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Pigeon Forge Teacher Finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Pigeon Forge Teacher Finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year

The Tennessee Department of Education has announced the finalists for the 2015-16 Tennessee Teacher of the Year Award and a local Pigeon Forge teacher made the list.

Dr. Karen Kelly of Pigeon Forge High School is among nine finalists up for the 2015-16 Tennessee Teacher of the Year Award. The finalists are elementary, middle, and high school educators from each Grand Division of the state: west, middle and east Tennessee.

A panel of professional educators from across the state chose the finalists based upon stringent criteria, including each teacher’s proven record of using creative, research-based teaching strategies that resulted in measurable achievement.

“Teachers are the biggest factor in the success of our students, and it is an honor to celebrate educators that are helping their students grow,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said. “We celebrate these finalists, but also the thousands of dedicated educators across the state.”

2015-16 Tennessee Teacher of the Year Finalists:

West Tennessee

CORE Region Teacher School District
Shelby/Municipals Tonya Hawkins Arlington Elementary Arlington Community
Southwest Cathy Whitehead West Chester Elementary Chester County
Northwest Pamela Copeland Dresden Middle Weakley County


Middle Tennessee

CORE Region Teacher School District
Mid Cumberland Kyle Prince Central Magnet Rutherford County
South Central Regina Peery McDowell Elementary Maury County
Upper Cumberland Gay Burger East Side Elementary Cannon County


East Tennessee

CORE Region Teacher School District
Southeast Adam Moss Arnold Memorial Elementary Cleveland City
East Tennessee Karen Kelley Pigeon Forge High Sevier County
First Tennessee Rebekah Haren Dobyns-Bennett High Kingsport City


Judges will interview the nine finalists in August 2015 to select a winner in each of the three Grand Divisions, and one of those three will be named Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Winners will be announced at a banquet later in the year.

The finalists will have the opportunity to join the commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Council, which offers insight, feedback, and advice on issues that impact teachers across the state.

“Seeking feedback and advice from our Teacher of the Year finalists is a critical step in ensuring that we are learning from and listening to teachers from all regions of our state,” Commissioner McQueen said.

Pigeon Forge Teacher Finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Dr. Karen Kelley of Pigeon Forge High School, 2015-16 Tennessee Teacher of the Year Award Finalist.

This is the second time Dr. Kelley has been selected as a finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year, having also been a finalist in 2011 when the award went to another Pigeon Forge teacher, Dr. Cheryl Deaton of Pigeon Forge Primary.

Dr. Kelley has spent most of her teaching career dedicated to the kids of Pigeon Forge. She began teaching in 1998 at a school in Hamblen County and joined the staff at Pigeon Forge High School in 1999. She is chair of the Social Studies Department and sponsors the school’s Key Club.

“We are extremely proud that this year she is one of the finalists for Tennessee Teacher of the Year,” said Benjamin Clabo, Ph. D., principal of Pigeon Forge High School.

Dr. Kelley has also twice received Building Level and System Level Teacher of the Year for High Schools.

When asked about Dr. Kelley’s outstanding achievements, Dr. Clabo highlighted that she attended Advanced Placement Psychology training through the College Board so the school could continue adding to its Advanced Placement (AP) program. 17 out of 23 students in her first AP Psychology class made the qualifying score on the AP exam to receive college credit in Psychology.

“Dr. Karen Kelley is a remarkable classroom teacher who daily goes above and beyond to help her students,” Dr. Clabo said. “She is also a leader in our school who is respected by students, colleagues, and the community. She represents the very best of Pigeon Forge High School and our entire profession. She is exactly the caliber teacher and person deserving of recognition at all levels. We are extremely proud of Karen for what she has done and continues to do for our students and school. Go Tigers!”

About Candice Fitzgibbons

I am a Sevier County resident and active in my local community. I’ve spent more than 20 years as a graphic designer and copywriter, creating marketing materials to help small to medium sized businesses and non-profit organizations achieve their goals. I have a passion for equality, the environment and animal rights.