Photos by Jon Anderson
Flippo Ritchey Chiaramonte
Three teachers with Hoover ties were honored as being among the top teachers in Alabama during a ceremony at the RSA Plaza in Montgomery on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. From left are Bluff Park Elementary teacher Kathryne Flippo, Hoover resident, former Hoover teacher and current Crestline Elementary School teacher Sandy Ritchey, and Bumpus Middle School teacher Vinny Chiaramonte.
Three teachers with Hoover ties were honored Wednesday night in Montgomery for being among the state’s top teachers of the year.
- Vinny Chiaramonte, a computer science teacher at Bumpus Middle School, won alternate 2016-17 Secondary Teacher of the Year.
- Sandy Ritchey, a Hoover resident who formerly worked 11 years for Hoover City Schools and is now a literacy coach at Crestline Elementary in Mountain Brook, won alternate 2016-17 Elementary Teacher of the Year.
- Kathryne Flippo, a kindergarten teacher at Bluff Park Elementary, was among the “Sweet 16” finalists for Alabama Teacher of the Year.
The overall winner for 2016-17 Alabama Teacher of the Year was Dana Jacobson of Clay-Chalkville High School in the Jefferson County system, while the overall alternate Teacher of the Year (and top elementary finalist) was Dawn Davis of Montana Street Academic Magnet School in Dothan.
Tamala Maddox, Chiaramonte’s principal at Bumpus, said even though he didn’t win state Teacher of the Year, she knows he will return to the classroom Thursday with the same passion for helping students as he has had since he arrived at the school two years ago.
It’s not the passion for content that makes Chiaramonte a great teacher, Maddox said. “It’s the passion for the child.”
Chiaramonte, a 36-year-old Pelham resident, dropped out of high school as a second-year freshman even though he had a high IQ but later got his General Educational Development diploma and went on to get bachelor’s and master’s degrees in college.
He said he wanted to teach in middle school because that’s where so many kids have a hard time finding themselves. He wants to be a positive influence and let them know somebody cares about them and believes they have something to offer the world, he said.
But Chiaramonte also has had an impact on the faculty at Bumpus, Maddox said.
“”Even though this is just his second year with us, he’s jumped in and served on several committees that have worked to transform the culture of our school,” she said.
Chiaramonte came up with the draft of a R.E.S.P.E.C.T. acronym that now guides the school, she said. He served on the committee that works on the school’s Continuous Improvement Plan and helped plan and design the structure for a staff development retreat. He also led staff sessions to hash out solutions and implementation methods, and he led teachers in integrating technology in the classroom and how to use Twitter in their teaching.
Maddox said Chiaramonte’s previous experience in the ministry helped him bring consensus among the faculty and helped them refocus when they got off track in discussions.
“He’s a great guy. Every child knows Mr. Chiaramonte. Every teacher knows Mr. Chiaramonte,” Maddox said. “He had so many experiences at a young age that he can relate to so many people.”
Crestline Elementary Principal Laurie King said she was very proud of Ritchey. While Ritchey has been at Crestline for just three years, she has led to remarkable changes among the entire faculty.
As a literacy coach at Crestline, Ritchey spends most of her time working with other teachers, helping them perfect their craft and teaching the teachers how to best work with the different style learners in their classrooms, King said.
Ritchey is an education expert, but her expertise would mean little if she had not gained credibility and trust from her colleagues, King said. In a very short time, she has fully involved herself in the school and built a very high level of trust among the faculty, King said.
“She’s so talented and loved,” King said. “They follow her … Basically, they’ll do whatever she asks them to do … She has quickly become a part of our family.”
King, who has been at Crestline for 30 years (the past six as principal), said she involves Ritchey in a lot of decisions made at the school and that Ritchey has been a big help in guiding the vision of the school.
Before coming to Crestline, Ritchey spent 11 years with Hoover City Schools, including five years as a teacher at Green Valley Elementary, three years as a literacy coach at South Shades Crest Elementary and three years as an assistant principal at Gwin Elementary.
Ritchey said she was deeply humbled that she was even nominated for Teacher of the Year by the faculty at Crestline and said all of the teachers and students with whom she works now and in the past are what helped her get to where she is today.
Flippo has been teaching for nine years, the past four at Bluff Park. Before that, she taught first grade for five years at Gwin Elementary.
Flippo on Wednesday night credited her father with getting her into teaching. Every day when she was in middle school and almost every single day in high school, he would tell her what an excellent elementary school teacher she would make, she said.
She would roll her eyes at him, but when she went to Auburn University, she took an elementary education class and her eyes were opened to a new and different way to teach than she experienced as a child, she said.
She grew up in a sterile classroom with no talking, but her classroom now involves noise, movement and discussion, she said in a biography essay. Many people walk into her classroom, see many things happening at the same time and perceive the classroom is in chaos, but it’s really not, she said.
“It is my mission every day in my kindergarten classroom to be innovative, to be excited, to love them and to make them love school,” she said Wednesday night. “That’s why I’m a teacher.”
Kudos and a challenge
Philip Cleveland, the interim state superintendent of education, thanked all of the “Sweet 16” finalists for state Teacher of the Year.
“The commitment and dedication of our educators in this state is unbelievable,” Cleveland said. “It’s amazing that people choose to go into a profession and they obviously go into a profession not for the money, but because of wanting to do something for someone else.”
Most of the time, the general public forgets to recognize just exactly how much hard work happens in the classroom, Cleveland said.
“I commend every educator in the state of Alabama for their commitment to the children that are so important to the future of our state,” he said.
The 2015-16 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Vestavia Hills High School science teacher Jennifer Brown, told the Sweet 16 teachers she knows how much work they put in between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., plus the after-school coaching and sponsoring of academic and extra-curricular groups, not to mention their night-time job of grading papers and calling and emailing parents.
She said she has visited 80 Alabama schools in the past year and it was the most rewarding, enriching and eye-opening experience of her life.
“We have so many amazing teachers in our state,” Brown said. “I wish everybody had the opportunity to visit the schools and see the amazing work happening in our classrooms.”
Brown challenged all educators to share the stories of what’s happening in their schools with anyone who will listen, from colleagues to PTO groups, the media, elected officials and their friends and neighbors.
“Way too often, the wrong stories are shared, and those are the ones that get all the attention,” Brown said. “Our work matters. What we do on behalf of our students every day matters. As we celebrate your successes tonight, let’s commit to elevate the profession and change the narrative about public education. I’m very proud to be a teacher in Alabama.”