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District Announces 2020 Stars of Public Education Honor Court Members

Aiken County Public Schools is proud to honor and recognize the many contributions of its Stars of Public Education. These “stars” are Educators, Principals, First-Year Teachers, and Support Staff employees. For 2020, we are thrilled to announce the addition of Assistant Principals to our expanding “stars” lineup.

This year our Stars of Public Education have shined brighter than ever during the response to Covid-19 when educators have faced unprecedented challenges in providing educational services and additional supports to their students and families. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the annual Aiken County Public Schools’ Stars of Public Education event which had been scheduled for June 2, 2020, has been postponed until later in the year.

For now, it is time to announce our 2020 Stars of Public Education Honor Court Members. 


Our 2020 Teacher of the Year Honor Court members include Rachel Creasy of Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School, John Kucela of North Augusta High School, Heather Logan of Paul Knox Middle School, Misty McConnell of Redcliffe Elementary School, and Nicole Stansell of Kennedy Middle School.

Rachel Creasy is an ESOL (English as a Second Language) teacher who began her educational career very early in her life by “teaching” dolls as a young girl. She teaches because children deserve a safe place to learn, grow and feel valued, and to help all students gain confidence to find their voices and use them to make our world a better place.

John Kucela is a special education teacher who always wanted to be a teacher and a coach. His high school teachers and coaches instilled in him the love of education and learning, and to this day, he still feels that he is in the greatest profession that one could be in.

Heather Logan teaches seventh-grade English Language Arts and is an eighth-grade PRO TEAM teacher. In second grade, her teacher took an interest in her and helped her come out of her shell. She never forgot the kindness, patience, and compassion her teacher bestowed, and the impact her second grade teacher had on her led in part to her decision later in life to become a teacher.

Misty McConnell is a third-grade teacher who appreciated school very early in life as a safe haven. As a student, school was a place where she could blend in with her classmates and conform to the everyday expectations and structure. As a teacher, she gives every child a safe-haven to come to every day. She lets every child know they have a place to come to that is their home, where they are loved, accepted and can grow as a learner. 

Nicole Stansell teaches eighth-grade mathematics and geometry. She promotes fun, growth, and security in her classroom. Inspired to pursue teaching by her high school math teacher, she works hard to implement the same loving atmosphere where students are welcomed, safe, and supported to grow socially, academically, and emotionally.


Our 2020 First-Year Teacher of the Year Honor Court members include Natalie Hornsby of South Aiken High School, Carina McGee of Aiken High School, and Briante Perkins of Kennedy Middle School.

Natalie Hornsby teaches Algebra I and Geometry. She believes students need not only guided practice, but independent practice as well. She feels students need to be able to apply skills they learn throughout the year to tasks and real-world situations. She believes that because the world we live in is more social, teachers need to help their students become well-rounded individuals. This includes helping build communication skills and the ability to work with others.

Carina McGee teaches advanced English I and English II, and her personal philosophy is no matter how many negative things we may see and experience, it is our duty to work to make sure we make the world a little bit brighter than it was before we arrived here. While research, informative writing, critical reading, discussion, analysis, and persuasive speech all ensure students are pushed to mastery for state standards and the critical thinking skills necessary beyond school, she feels they also remind students that they are not powerless to invoke change. She believes this is truly what teaching is meant to do: mold the next generation of leaders into individuals that, no matter how bleak things become, will work to keep moving forward.

Briante Perkins teaches English and Social Studies. Choosing to educate is one of the only decisions she feels passionate about choosing even on her worst days. Rarely does she refer to herself as a teacher, and the reason for this is simple: she is far more than a teacher. Her passion to educate bypasses the standards and the curriculum taught; it reaches her students as individuals and permits her to develop students as young adults.


Our 2020 Giving Even More (GEM) of the Year Honor Court members include Jamie Busbee of Millbrook Elementary School, Brook Byers of Busbee Elementary School, Nicci Cabiness of Mossy Creek Elementary School, Kimberly Estep of Warrenville Elementary, and Rhonda Norris of North Augusta High School.

Jamie Busbee is a Secretary who says she loves that her co-workers also share a mindset of making their students feel loved. She witnesses teachers on a daily basis taking the time to have personal connections with their students, giving them that extra attention that some students need and desire. She knows families in the community have struggles we may never know about, and believes sometimes all they need is to feel welcome, and know that someone cares.

Brook Byers is a Parent Involvement Aide who finds it hard to put into words how much enjoyment and satisfaction she gets from working at her school. When she transferred schools, she was fearful of the change, but her fears were quickly put to rest, as her school and coworkers have become like family. Walking through the school doors each day fulfills her because she knows she is home.

Nicci Cabiness is a Bookkeeper who says her school is a happy place for both she and many of the students that may have struggles in their home life. She knows students can come to school and know the entire time they are there they are supported, loved and they can forget any worries they carry with them daily. That’s one of the many reasons she says she loves her school.

Kimberly Estep is an Instructional Aide who says it is such a blessing to work with, and learn from, some of the most caring, dedicated administrators, teachers, and staff she has ever known. She says it is a joy to come to work knowing she will be among family. Nothing warms her heart more than when a child stops her in the hallway for a hug, and to let her know they haven't been in any trouble and are making better choices. Sometimes it is simply when a student says "thank you" for listening to their problem or hands her a heartfelt note or drawing. In moments like these, she knows she is where she is supposed to be.

Rhonda Norris is a Guidance Secretary who feels being a part of such an awesome, cohesive team is so rewarding. Some of the greatest joy she experiences comes from helping students interact with the community. Whether it’s visiting the elementary and middle schools to participate in parades or Relay for Life, we are able to share valuable experiences that bring the community together. She believes school employees have the privilege of being stewards of children’s futures and the responsibility to nurture, teach and help our students grow as individuals and leaders.


Our 2020 Assistant Principal of the Year Honor Court members include Jamie Byrne of Aiken Intermediate School, Lindsey Hager of North Augusta Elementary School, and Tami Shaffer of South Aiken High School.

Jamie Byrne believes as an educator it is a vital part of the success of a school’s culture that all students, faculty and staff are known and valued. Whether coaching teachers to improve and strengthen their instructional practices in order to provide high-quality education to all our students, or greeting students in the carline, she feels strongly about ensuring that all students and staff feel valued.

Lindsey Hager feels a school leader is instrumental to shaping school culture by fostering well-being and safety, so students and adults learn and interact productively. Her success in creating a high-quality culture comes from a belief that school culture depends more than anything else on the quality of relationships. She believes when students and teachers feel like they are respected and valued they will have more success in the school, academically and behaviorally.

Tami Shaffer believes traditional school structure may sometimes lead to a learning institution becoming school-centered instead of student-centered. A student-centered school culture embraces instructional methods with a mindset focused on facilitating learning for students. Student–centered learning cultures shift the responsibility for learning from teacher to student and empower students to take ownership of their success and growth while defining values that help inform organizational decision-making and school goals.                                                                                                                 


Our 2020 Principal of the Year Honor Court members include Shunte Dugar of New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School, Dr. Jason Holt of Aiken High School, and Pat Wilson of North Augusta Elementary School.

According to her nomination for Principal of the Year, Shunte Dugar’s enthusiasm and love for educational excellence has allowed her school to become successful and exceed academic expectations. She knows every child by name and serves as an advocate for students, teachers, and parents. She encourages teachers to use data to drive instruction and small group practices to address remedial concerns. Her success is marked by student performance and growth over time.

Dr. Jason Holt’s nomination for Principal of the Year states that his number one leadership quality is a willingness and desire to communicate. He listens to his staff and students to determine what is best for everyone, and he demonstrates true leadership and a willingness to listen and communicate. He listens and talks with all stakeholders, bringing the entire school family together.

According to her nomination for Principal of the Year, Pat Wilson is happy and proud of each child and knows personal facts about them to let them know she cares for them. She encourages her faculty and staff to work as a team and grow as a team so you feel like you are part of the team. She utilizes data and works with the teachers to develop plans to support any students in need.

Congratulations to our 2020 Stars of Public Education Honor Court members and all of our school-level nominees for all you do to ensure Aiken County Public Schools is the family- and student-centered learning institution our community deserves.


ACPSD Communications Department