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School District Announces Finalists for 2023-24 ECSD Teacher of the Year

This school year’s three finalists for Edgefield County School District’s (ECSD) Teacher of the Year include an elementary school counselor, middle school art teacher and middle school music teacher. Johnston-Edgefield-Trenton Middle School Art Teacher, Avis Tuttle Jordan; Merriwether Middle School Music Teacher, Matt Herring; and Johnston Elementary School Counselor, Andra Syms, have a combined 34 years of experience in education.


The ECSD Teacher of the Year will be announced on Friday, September 22, 2023.


Additional 2023-2024 ECSD Teachers of the Year include Merriwether Elementary School Third-Grade Teacher, Janice Bass; W.E. Parker Elementary School Second-Grade Teacher, Jessica Coleman; Strom Thurmond High School Chemistry Teacher, Amy Hardy; and Douglas Elementary School Media Specialist and Inquiry Teacher, Shannon Petty.


ECSD Teacher of the Year Finalist: Avis Tuttle Jordan (J-E-T Middle School)


Things get more than a little messy in Avis Tuttle Jordan’s class. It’s all a part of the plan, though.


“In my classroom, messy organized chaos can be found,” she wrote in her ECSD Teacher of the Year application. “If you look past the messy chaos, you will find students collaborating and taking ownership in creating masterpieces. Encouraging mistakes and messes allows all learners to grow and discover their own style of engagement, empowerment and enrichment with each masterpiece they design. The experience of making a mess, learning from mistakes, and applying new information successfully is powerful.”


She believes giving to be her greatest contribution to education – everything from pencils to personal empowerment.


“In my profession, giving may look different each day,” Tuttle Jordan wrote. “I give pencils and school supplies. I give smiles and hugs to those who might not get one at home or are having a bad day. I give kindness and love to all. I give, to expect nothing in return. No matter how small or big the giving may be, giving will always be my greatest contribution and accomplishment in the education profession. Through giving, I gain so much more.”


ECSD Teacher of the Year Finalist: Matt Herring (Merriwether Middle School)


Matt Herring is a homegrown product of the Edgefield County School District and says his desire to become a teacher was inspired and sustained by the excellence of ECSD teachers.


“My passion for teaching was first ignited by those who taught me,” Herring wrote in his ECSD Teacher of the Year Application. “Throughout my life, I have been blessed to be surrounded by fantastic teachers. During my elementary years, I adored school, mostly because of the phenomenal teachers I had at Johnston Elementary. One in particular that was impactful for me was Donna Sue Rhoden. Ms. Rhoden showed me that teaching can be exciting and leave a lasting impression. When I entered middle school and started to put aside my initial childhood dreams of being a professional athlete or a power ranger, I started to think about what I could realistically become when I grew up. I was having the time of my life in my band class at J-E-T Middle School and thought nothing could be better than being able to do what Mr. Barry Wash and Mr. Van Clark do as a career. They helped to encourage my love for music, and together they changed my life.”


Herring says forging a lasting impact and seeing growth over time in the lives of his own students is what continues to encourage him each new school year.


“The reward that I find in teaching is in the growth that my students achieve,” Herring wrote. “Nothing makes me happier than seeing my students grow from day to day or year to year. The messages I have received from former students thanking me for helping them are what make the teaching profession the most rewarding career I could imagine. I can think of no other job where I could help change the lives of so many people. The classes I teach help students think critically, work with others, discover how to acquire new knowledge, and a host of other skills that will transfer outside of the classroom. By helping them grow in my class, I can help prepare them for the world beyond it. I can make a difference in their lives and through them, the lives of others.”


ECSD Teacher of the Year Finalist: Andra Syms (Johnston Elementary School)


Andra Syms experienced a lot of transition during her schooling years. It’s something that comes along with the territory when you attend 16 different schools by your senior year of high school. All that change, while difficult at the time, served her well in finding a future career.


“Some schools made learning fun and some schools made learning difficult,” Syms wrote in her ECSD Teacher of the Year application. “Teachers that cared seemed to be the teachers that found ways to make learning fun. I wanted to be that kind of teacher.”


“I knew there were students who needed extra love and attention because they were in situations where home life was very difficult,” Syms added. “I knew they could not possibly focus on academics because of issues such as hunger, abuse, neglect, an incarcerated parent and so much more … that is when I decided I wanted to become a school counselor so that I could help these students and help take some of that burden off of the teachers.”


She says building relationships with students is integral to reaching more successful educational experiences and outcomes.


“Building relationships should be at the heart of teaching,” Syms wrote. “When students come to school, and they feel safe and accepted, then they are more likely to open themselves up to learning. Knowing each and every student may take time, but it is time well spent. Strong classroom environments are rigorous and must be a place where students feel comfortable failing. The best learning comes from making mistakes and finding answers through problem solving. Not all students will grow at the same rate, but not all students are destined to do the same things in life. We must meet students where they are so that we can guide them to find their strengths and interests.”


Congratulations again to our 2023-2024 ECSD Teacher of the Year finalists and all of our amazing Teachers of the Year.   

ECSD Public Information Office