The Shining Stars in Our Universe

Teacher of the Year, Katherine Highsmith, Takes Learning to a Higher Level

Katherine Highsmith, a global inquiry and design teacher at Weddington Hills Elementary School, has enjoyed a year as being known as the Cabarrus County Schools (CCS) Teacher of the Year (2019-2020). Awards are not foreign to this outstanding educator. Katherine Highsmith was a Teacher of the Year Finalist in 2010 and the Mount Pleasant High School Teacher of the Year. The Cabarrus County Education Foundation and Union Power Cooperative have awarded her grants.

In an article in the Independent Tribune, Weddington Hills Elementary School Principal Chasity Dolan sings her praises. “Kate has a natural ability to connect with students and make learning meaningful to them. Her lessons are well-planned, and she links prior learning to new curricular information. She implements varied strategies in order to reach the range of student abilities in her classroom. Her students, as well as her peers, confirm her exceptional qualities as a leader and motivator. Moreover, Kate has a natural ability to communicate well with others and her global mission and vision are evident in all that she does both personally and professionally. Her commitment to success is unmatched, and she is always willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Kate’s dedication and work ethic paired with her patience and compassion have an overarching impact in our school and community and for that we are very fortunate.”

Read more about her here.

As the school year comes to a close, and the work is still getting done, albeit remotely, five amazing finalists were waiting in the wings for their chance at the title. One of them has just been identified as the new 2020-2021 Cabarrus County Schools Teacher of the Year! Learn about all of the finalists below, and go to the district website to see who earned the high honor!

Our Finalists

Hear from each of our 2019-2020 finalists and learn about what inspires them.

Finalist Rachel Harkey

is Exceptional at Individualized Teaching


Rachel Harkey, a senior special education educator at Mary Frances Wall Center, a preschool for children with exceptional needs, found her calling by working with those who need individualized educational attention.

According to an article in the Independent Tribune, she expressed, “I really preferred to build those social emotional skills with children and I like to lay that foundation because that foundation is so crucial to their life success that if we give them skills when they’re three, four, five, six years old—which has been my experience range in teaching—you really set that child up to be successful in life.”

To learn more about this Teacher of the Year finalists’ exceptional approach to teaching, visit the article  HERE >


Finalist Steven Stevens

Teaches to a Different Beat


Hickory Ridge Middle School’s band director, a finalist for Teacher of the Year, has not only made being in the band cool, he’s also using the instrument of his teaching to develop the soft skills of his students.

In an article in the Independent Tribune, he says, “Music is just the tool or the avenue that I use to help kids become great people, successful people, and productive citizens. That’s kind of my philosophy wrapped up pretty tight.” Read more about his journey that continues to deliver a beautiful teaching performance for our students HERE >


Finalist D’Aulan McCord

Takes Teaching to Heart


As a CCS Teacher of the Year finalist who is a math and Exceptional Children instructor at Central Cabarrus High School, D’Aulan McCord always puts the students’ best interest first and goes the extra mile to show that she genuinely cares about them.

In an article in the Independent Tribune, she said “I try very hard to build relationships with my students because my philosophy is that when you start a foundation with building a strong relationship, then when kids are struggling or they may not feel as safe as they can—as it relates to learning the content—they will come to you and they will work with you. So I make it a point that no matter what I’m doing I talk about the relationships I forge with my students. I’m very proud of that.”

Read more about how she became so passionate about teaching HERE >

Finalist Katherine Clardy

Renaissance Educator Wears Many Hats


Katherine Clardy, seventh grade teacher (and so much more) at Concord Middle School, is exceptional in so many ways, inside and outside of the classroom. Not only is she assigned to her own classroom, but she also serves as the grade-level chair, coaches the school’s LEGO team, and is the head coach of both the girls and boys soccer teams!

According to an article in the Independent Tribune, Principal Liz Snyder calls her—the school’s “anything-you-need person.” Read more about how this Teacher of the Year finalist juggles it all HERE >


Finalist Emily Wagoner

Seeking Equity in Education

The youngest of the five Teacher of the Year finalists, Emily Wagoner, a third-grade teacher in her first year at R. Brown McAllister Elementary School, has her eyes set on becoming an administrator so she can make an even bigger impact on students.

In an article about her in the Independent Tribune, her principal, Jessica Blanchard, said, “She’s amazing, hardworking and dedicated, but she probably holds herself to higher standards than anyone else possibly could.” Read more about her fascinating matriculation to her current position HERE >