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Kimberly Jones of Chapel Hill named N.C.’s 2023 Teacher of the Year

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Chapel Hill High School’s veteran English teacher Kimberly Jones, known among colleagues for her leadership and vision for equity, was named the 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year at a ceremony in Cary on Friday.

Jones is a “teacher-leader who champions equitable access to advanced courses and academic success for all students,” according to a press release from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

“While all of you in this room have your own approach to your craft, that’s what you all have in common — putting students first,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt told the nine teacher finalists before announcing Jones as this year’s winner. “Kim, you do this by fostering student agency. You build authentic trust and you serve as a guide for students so they can realize their destinies.”

In her acceptance speech, Jones said the work is all about advocating for the 1.5 million students and over 93,000 teachers in North Carolina’s public schools.

Jones, a Harnett County native, first gave thanks to God, and her mother, Gwendolyn Jones, her “very first teacher.” Her mother instilled in her a love for learning, strong work ethic, pride in her culture, she said, and “above all, an enduring call to lead with a servant’s heart and better the lives of all those around me.” 

I am so thankful and honored to have been named the 2023 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year. Yet I know the work ahead is not about my work alone. It’s about collaborating with and advancing the efforts of all the dedicated teachers in North Carolina, who pour their hearts and souls into their work every day –- most often without well-deserved recognition or incredible fanfare such as this.

Kimberly Jones, 2023 N.C. Teacher of the Year

Jones succeeds the 2022 Teacher of the Year, Leah Carper, an English teacher at Northern Guilford High School. On Friday, Carper gave the regional teachers of the year the following advice: use your voice, build relationships, be yourself, remember you work for children, and take your positions.

“You’ve been given this wonderful opportunity,” Carper said. “And people are listening.”

The state has recognized “Teachers of the Year” since 1970, according to the DPI release. Jones was one of nine regional teachers of the year in the running for the North Carolina Teacher of the Year title. 

Here are the other regional teachers of the year:

  • Northeast: Casey Schulte, Bath Elementary (Beaufort County Schools).
  • Sandhills: Teena Robinson, Mineral Springs Elementary (Richmond County Schools).
  • Northwest: Shea Bolick, South Caldwell High (Caldwell County Schools).
  • Piedmont-Triad: Tiffany Wynn, Thomasville Middle (Thomasville City Schools).
  • Southeast: Laura Wilson, Roger Bell New Tech Academy (Craven County Schools).
  • Western: Rachael Ray, Madison High (Madison County Schools).
  • Southwest: Rachel Frye, East Lincoln High (Lincoln County Schools).
  • Charter School: Ryan Henderson, Sugar Creek Charter School.

‘Every school needs a Mrs. Jones’

In 2006, Jones joined Chapel Hill High’s faculty after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from Wake Forest University. Since then, she has taught 10th grade English and supported students through AVID, a nationwide college-readiness program that advocates for equitable access to rigorous courses and college preparation for all students. She also serves as an equity team leader for her school and on the district’s instructional planning team.

Throughout her acceptance speech, Jones highlighted that learning changes lives.

“As an African-American woman from a single-parent, rural, working-class background, I know firsthand the transformative power of education and the impact of hardworking educators to change lives,” Jones said.

The work ahead, she said, involves listening to and collaborating with parents and caregivers. Above all, she said it means “serving the 1.5 million beautifully diverse students in our state, who inspire us every day to plan with purpose, instruct with passion, and guide them with principal in the successful pursuit of their dreams.”

Kimberly Jones of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools accepting the 2023 N.C. Teacher of the Year title. Hannah McClellan/EducationNC

In her submission materials for the award, Jones highlighted two critical issues in public education: the persistent opportunity and achievement gap between underrepresented students and white students, and the critical need for greater diversity among the state’s teachers.

In the classroom, Truitt said Jones always keeps equity at the forefront — offering a mix of in-person and virtual events so students can participate regardless of transportation or financial barriers. Jones also exemplifies an ability to consider diverse insights and pedagogies, Truitt said, and a commitment to nurturing the physical and emotional safety of all students.

“Every school needs a Mrs. Jones,” Truitt said in the DPI release. “It’s obvious that students thrive in her classes, and that she makes things happen for the better in her school. I look forward to the contributions she’ll be making across North Carolina as state Teacher of the Year.”

As the teacher of the year, Jones will travel the state as an ambassador for teachers and will serve as an advisor on the State Board of Education for two years. 

She will also, according to the press release, “have the opportunity to attend a seminar at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT), receive a mobile device from Lenovo valued at approximately $1,600, an engraved vase, a cash award of $7,500, a trip to the National Teacher of the Year Conference and International Space Camp, a prize pack and opportunity to be honored during a football game from NC State Athletics, a cash award of $2,500 from Flow Honda to assist with travel costs in the state as Teacher of the Year, a cash award of $1,000 from Bojangles and the opportunity to travel abroad through an endowment sponsored by Go Global NC.”

Among the many accolades of the award, Jones said on Friday the award represents the commitment and dedication of teachers across North Carolina.

“The thing that drives me to this day (is) understanding the life-changing power of education, and for me, the life-changing power of public education,” Jones said in a video that played at the ceremony. “I firmly believe that what we do every day absolutely shapes the future.” 

You can watch the ceremony in the video below. Jones’ acceptance speech begins at the 2:08:00 mark.

Hannah Vinueza McClellan

Hannah McClellan is EducationNC’s senior reporter and covers education news and policy, and faith.