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Amy Simmons reacts when her name was announced as the 2014-15 District Teacher of the Year. Hugging Amy is her mother, a 30-year retired Beaufort County teacher. Smiling and clapping, center, is Whale Branch Middle School Principal Matt Hunt.

Teacher of the Year: Whale Branch Middle music teacher honored

A music teacher who attended Beaufort County Schools herself, and whose mother was a teacher at Hilton Head Island High School, was named as Beaufort County’s 2014-2015 District Teacher of the Year.

The selection of Amy Simmons, band director at Whale Branch Middle School, was announced during a breakfast celebration to honor teachers of the year from all of the district’s schools on Friday, Sept. 19.

Amy Simmons reacts when her name was announced as the 2014-15 District Teacher of the Year. Hugging Amy is her mother, a 30-year retired Beaufort County teacher.  Smiling and clapping, center, is Whale Branch Middle School Principal Matt Hunt.
Amy Simmons reacts when her name was announced as the 2014-15 District Teacher of the Year. Hugging Amy is her mother, a 30-year retired Beaufort County teacher. Smiling and clapping, center, is Whale Branch Middle School Principal Matt Hunt.

“Amy exemplifies the key characteristics of a passionate teacher and natural born leader,” said Superintendent Jeff Moss. “Her students succeed because of her skill at engaging them and instilling them with confidence. She encourages, and she pushes, and she challenges them every day to do their best.”

After the announcement, Martha Hartley, chief financial officer of Hilton Head Buick-GMC-Cadillac, offered Simmons her choice of three new cars donated by the dealership for her to use over the coming year, or a $5,000 check. Simmons, who had recently purchased a car, chose the check.

Simmons has been teaching music and directing the band at Whale Branch Middle since 2010 and says her proudest moments in teaching are when students find relationships between standards from their core curriculum within their music lessons.

Principal Matthew Hunt said that while there are many terrific teachers in Beaufort County, it takes a truly gifted and special person to make a difference in the lives of those considered “at-risk” students. “Amy Simmons has worked tirelessly to build and establish quality instructional and educational opportunities for students throughout Beaufort County,” he said, “and we are fortunate that this former Beaufort County student has chosen to call Whale Branch Middle her home.”

According to Simmons, her teaching philosophy is based on a quote that she adopted early on: “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”

One of Simmons’ greatest accomplishments in the classroom was in 2012 when she won a Mr. Holland’s Opus Grant, which purchased much-needed equipment for music classes. Included in that equipment was a collection of steel drums, and over the past two years, the Whale Branch Middle steel drum band has travelled all over the Southeast to perform.

“I chose this profession to help students succeed,” Simmons wrote in her Teacher of the Year application. “I chose this profession to give students the opportunities I had growing up in this very same district.”

Simmons educational background includes: EdS. Education Administration from South Carolina State University; M.A. Teaching with Specialization in National Board Certified Teaching Leadership from National University; B.S. Music Education from South Carolina State University.

The four other finalists for 2014-15 District Teacher of the Year were Michelle Henry of Whale Branch Elementary, Caroleen Hodge of Port Royal Elementary, Annette Lee of Hilton Head Island High School, and Sharon McMahon of Bluffton Middle.

Becoming District Teacher of the Year is a three-step process that begins when school-level teachers of the year are selected in April. Those wishing to compete for District Teacher of the Year submit detailed applications by the end of July.

In the second step, a selection committee consisting of parents, former educators and community leaders from across Beaufort County reviews the applications and rates them using a numerical scoring system.  The five highest-scoring applicants are named as finalists.

In the third step, the finalists are interviewed by a separate review committee again composed of judges from across the county.  Those panelists begin by reviewing videos of the teachers doing classroom lessons. The judges then score candidates based on how well they respond to questions about the teaching methods shown in the videos, as well as how they respond to questions about current education issues.

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