Photos courtesy of Alabama Department of Education
Chiaramonte and Ritchey
Vinny Chiaromonte, a computer science teacher at Bumpus Middle School, and Sandy Ritchey, a Hoover resident who formerly worked in Hoover schools and now is a literacy coach at Crestline Elementary in Mountain Brook, are among the four finalists for 2016-17 Alabama Teacher of the Year.
Two teachers with Hoover ties are among the four finalists to become the 2016-17 Alabama Teacher of the Year.
Vinny Chiaramonte, a computer science teacher at Bumpus Middle School is one of two finalists for Alabama Secondary Teacher of the Year. And Sandy Ritchey, a Hoover resident who formerly was an assistant principal at Gwin Elementary and now works as a literacy coach at Crestline Elementary School in Mountain Brook, is one of two finalists for Alabama Elementary Teacher of the Year.
Others in the “Final Four” are Dawn Davis of the Montana Street Academic Magnet School in Dothan and Dana Jacobson of Clay-Chalkville High School in the Jefferson County system.
The next step is an extensive interview with a state judging committee. State officials plan to reveal the 2016-17 Alabama Teacher of the Year at a ceremony at the RSA Plaza Terrace in Montgomery on May 11.
Chiaramonte, a 36-year-old resident of Pelham, has been teaching for six years and is in his second year at Bumpus. He previously taught two years as a Bible teacher at Hilton Head Christian Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and later two years as a seventh-grade social science teacher at Montevallo Middle School.
Being a teacher is kind of ironic for Chiaramonte because he dropped out of high school as a second-year freshman. He was a gifted student with an IQ of 140, but he struggled to find his place in the world.
He thanks God for putting key people in his life to get him back on track. He got his General Educational Development diploma and entered college at the same time as his former classmates and eventually obtained both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.
Chiaramonte said he is honored and humbled to be among the Final Four candidates for Alabama Teacher of the Year. But it means more to him that his colleagues at his new school nominated him to represent them. “To get their support means more than anything,” he said.
Chiaramonte said he wanted to teach in middle school because that’s where so many kids have a hard time finding themselves.
“I want to be that middle school teacher that impacts kids and tells them they have a lot of opportunities that they may not see, if they just believe in themselves and work a little harder,” he said. I just want to be a positive influence and let them know somebody cares about them and believes they have something they can offer this world.”
Children come from all walks of life, and “we might be the only person that speaks life into them,” he said. “Our job is more than just giving them academics.”
Even tbough he is only in his second year at Bumpus, Chiaramonte has taken on leadership roles among the faculty. He served on the committee that works on the schools’ 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.
Chiaramonte acknowledged it’s unusual for a newcomer at a school to play leadership roles like that, but he has had training in conflict management and stepped in to help resolve some issues during a faculty planning meeting.
He credits God for putting him in a situation where he can make a difference and thanks the principal at Bumpus, Tamala Maddox, for seeing something in him and giving him a chance to contribute.
Ritchey, a resident of Hoover’s Quail Run subdivision, is in her third year at Crestline Elementary. Before that, she 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.
“I am deeply humbled I was even nominated by the wonderful faculty at Crestline Elementary,” Ritchey said.
Throughout her career in Hoover and Mountain Brook, she has been surrounded by countless people whom she would consider Teachers of the Year — people who wake up every day ready to make a difference in the lives of children, she said.
“I hope the nation realizes we have some incredible teachers in Alabama,” Ritchey said.
Developing relationships with students and other teachers is what motivates her to teach, she said.
“At the core of everything we do are the relationships we establish,” Ritchey said. “It takes a village to do what we do.”
Each student and each teacher has their own story, and she loves hearing them and helping others to succeed, she said.
In a biography she wrote after being nominated for Teacher of the Year, Ritchey said she doesn’t allow obstacles to become barriers to educational success. She has taught in schools with many high-poverty and transient students, and “when I read reports and articles that claim to predict the achievement of a student based solely on demographics, I cannot help thinking that they are wrong,” she wrote in her biography.
She grew up in a home where two languages were spoken, had two working parents and had to adjust after switching to a new school, she said. “As long as students are coming from challenging situations, I will continue to prove research wrong,” she wrote. “All students can learn. All students can succeed. I am proof of what a great education in Alabama can do for students.”
Ritchey is a frequent presenter and facilitator at education conferences across the state.
“My hope is that as I work with teachers, they will reflect my teaching style when they work with their own students,” Ritchey wrote in an essay. “My hope is that as I work with students, they will understand how capable they are and that there is no limit to their greatness. Our profession calls for compassionate, strong and committed indivduals who are excited about working with children. As long as we keep all that we do student-centered, we will not fail our students.”
This story was updated at 12:01 a.m. on April 29 with additional information about both Chiaramonte and Ritchey.