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Emilee Higdon named 2021 Beginning Teacher of the Year

Every year since 1970, the state has selected and honored a state teacher of the year. But for only the second time in North Carolina’s history, a beginning teacher of the year was named in a ceremony at Western Carolina University last week.

Emilee Higdon, a high school English teacher at Union Academy in Macon County Schools, is the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) 2021 Prudential NC Beginning Teacher of the Year.

“I am proud of all our finalists and happy for Ms. Higdon and her school district,” NCCAT Executive Director M. Brock Womble said in a press release. “NCCAT is a long-time supporter of teaching excellence, and a natural expression of that support is to recognize the best of the beginning teachers in our state. We’ve had a wonderful week of professional development and then an inspirational evening to celebrate our state’s teachers.”

According to the press release, LeAnne Rose, the previous winner, along with Maureen Stover, last year’s state teacher of the year, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt all spoke at the event, which honored Higdon and the other nominees for beginning teacher of the year.

To be eligible for the award, nominees had to complete their first year of teaching in a North Carolina public school and have continued employment in the same school district or charter school for their second year.

The other finalists were:

– Alexandra Allen, Wilkes County Schools

– David Babb, Clover Garden Schools

– Angela Baker, Richmond County Schools

– Laura Beirne Mulligan, Davie County Schools

– Sarah Bowman, Johnston County Public Schools

– Charlcy Carpenter, Cleveland County Schools

– Deanna Ciampa, Wilson County Schools

– LaKeia Colquitt, Guilford County Schools

– Imani Cooper, Weldon City Schools

– Megan Frager, Envision Science Academy

– Dessie Greene, Brunswick County Schools

– Schala Harper, New Hanover Schools

– Shanice Hill, Henderson County Public Schools

– Kate Horne, Thomasville City Schools

– Rebekah Lee, STARS Charter School

– Dalton Lewis, Ashe County Schools

– Alessandra Nysether-Santos, Pitt County Schools

– Makenna Pate, Rowan-Salisbury Schools

– Megan Piland, Northampton County Schools

– Tanesha Revels-Epps, Scotland County

– Kimberly Joy Robinson, Union County Public Schools

– Meredith Sumrell, Harnett County Schools

– Kelly Thigpen, Newton-Conover City Schools

– Michael Villanueva, Wake County Public Schools

– Sequita White, Clinton City Schools

In the press release, “Higdon was described as a beacon of positivity. Her principal noted: her unrelenting courage to embrace opportunities to help her students grow makes her an ideal example of a leader. A student said her style of communication makes the learning process feel more collaborative. The classroom works together as a group and she hears what each of student has to say.”

Higdon will receive a $5,000 cash prize, participate in a GoGlobal NC trip, and her school will receive instructional supply funds. The runner-up, Robin Mehler, who teaches at Lucy S. Herring Elementary School in Asheville, will receive $2,000. All finalists take part in professional and leadership development at NCCAT.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.