Pell City pride strengthens as two teachers from District VI are among the Top 16 Finalists vying for the honor of Alabama Teacher of the Year (TOY). Leslie Hughes, a first grade teacher at Walter M. Kennedy, and Valerie Curtis, the Building Technology Coordinator for Pell City High School (PCHS) were notified by letter from the Alabama State Department of Education that they are being considered for Alabama Teacher of the Year. 

Bestowing this honor comes with great deliberation from the Alabama State Department of Education. Here’s how this group of top teachers are evaluated, according to the booklet Hughes and Curtis received. “The Alabama Teacher of the Year Program is open to any public school certified classroom teacher, librarian, counselor or other certified individual whose major responsibility is to work with children in a P-12 setting and provide learning opportunities to meet the academic goals and graduation requirements set by the Alabama State Board of Education.”

The purpose: “The Alabama Teacher of the Year Program seeks annually to honor and recognize excellence in the teaching profession by identifying outstanding Alabama classroom teachers at local, district and state levels.” Curtis and Hughes create excellence in their classrooms and schools by empowering their students. 

Generating the power on the elementary level is Hughes who’s been with the Pell City School System since the Fall of 2010. Hughes began her teaching career at Kennedy in first grade. The past nine years are coming full circle as Hughes has come back to first grade after being a third grade teacher at Kennedy for the past five years. “Teaching first…these children are little sponges. They’re curious and excited about everything. First is where they establish a firm foundational understanding that generates a whole lifetime of success,” Hughes said. “They have staggering radical progress from the beginning to the end of the year. There’s nothing else like it!” Hughes says her purpose and mission is instruction. “I want to create impact and an experience,” stated Hughes. 

A part of the Pell City School System for the past 12 years, Curtis started as a first grade teacher at Coosa Valley Elementary School (CVES), moved to second grade at CVES, then was the CVES Title 1 & Interventionist. Not only did she love teaching at Coosa, she loved being a student there too! After nine years of teaching, Curtis stepped out on faith and faced a challenged of applying for the Building Technology Coordinator position at PCHS. “My heart is in professional development and helping teachers with students,” Curtis stated. “My passion is technology.” In her third year at PCHS, Curtis’ vision is instruction. “The transition from elementary to high school has been fun, but at first I was apprehensive. Coming in I wanted to build relationships because you have-to-have that foundation,” Curtis said. Since cultivating that trust, Curtis has been instrumental in helping see PCHS’s one-to-one technology initiative come to fruition. “We’re almost there! I love the pace at which we adopted technology. With new innovation I’m here to help teachers have the resources they need to advance our students to the next level. We want confident users who consume, produce, curate and create. That’s when technology becomes powerful.” Both ladies are Pell City graduates and excited to give back to their community by educating its next productive citizens.

Hughes and Curtis are the nominees for the Elementary (Pre-K -6th) and Secondary (Grades 7th – 12th) and have swept District VI. Meaning out of all the school systems in District VI, Hughes and Curtis were the two chosen in their respective categories. “Which means, one of us could be the Alabama Teacher of the Year, and the other could be the alternate,” stated Hughes. Any way you look at it, this is an incredible accomplishment for Hughes, Curtis and the Pell City School System.

Hughes and Curtis have completed the next step of the process as they submitted headshots and a 10-to-15-minute video of classroom interaction. The state is looking for engagement, student connection and how each teacher interacts in the classroom. Thus far, eight elementary teachers and eight secondary teachers have been asked to submit these videos. After reviewing the Top 16 finalists’ videos, two elementary and two secondary teachers are chosen to create the Final Four. One of the Final Four candidates is chosen as Alabama Teacher of the Year.

The Top 16 are being honored with a dinner in Montgomery on May 8 where the Alabama Teacher of the Year will be announced. The duties of the Alabama Teacher of the Year are to, “serve as a full-time ambassador for the teaching profession for one year by speaking to civic and professional organizations, K-12 schools, colleges and universities; conducting workshops for teachers; and writing newspaper and magazine articles.” 

Humbled, honored and grateful to be nominated and amongst the Top 16 finalists, Hughes and Curtis happily represent the Pell City School System. A school system they’re graduates of and now accept the challenge of maximizing each student’s potential by developing lifelong learners.

For more about the Alabama Teacher of the Year log onto:

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