

Theatre Instructor Ricky Ward kept the technology for the presentation running smoothly as the program moved into the teacher of the year recognition.

Up first was April Hatcher from Bethlehem School. Principal Dr. Lindsey Tate said Hatcher displays exceptional performance as the lead third grade teacher.

“Her attention to detail and expertise allow her to single handedly fill skill gaps to improve her students’ proficiency to grade level to 99 percent,” Tate said, adding that Hatcher’s dedication to her students’ social, emotional and academic needs is exceptional.

Bonifay K-8 5th-8th Grade Principal Chey Bowers announced Amy Hicks, 5th-8th grade curriculum and assessment coordinator, as the school’s teacher of the year.

“She never asks our teachers to do something that she is not willing to do herself,” Bowers said. “She gets in the trenches with our team and does the work alongside them.”

Bowers went on to say that Hicks flawlessly coordinates standardized testing and progress monitoring and finds time to be a Beta sponsor, teaches intensive reading after school and is the Title 1 liaison.

HCHS Principal Laurence Pender introduced world history teacher Christy Paul as HCHS’s teacher of the year.

“I’ve had hundreds of teachers, and I rank this lady at the top of all of them,” Pender said.

Pender described his confidence in how Paul prepares her students and makes a connection with them that helps solidify their learning experience.

“I’d like to have 30 (teachers) just like her,” Pender said.

At Ponce de Leon Elementary, fifth grade language arts teacher Kimberly Blaine-Cobb is teacher of the year.

“When you enter Mrs. Cobb’s classroom, you know immediately that it is a place where all students are nurtured and learning is fostered,” Motley said, adding that Cobb’s instruction has consistently led to improved student achievement each year.

Ponce de Leon High Schoolers benefit as much from the instruction of Kendall Walton who Locke affectionately referred to as the queen of algebra. Locke said Walton works above and beyond to ensure her students grasp the math she is teaching.

“She is one that will change lives forever and one that her students will always remember,” Locke said. “She is one that will make that positive influence in the form of a teacher.”

Finally, middle and high school reading teacher Amy Chestnut was announced as Poplar Springs High School’s teacher of the year.

“Amy is a dynamic teacher and inspires her kids to perform to the best of their ability,” Watford said. “Her positive attitude and passion for teaching is evident every day.”

Watford said Chestnut establishes clear expectations for her students and made a seamless transition from teaching third-graders to now teaching intensive reading to middle and high schoolers.

“Her elementary background and experience have been extremely beneficial in bridging that gap for those high school students who are attempting to pass that graduation requirement,” Watford said.

The competition for teacher of the year was fierce as each candidate was highly accomplished and demonstrates initiative that creates an exemplary learning environment for Holmes County students.

“Everyone here tonight is a winner,” Brown said before announcing the teacher of the year.

Brown said each candidate is changing lives every day. In the end, Kendall Walton came out on top as the district’s 2024 Teacher of the Year.

In Walton’s decade of teaching math, she said she has loved every moment.

“I love it when they finally realize and they feel confident doing the math that they’ve worked so hard on and they finally achieve the goal they were reaching for,” Walton said.

As winners at the district level, both Walton and Sparks are eligible to compete in the state finals for the potential to win monetary awards in the amount of $10,000 for Teacher of the Year and $5,000 for the School Related Employee of the Year.

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