Communication Connection » Teacher of the Year Program

Teacher of the Year Program

Columbia County School District Teacher of the Year 
Crystal McDowell
Greenbrier High School

teacher smilingSubjects: Science (AP Biology, Biology, Human Anatomy & Physiology, and Genetics

Crystal McDowell earned her B.S. in Science Education from North Carolina State University in 2000 and began her career as a science educator at North Iredell High School. As a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, she decided to join the education profession to be a change agent for science education. Her aim was to revive the curiosity students experience as children exploring the natural world. Although she became a science teacher to initiate change, she fell in love with teaching because of her students. A relationship-based leader, Mrs. McDowell aimed to serve students to the best of her ability to help them actualize their potential. Her family moved to Missouri in 2010 where she taught science at Lafayette High School and then served as the 6-12 Science Curriculum Coordinator. She continued to be an advocate for science education and for her students’ learning opportunities. She earned her MS and Ed.S in Curriculum and Instruction from Missouri Baptist University, focusing her action research on case study teaching to increase student engagement and achievement in the science classroom. When her family moved to Georgia, she taught at Thompson High School for one year and then began teaching at Greenbrier High School where she has taught science for the last five years and served as the Science Department Chair for three years. This year she was one of three finalists for the NSTA Shell National Science Teacher Award and she is a Georgia finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Ms. McDowell was named a STAR Student by a student for her positive impact on his student achievement. Since winning the district title, Ms. McDowell has been named one of 10 State Finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year. To read more, Click here.

“One of my goals as a science educator is to provide experiential learning for my students that promotes STEM skills and exposes them to future career opportunities. I want their experiences to be relevant and informative so they learn something that could help them make better decisions.”

                                                          2023-2024 Teachers of the Year

Select a finalist's name below to learn more about these outstanding educators! 

teacher smilingSubjects: Early Childhood Education and Teaching as a Profession Pathway

Cassandra Rodriguez attended college for Organizational Communications at the University of West Florida (UWF). After graduation, she pursued a career as a student affairs professional, and while serving as a graduate assistant in Student Activities she realized that working with students was a deep passion that she wanted to pursue. Mrs. Rodriguez began her experience with collegiate students at Florida Southern College (FSC) as the Student Involvement Coordinator. This position gave her the freedom to explore her ability to teach young adults leadership skills, organization, and enrichment. She did this through community outreach, campus events, and improving the school culture and climate. Transitioning to the other side of the college experience, she became the Academic Advisor for the College of Education at the University of South Florida. While working with incoming freshmen, she learned that many graduating seniors did not have the knowledge or foundation to have a successful experience in college and wanted to help bridge the gap. Mrs. Rodriguez then became the Early Childhood Education teacher and Director of the mommy’s day out program at Tenoroc High School. This paved the way for her to step into her current position at Evans High teaching Early Childhood Education and Teaching as a Profession. Recently, Mrs. Rodriguez collaborated with her peers to start “Knights Unite,” based on the Georgia Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS) program. Every day Mrs. Rodriguez continues to find new ways to engage her students and pushes them to reach their personal and professional goals.

“Show up for all of your students! The blessing of teaching and working in education is that there is always a student that needs you. Any student in any school and county across the nation on any developmental level, needs connection. They need consistency, positive energy, and quality experiences in their lives daily. In education, we get to do that and the impact is amazing.”

teacher smilingSubjects: 6th grade Earth Science and 8th grade Georgia History

Brook Andrews has been an educator for 21 years. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Middle Grades Education from the University of Georgia, and started her career in Gwinnett County where she taught sixth grade social studies at Lanier Middle School.  Mrs. Andrews soon moved home to Augusta, and spent three years teaching science and math at St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School. After she earned a Master of Education from Augusta State University, Mrs. Andrews returned to public education at Riverside Middle School in Columbia County where she taught eighth grade science.  When Stallings Island Middle School opened, Mrs. Andrews was hired to teach sixth grade earth science. Mrs. Andrews returned to Augusta State University and earned an Education Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction.  Mrs. Andrews sponsors several after school clubs at Stallings Island, including running club which is a favorite among sixth graders who need to burn off extra energy after school.  Her academic clubs prepare students for competitions like the International Academic Competitions, the CSRA Eco Meet, and the Georgia Envirothon.  Mrs. Andrews serves on the Stallings Island Middle School leadership team and has served on numerous Columbia County School District curriculum committees.  She was voted Teacher of the Year for the 2012-2013 school year at Stallings Island Middle and also won the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award in 2019.  Mrs. Andrews has four sons who attend Columbia County Schools, and she works to maintain a close connection to the families in each school community she is a part of. 

“As educators, we have a responsibility to connect with our young people. We have to work together to ensure that our students' sense of community isn’t being replaced by technology.  Each student deserves to feel seen and valued in their school community.” 

teacher smilingSubjects: English Language Arts and Social Studies

Ms. Allison Dixon is a passionate educator who has spent half of her life and the entirety of her career teaching children in Columbia County schools. Ms. Dixon earned her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education in 2001 from Augusta University and her Master of Education in Foundations of Education from Troy State University in 2004. In 2006, she earned her Education Specialist in Early Childhood Education from Augusta University. She also has reading and gifted endorsements. For the first 17 years of her career, Ms. Dixon taught second grade at Grovetown Elementary. Then she transferred to Greenbrier Elementary to teach third grade English Language Arts and Social Studies. Always looking for ways to improve her craft, Ms. Dixon visited primary schools in New Zealand and Australia as a part of a study abroad. Throughout her career, she has served in many capacities including grade chair, yearbook coordinator, PTO Vice President, co-chair of the Father-Daughter Dance, coordinator of the Kids Heart Challenge, and chair of a school fundraiser. She has taken on leadership roles including serving as a Building Coordinator for Augusta University for over a decade. Currently, she is serving on her school leadership team and she is a part of the Columbia County School District’s NexGen Cyber Curriculum Development Committee. When not in the classroom, Ms. Dixon can be found serving in the children’s ministry at her church on Sunday mornings where she has faithfully served since high school. Additionally, she has served as head coach of a youth summer swim team since 2001.

“I believe that your personal happiness and satisfaction at school are tied to your Goals, Relationships, Enthusiasm, Attitude, and Teamwork. Focus on these things and you are sure to have a G.R.E.A.T. year!”

teacher smilingSubject: Social Studies

Jennifer Roper was born and raised in Augusta, and is a graduate of Lakeside High School and Georgia Southern University. She was honored with the Sallie Mae Award for exhibiting outstanding teaching during her first year on the job, and Mrs. Roper was also awarded Teacher of the Year at Goshen Elementary in 2000. She went on to become a finalist for Richmond County Teacher of the Year, and she is a former member of the Junior League of Augusta, where she was co-chair for the first annual golf tournament. Mrs. Roper is a member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), and she has served on numerous committees including the Leadership team, Hospitality Committee, PBIS team, and she has mentored a host of apprentice teachers throughout her long teaching career.  Mrs. Roper has 27 years of experience in fourth and fifth-grade classrooms between Richmond and Columbia County schools. She recently earned her Gifted Endorsement and currently teaches fifth grade Social Studies at River Ridge Elementary.  This year she was chosen to represent Columbia County as a liaison for the Columbia County Cheerleaders and Champions program. At her school she has collaborated with district efforts to connect teachers with the most up to date resources provided by the Georgia Department of Education.

Mrs. Roper and her husband, Hank, have two teenage boys, Jack and Grady, and a beloved 10-year- old black lab, Stewie. Mrs. Roper loves being an active team mom for her sons’ football and lacrosse teams and is also a breast cancer survivor.

“I believe that learning should be fun, and the most rewarding thing for me to see is when my students are so immersed in these activities and they have suddenly forgotten they are ‘learning’ and instead are fully engaged in lessons that will leave a lasting impression.”

About the Teacher of the Year Program

Each year, the Columbia County School District honors teachers who stand out amongst an already overflowing field of excellent educators. The year-long process culminates in an annual Teacher of the Year Banquet. Through contributions from the district’s valued Partners in Education, each year we are able to provide all Teachers of the Year with a delicious dinner and amazing rewards for going above and beyond the call for excellence. The annual event is an exciting time when one winner is named the Columbia County School District Teacher of the Year!   

The process all starts in the classroom. Each school selects one teacher representative. Typically, schools select Teachers of the Quarter throughout the previous school year, and at the end of that year, they put the Teachers of the Quarter names on a ballot and select the overall winner.

Once the school-level Teachers of the Year are finalized in the Spring, they complete an online application based on the Georgia State Teacher of the Year competition. A panel of judges scores the applications electronically.

Next, five judges, who are also educators themselves, are selected from outside the Columbia County School District to individually rate each of the 31 Teacher of the Year applications. The judges score the anonymous applications on a 100-point scale and the top five scores are named Finalists. The results remain confidential until August when the announcement is made to the community, and the Finalists are also recognized at a Board of Education meeting.

After the Finalists are named, the same five outside judges, observe each Finalist for 30 minutes in their classrooms, followed by a 20-minute interview with the judges. All observations are done on the same day. The five judges then select one winner based on what they saw in the classroom and heard in the interview.

The winner is announced at the Teacher of the Year banquet, and then entered into the competition for Georgia's State Teacher of the Year, where one winner is announced in the Spring.

Congratulations, to all of our Teachers of the Year across our district's history!

Community partners who are interested in becoming a Partner in Education to help support our efforts to reward and recognize success in Columbia County School District educators and/or support staff please email [email protected]. 

 Elementary School

    teacher photo              teacher photo            teacher photo            teacher photo
              Amy Epps                                       Brittany Swan                                Ruth Ann Hoch                             April Barbin
     Baker Place Elementary               Blue Ridge Elementary            Brookwood Elementary           Cedar Ridge Elementary
    teacher photo              teacher photo            teacher photo            teacher photo
               Scott Jacobs                                   Sydney Onate                                  Allison Dixon                                Amy Hadden
  Euchee Creek Elementary                 Evans Elementary                   Greenbrier Elementary            Grovetown Elementary
     teacher photo             teacher photo             teacher photo            teacher photo
            Elizabeth Beard                            Melissa Barbari                             Lauren Hardison                           Lauren Stitcher
      Lewiston Elementary                 Martinez Elementary           North Columbia Elementary       North Harlem Elementary
      teacher photo            teacher photo             teacher photo              teacher photo
              Anne Tucker                               Katie Strickland                               Jennifer Roper                                     Olga Malin
         Parkway Elementary               Riverside Elementary                River Ridge Elementary            South Columbia Elementary
       teacher photo
                    Pat Dekle
     Stevens Creek Elementary

Middle School

      teacher photo            teacher photo             teacher photo               teacher photo
             Michael Parsons                              Andrea Roselli                             Alison Williams                              Ellen Robinson
            Columbia Middle                               Evans Middle                           Greenbrier Middle                        Grovetown Middle
        teacher photo             teacher photo                 teacher photo                  teacher photo
              Grier Whitaker                             Tasha Chancey                                       Dana Keel                                    Brook Andrews
              Harlem Middle                           Lakeside Middle                               Riverside Middle                     Stallings Island Middle

High School

       teacher photo            teacher photo             teacher photo               teacher photo
         Cassandra Rodriguez                     Crystal McDowell                        Elizabeth Sumerlin                              Kevin Waters
                Evans High                                   Greenbrier High                            Grovetown High                                  Harlem High
         teacher photo              teacher photo
               Zachary Martin                              Tiffany Wesser
               Lakeside High                     Columbia Virtual Academy

Columbia County School District Teachers of the Year:
A Tradition of Excellence

  • 1990 – 1991 Tom Crow – Evans High School
  • 1991 – 1992 Kathryn May – Blue Ridge Elementary School
  • 1992 – 1993 Deborah Callan – Bel Air Elementary School
  • 1993 – 1994 Gwen Connor – Evans Elementary School
  • 1994 – 1995 Carol Stout – Riverside Middle School
  • 1995 – 1996 Cecelia Powell – North Columbia Elementary School
  • 1996 – 1997 Change in Cycle at the State Level
  • 1997 – 1998 Lanese Thomas – Martinez Elementary School
  • 1998 – 1999 Debora Seymour – Greenbrier High School
  • 1999 – 2000 Elizabeth Trulove – Lakeside Middle School
  • 2000 – 2001 Joyce Cheek – Harlem High School
  • 2001 – 2002 Brian Campbell – Greenbrier High School
  • 2002 – 2003 Lorraine Hall – Evans Middle School
  • 2003 – 2004 Valery Dinkins – Harlem Middle School
  • 2004 – 2005 Shaun Owen – Greenbrier Middle School
  • 2005 – 2006 Leeann Fleischauer – Euchee Creek Elementary School
  • 2006 – 2007 Penny Barclay – Grovetown Middle School
  • 2007 – 2008 Danielle Callan – River Ridge Elementary School
  • 2008 – 2009 Michele Rigsby – Bel Air Elementary School
  • 2009 – 2010 Allison Palfy – Cedar Ridge Elementary School
  • 2010 – 2011 Vicki Tarleton – Grovetown High School
  • 2011 – 2012 Christy Van Meter – Riverside Middle School
  • 2012 – 2013 Katie Holmes – Baker Place Elementary School
  • 2013 – 2014 Patty McDonald – Columbia Middle School
  • 2014 – 2015 Kim Buchanan – Grovetown High School
  • 2015 – 2016 Jenna Gurley – Westmont Elementary School
  • 2016 – 2017 Eric Leiden – Evans High School
  • 2017 – 2018 Andrea Short – Westmont Elementary School
  • 2018 - 2019 Jessica Shepherd - Grovetown Middle School
  • 2019 - 2020 David Phillips - Greenbrier Middle School
  • 2020 - 2021 - Competition canceled due to COVID-19
  • 2021 - 2022 Ashley Fryer - Blue Ridge Elementary School
  • 2022-2023 Ameesha Butler - Westmont Elementary School