The Gardener, The Caregiver, and The Teacher Leader: What Our Three 2023 Teachers of the Year are Known For

Jon House

“The Gardener”

Grades PreK-4

Jon House, a second grade teacher at Forest Hill elementary, has been named the GMSD Teacher of the Year for grades PreK-4.

Mr. House is a dedicated and innovative teacher who has made a significant impact on the students and community at Forest Hill. One of his notable achievements is the gardening club he runs, which has helped raise thousands of dollars to plan and install a learning garden and hydroponic plant stations. Not only does this provide a hands-on learning experience for his students, but it also teaches them about the importance of environmental conservation.

In addition to his passion for gardening, Mr. House also incorporates music into his lessons. He plays the ukulele during class, adding an element of fun and creativity to the learning experience. He also has a huge classroom library, encouraging his students to explore the joys of reading.

Mr. House's dedication to his students and commitment to making learning fun and engaging make him a deserving recipient of this honor.  In a statement, Principal Zac Percoski said, "Mr. House is passionate about creating an engaging and stimulating learning environment for our students.  His efforts to make the learning experience interactive and fun for the students show how much he cares about them.  As a matter of fact, Mr. House cares so deeply about the growth of each and every student in his class that he takes it personally when the growth is not up to his standard."

Alicia Breen

“The Caretaker”

Grades 5-8

Alicia Breen is an 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Houston Middle School who has made a significant impact on her students' lives. She is beloved by her students and former students, whom many credit her as one of the main reasons they decided to become teachers themselves. Several current teachers at the school are former students and have cited Ms. Breen as the inspiration for their decision to pursue a career in education and even to work at Houston Middle School.

Ms. Breen's dedication to her students extends beyond the classroom. She is the leader of the hospitality committee at the school and knows everyone's birthdays and anniversaries. She is also known to make home visits to students who are sick, further demonstrating her commitment to her students' well-being.


Ms. Breen also serves as the Blue Chip Mentor for new HMS educators. During monthly meetings, Mrs. Breen always makes sure the new teachers have up to date information and goes the extra mile to provide tasty treats. She always makes sure her Blue Chips are taken care of.

According to Principal ShaMira Davis, "Really, she's incredible--the first to arrive and the last to leave each day--and I cannot think of anyone more dedicated to their students or to this school." Ms. Breen's dedication and hard work have undoubtedly made a positive impact on the lives of her students, and her contributions to education will be felt for years to come.

Valerie McKinney 

“The Teacher Leader”

Grades 9-12

Valerie McKinney, an AP English and AP Seminar teacher at Houston High School, has been named the Teacher of the Year for grades 9-12. This prestigious award recognizes her dedication and excellence in teaching, as well as her contributions to the school community.

Ms. McKinney is well-respected by both her colleagues and students. Vice Principal Gillespie praises her as a " teacher and staff member adept at creating a positive culture" and notes her skill in communicating the needs of the English Department at advisory meetings, supporting her colleagues, and challenging students with high expectations in her classroom.

Principal Rob Taylor also recognizes Ms. McKinney's dedication to the school. He says, "She is often here helping kids on the weekends and is always looking for ways to better things." In addition to her role as department chair and her efforts to organize staff get-togethers and prepare excellent instruction, Ms. McKinney also sponsors the mock trial team for the school.

As Teacher of the Year, Ms. McKinney serves as an inspiration to her colleagues and students alike. She truly embodies the spirit of teaching and is an asset to the Houston High School community.

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