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Haywood County’s Abigail Bentley named NCCAT 2024 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year

Abigail “Abby” Bentley, a science teacher at Pisgah High School in Haywood County Schools, was named the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT) 2024 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year at a ceremony on Feb. 15, 2024 in Cullowhee, according to a press release.

The award was presented for the fifth time, with finalists from across the state in attendance. You can see Bentley accept the award and her remarks at 1:40:00 in the video.

“To my understanding this award is intended to motivate and retain high-quality teachers in North Carolina, and while I do believe it helps achieve that goal, I can only hope that someday our legislation will catch up and acknowledge the work that we do to the capacity that NCCAT has this week,” said Bentley.

Ahead of receiving the award, this is how Bentley was introduced:

The NCCAT 2024 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year believes all students are inherently curious about the natural world around them. This teacher aims to facilitate the advancement of student skills to create confident learners who are capable of answering future questions. 

This teacher believes when students see and feel a teacher’s investment in their academic or personal growth, it can stimulate a powerful intrinsic motivation within them. This teacher also believes developing relationships with students takes patience, empathy, and forgiveness, noting “reflect before you respond, care for them, laugh with them, and help guide them through mistakes.”

This teacher is described as an effective communicator who stands out for their commitment to covering standards, increasing student achievement, and creating productive learning environments. Their dedication to aligning teaching with high academic standards has significantly contributed to our students’ growth and success,” shared a colleague. 

A colleague describes this teacher as one who follows the standards and who incorporates student interaction and collaboration on a daily basis, who helps students make connections to previous learning and life experience. 

An administrator noted that this teacher had some of the top scores in the region, builds meaningful connections with students, and creates a supportive and inclusive atmosphere where students feel valued, respected, and inspired.

This teacher is dedicated, works extremely hard to plan meaningful lessons that capture students’ attention. 

This teacher’s mentor describes her use of kinesthetic motions to help students retain learning. She notes that this teacher also uses her experiences to engage her kids with real life comparisons. 

An administrator shared, “her professional teaching efforts have made a huge impact on our school.”

Her mentor’s first response to the principal after her interview? “Can we keep her?”

“Abigail builds strong relationships and energizes the classroom with charisma, skill, and connectedness to students,” said Superintendent Trevor Putnam. “There could be no better representative of the teaching profession or Haywood County. We are extremely proud of Abigail!”

“Ms. Bentley encourages each of her students to set high goals and create pathways for them to achieve excellence,” said NCCAT Executive Director Brock Womble.

The week at NCCAT

By all accounts, including the remarks from Bentley, the week the 27 finalists spend together at NCCAT is full of joy.

NCCAT 2024 Empower NC Beginning Teacher of the Year Finalists. Courtesy of NCCAT

It is also said to be one of the best professional development opportunities around.

The finalists

“NCCAT is so proud of all these finalists — all are shining examples of the teaching profession and bring talent and expertise to the classroom each and every day, for the benefit of North Carolina students,” said Womble.

The runner-up is Samantha Shaw, an English teacher at Carrboro High School City Schools. A student noted Shaw went above and beyond to give them precise feedback, telling the student “see you are smart. You are smarter than any test. You know this.” Another student shared, “I never would have thought about how I learn before. I just wanted the A. Now, in English, I want to learn.”

The 2024 NCCAT North Carolina Beginning Teachers of the Year finalists are:

Bethany Wilson | Ashe County Schools

Margaret “Maggie” Allen | Asheville City Schools

Kaitlyn “Katie” Adams | Brunswick County Schools

Cassidy Upton | Burke County Schools

John Calabrese | Cabarrus County Schools

Hannah Creed | Caswell County Schools

Samantha Shaw | Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

Sade’ Mangum | Cumberland County Schools

Danielle “Dani” Fisher | Edenton-Chowan Schools

Halaina Montoya | Envision Science Academy

Kenyona “Ken” Bethea | Guilford County Schools

Abigail “Abby” Bentley | Haywood County Schools

Lauren Schneider | Henderson County Schools

Laura Jones | Hoke County Schools

Savannah Travis | Lincoln County Schools

Megan Strong | Montgomery County Schools

Nicholas “Nick” Tirpak | Mount Airy City Schools

Madison Ayers | New Hanover County Schools

Allyson Sarnowski | Northeast Academy for Aerospace & Advanced Technologies

Camryn Story | Pitt County Schools

Sydney Smith | Roanoke Rapids Schools

Austin Herlocker | Stanly County Schools

Alivia Salvagni | The Expedition School

Karen Dusterberg | Wake County Schools

Sarah Irick | Wayne County Schools

Elizabeth Dancy | Wilkes County Schools

Holly Johnston | Wilson County Schools

Thank you all for your commitment to our students, our public schools, our state, and our future.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.