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Teacher Appreciation: Celebrating Educators in Georgia, New York, and North Carolina

As we celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week, our goal was to highlight teachers in all nine states where National Heritage Academies has schools. Principals and deans from Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin huddled together to select teachers to feature. It was a challenging task. The biggest issue they had was picking just one name from their lists.
The teachers representing our 98 schools amaze us daily with their ability to connect, care, and create opportunities for our scholars, and for that we are thankful. Here are a few of their stories from Georgia, New York, and North Carolina. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Kenyatta Dixon smiling.
Kenyatta Dixon, fourth-grade teacher, Atlanta Heights Charter School, Atlanta, GA
Developing young minds is a constant focus for Atlanta Heights Charter School fourth-grade teacher Kenyatta Dixon. The fourth-year teacher finds joy in seeing her scholars grow throughout the school year, both in their studies and as people.

“What makes teaching special for me is being able to help my scholars become better versions of themselves,” Dixon said. “I love being the teacher that my scholars are comfortable coming to about anything that they may be struggling with, whether it be educational or personal. It proves that teaching is beyond the classroom. As teachers, we are role models and mentors to our scholars. That makes teaching heartwarming and very special to me.”

Atlanta Heights Principal Alisha Fisher said the school is blessed to have Dixon on staff.

“Kenyatta has a growth mindset and wants to thrive in the profession,” Fisher said. “She displays incredible perseverance and does whatever it takes to yield positive outcomes with her scholars. She's positive, enthusiastic, and passionate about teaching and learning.”

Atlanta Heights Dean of Lower Elementary Lacretia Lewis said Dixon’s dedication to her craft is visible and she is consistent with her actions.

“She takes time to build long lasting and positive relationships with her scholars and parents,” Lewis said. “She also has high integrity, and it shows in her level of planning and instruction that she provides to her scholars on a daily basis.”

Thank you for being such an inspiration to your students, Kenyatta!
 Will Hughes smiling.
New York
Will Hughes, fifth-grade teacher, Brooklyn Dreams Charter School, Brooklyn, NY

Coming from a family of educators, Will Hughes believes he is doing more than just teaching, he is ushering scholars through a revolving door to a world of lifelong lessons.

“Teaching is special for me because it is my chance to create a legacy of learning,” said Hughes, whose parents, siblings, and wife teach, along with several relatives. “The specific subject matter is important, but the chance to establish routine in strife, like my teachers taught to me, is a lesson that still sticks with me to this day.”

That mentality led Hughes to Brooklyn Dreams Charter School, where he started seven and a half years ago as a long-term substitute teacher and now teaches fifth grade. Helping mold fresh faces each year is his favorite aspect of being an educator.

“What excites me most about teaching is witnessing first-hand student development, from struggling, to persevering, to achieving and succeeding,” he said. “Each year, there is a new experience with new challenges. The opportunity to work with a new group of scholars every year and work towards instilling a growth mindset in all scholars is a privilege each and every day.”

Theresa Stoever, Brooklyn Dreams upper elementary dean, said Hughes’ composed demeanor helps him get scholars to succeed.

“He works extremely hard and has really honed his skills to becoming an exemplary teacher,” she said. “I observed him today and his patience is a blessing. He works with many scholars who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in place, yet his stamina and perseverance to close gaps is unprecedented.”
Thank you for all you do, Will!
 Allysa Knaack smiling.
Allysa Knaack, sixth-grade math teacher, Southside Academy Charter School, Syracuse, NY
For Allysa Knaack, sixth-grade math teacher at Southside Academy Charter School, teaching is special to her because she can help scholars work through their difficulties, as well as build and achieve their dreams.
Knaack is in her fifth year of teaching at a National Heritage Academies school.
“I am reinspired to teach every time I see the look of excitement in a scholar’s face when he/she makes a connection that unveils a topic or skill,” she said. “This moment is when feelings of confusion and frustration switch to confidence and excitement. If I can help create as many of these moments as possible, the students will learn to work through the various difficulties they may face, with the assurance that there is an attainable answer or solution, eventually. I am most excited when I see scholars using classroom skills to set themselves up for success.”
Knaack made the switch this year to teach sixth-grade math. She had previously taught in second grade for numerous years and was ready to make a change to teach middle school scholars.
“Her resilience and flexibility are astounding,” Southside Executive Principal Tammy Pugh said. “She is what's best for students. She is kind, welcoming and really holds students accountable when the going gets tough. If you were to visit our building, you would see her having private conversations with students to get them on the right path and teaching her heart out.”
“She has really dived into the sixth-grade curriculum to figure out what students need the most to better prepare them for the next grade level, their future, and the assessments that they are being given. We are very lucky to have Ms. Knaack at our school and supporting our scholars daily.”
Dean of Middle School, Tammy Curry, says Knaack is a dynamic teacher and role model.
“Knaack runs a tight ship. Her ability to form relationships with scholars and parents is astonishing. We have utilized her leadership skills in a variety of ways, dean prep, math content lead, teacher mentor, model in restorative conversations and safety coordinator. I love her positive attitude and her affectionate smile. She’s a breath of fresh air and an asset to our Southside community.”
Knaack feels a great sense of responsibility and pride in being a stable, helpful, and encouraging influence in her scholars’ lives.
“Teaching is special for me because I feel I can instill self-created hope and possibility in the students,” Knaack said. “When I had difficult moments in my life, my best teachers/professors were able to recognize my struggle and use the content to help me deal with it. Many of our students have already dealt with a lot in their lives, but they have endless opportunities ahead of them.
“This job is special to me because I can hopefully help scholars work through their difficulties, as well as build and achieve their dreams.”
Thank you, Allysa, for helping your scholars build and achieve their dreams!

Matthew Snow smiling.
North Carolina
Matthew Snow, EC teacher, Gate City Charter Academy, Greensboro, NC
Matthew Snow is one of the founding teachers at Gate City Charter Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina, but got his start at another National Heritage Academies school, Research Triangle Charter Academy in Durham, N.C. He serves as a teacher of Exceptional Children.

“What excites me about teaching is that it can be a different experience from day-to-day,” Snow said. “You never know what a student is going to do or tell you (especially a middle school student).”

Gate City Academic Interventionist Elena Brown said Snow is always willing to fill a need whenever or wherever needed.

“Mr. Snow is relatable to his students and takes an interest in their interests,” Brown said. “They know that his room is a safe haven for learning, making mistakes, and talking through any issues they may have.”

Snow has served the Exceptional Children's department in varying capacities, including as an adaptive and resource EC teacher.

“He has built quality relationships with students, staff, and parents, and they all know that they can depend on him for help and/or advice,” Brown said.

Snow said he finds joy in seeing his students find success.

“Watching students have that ‘breakthrough’ moment where they've accomplished something that they've worked for is very fulfilling,” he said.

Thank you for leading your scholars toward success, Matthew!

Shelby Watkins smiling.
Shelby Watkins, fourth-grade ELA teacher, Wake Forest Charter Academy, Wake Forest, NC
Shelby Watkins is a third-year teacher at Wake Forest Charter Academy who makes a point of staying in-tune with her students’ emotional well-being. The fourth-grade ELA teacher has earned praise from Upper Elementary Dean Candice Conn for her approach to teaching.

“Shelby has high expectations for herself and her students,” Conn said. “She can make sincere connections with the students and bring relevancy to the content she teaches so that students can make authentic connections, therefore enhancing their learning experience.

“She is adept at helping students navigate their feelings and emotions in positive, constructive ways.”
Watkins said she focuses on getting students together to further their educational advancement.

“The things I find most exciting are helping students learn to collaborate with each other and finding new ways to help my students grow academically and emotionally,” Watkins said.

“Teaching is such a special thing to me because I get to help my students realize their unique potential and guide them on their path to success.”

Wake Forest Principal Brandi Gill said Watkins has a special connection with her students.

“Shelby is very creative in the way she presents lessons to students,” Gill said. “She builds strong relationships with students and parents.”
Thanks for all you do to support your scholars, Shelby!
About Wake Forest Charter Academy
Wake Forest Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Wake Forest, North Carolina, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes 99 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

Visit Wake Forest Charter Academy's blog to read more stories like this.