The Tennessee Department of Education announced Kami Lunsford, a 14-year music teacher from Karns Middle School, is the 2020-21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.
Out of nine finalists representing Tennessee’s eight CORE regions, as well as the Shelby County-Municipals area, Ms. Lunsford was selected as the 2020-21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.
Due to the coronavirus and taking necessary safety precautions, the announcement took place completely virtually, including congratulatory messages from Governor Bill Lee and legislators representing areas for various finalists.
Commissioner Schwinn made a surprise in-person visit to Ms. Lunsford at Karns Middle School for the announcement.
“Tennessee is fortunate to have so many talented educators that, now more than ever, are going above and beyond to ensure our kids receive a good education. Congratulations to Kami Lunsford and the 2020-21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalists for this much-deserved recognition and honor,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “Our Tennessee teachers truly embody the meaning behind the Volunteer state, and I am proud to support these dedicated individuals who are shaping the minds of our next generation. I am so thankful to all our incredible teachers across the state for your hard work and commitment to students.”
Additionally, three of the nine Teacher of the Year finalists have been selected to represent the East, Middle and West Grand Divisions of our state. The East Tennessee Grand Division winner is Hannah Hopper, Fairview-Marguerite Elementary in Hamblen County Schools. The Middle Tennessee Grand Division winner is Lauryn England, Fall-Hamilton Elementary in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The West Tennessee Grand Division Winner is Daniel Warner, East High School in Shelby County Schools.
The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, TOSS, was the program sponsor for the virtual event and is a seasoned supporter of the Teacher of the Year program.
“Even in a normal year, teaching is one of the most difficult and noble professions one can choose. COVID-19 has reinforced the point that being a public school educator goes far beyond academic instruction. For many of our students, school is their safe haven and teachers are their first line of defense. The challenges of teaching are exacerbated and multiplied in a time constantly described as ‘unprecedented,’” said Dr. Dale Lynch, executive director of TOSS. “Now more than ever, I commend these educators for dedicating their lives to not only the academic development of our state’s children, but to helping mold them into the caring, hard-working, confident, successful, creative, passionate adults they will become. To our Tennessee Teacher of the Year, the other finalists and nominees, and all the teachers across our state, I want to say thank you.”
Districts were able to nominate three educators representing each of the three grade bands. From over 200 applications, 27 regional semifinalists were identified by CORE region selection committees, and the nine finalists were selected from this group by a state-level selection committee. Following a panel interview, Ms. Lunsford was selected as this year's Teacher of the Year.
“Serving as a voice for your peers is always a huge responsibility, and being a State Teacher of the Year is uniquely special. Representing the thousands of amazing educators in Tennessee is something I have treasured, and it is with a happy heart that I reflect on those experiences. It is my hope that teachers' voices be heard and respected for their intrinsic value always,” said Brian McLaughlin, 2019-20 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. “The Teacher of the Year program and TDOE's Teacher Advisory Council serve as places to give teachers opportunities to share their expertise with leaders in important ways, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve in both capacities."
To qualify for Teacher of the Year, candidates must have been teaching full-time for at least three years, have a track record of exceptional gains in student learning, and be effective school and community leaders.
Ms. Lunsford will represent Tennessee in the National Teacher of the Year competition and serve as an ambassador for education in the state throughout the 2020-21 school year.
All nine finalists will also serve on Commissioner Schwinn’s Teacher Advisory Council for the duration of the 2020-21 school year. This council acts as a working group of expert teachers to provide feedback and inform the work of the department throughout the school year. Additionally, to provide continuity and leadership, the three Grand Division winners will continue their terms on the Council during the 2021-22 school year.
Traditionally, this announcement is made at a banquet, which has been postponed due to coronavirus safety concerns.