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Pine Tree Hill teacher Corey Johnson named 2023 KCSD Teacher of the Year; Lugoff-Elgin Middle School teacher Sara Ponds to serve as first alternate

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Nicole Kirkley, Sara Ponds, Corey Johnson, and Savannah HarveyPine Tree Hill Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Corey Johnson was named 2023 Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Teacher of the Year at a celebration tonight, while Lugoff-Elgin Middle School chorus, piano and musical theater teacher Sara Ponds was chosen as first alternate.

Also honored during the evening’s celebration was Jackson School’s first-grade teacher Savannah Harvey who was named as the district’s Outstanding First Year Teacher. Blaney Elementary School Principal Nicole Kirkley was recognized as the district’s 2023 Principal of the Year.

All 18 Kershaw County schools selected teachers of the year. Johnson and Ponds were two of five honor roll teachers selected as finalists for the district award. Other honor roll teachers are Arisleida De Guzman, Camden High School; Karen Hill, North Central High School; and Casey Stevens, Lugoff-Elgin High School.

Johnson joined KCSD in 2021 as a fourth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher after teaching in Florence School District Three from 2016-2021. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of South Carolina before obtaining his teaching certificate through the Teach for America certification program. Johnson earned a Master of Education in Teaching and Learning from Francis Marion University in 2022. 

“I have had an unconventional path to becoming a teacher, but I am expanding the way my students think, and I am leaving my mark on the education field. As an African American male teacher, I can be a role model to many of my young male students who may not see themselves reflected in the education field," Johnson said. He added, "I bring enthusiasm to my classroom and uplift all of my students to become truly engaged in their school work. My students do not merely sit in class, they enjoy learning."

His principal Markeita Barber called Johnson a "rock star educator." She added, "Walking into his classroom is always an adventure. He teaches with passion, builds authentic relationships with students and parents, and creates an environment where all students feel success.”

Ponds has taught at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School since 2016. She is a member of the South Carolina Music Education Association and the American Choral Directors Association.

Kirkley has served as principal of Blaney Elementary since 2021. She was a student at Blaney Elementary in the 1990s and graduated from Lugoff-Elgin High School. Prior to joining Blaney’s staff in 2019 as an assistant principal, she was an assistant principal at Camden Middle School for three years and served as an assistant administrator for two years.

Harvey is the 15th KCSD educator to receive the district’s award to honor first year teachers. She teaches first grade, where she uses various modalities of learning in her instruction, including creative centers for group work and guided instruction in a teacher-led group.

Harvey’s principal Estelle Benson says, “Ms. Harvey has created an environment where her students are eager to learn. She is a team player who demonstrates a daily passion for teaching her students.”

Other Outstanding First Year Teacher honor roll finalists are Alyssa Connell, Lugoff Elgin High; Maegan McBride, Stover Middle; and Heather Reid, North Central Middle.

All of the 2023 local school teachers of the year were honored at the celebration. They are:

Blaney Elementary - Jonathan Hunt
Camden Elementary - Megan Brazell
Camden High - Arisleida De Guzman
Camden Middle - Kera Watts
Continuous Learning Center - Vermonica Murphy
Doby’s Mill Elementary - Kasey Lundeen
Jackson School - Veronica Jamison
Lugoff Elementary - Ashley Benge
Lugoff-Elgin High - Casey Stevens
Lugoff-Elgin Middle - Sara Ponds
Midway Elementary - Denee Hayes
North Central Elementary - Rebekah Branham
North Central High - Karen Hill
North Central Middle - Hunter Frye
Pine Tree Hill Elem. - Corey Johnson
Stover Middle - Sara Miskin
Wateree Elementary - Laresa Campbell
Woolard Technology Center - Bryan Catoe
Photograph attached: L-R, Principal of the Year Nicole Kirkley; Sara Ponds, first alternate; Corey Johnson, 2023 Teacher of the Year; Savannah Harvey, Outstanding First Year Teacher
Becky Bean
(803) 432-8416