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West Carroll Graduate is Tennessee Teacher of the Year

Posted 9/22/20

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Education announced Kami Lunsford, a 14-year music teacher from Karns Middle School, is the 2020-21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. The West Carroll High …

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West Carroll Graduate is Tennessee Teacher of the Year


NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Education announced Kami Lunsford, a 14-year music teacher from Karns Middle School, is the 2020-21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. The West Carroll High School graduate received the honor on September 10.

Lunsford has been sharing her love of learning and music with students, teachers, and future educators in all three regions of Tennessee for her entire career. As choir director at Karns Middle School, she uses singing, guitar, ukulele and percussion to help students find their place in middle school and promote personal and academic success. She operates before- and after-school programs, including theater and advanced ensembles that seek to expose students to disciplines, careers and opportunities in the arts. She credits exceptional, visionary K-12 teachers in her rural, west Tennessee upbringing for her passion to provide opportunities in creativity and leadership that equip students for their future, wherever it takes them. Paying it forward has always been the goal.

Two-time Middle School Teacher of the Year for Knox County Schools, she consistently answers the call to serve her school and county through leadership and collaboration on improvement initiatives. She actively supports Tennessee teachers as an evaluator and mentor, as well as a facilitator for the Tennessee Arts Academy at Belmont University.

Her music ensembles have performed in nine states and extensively in Tennessee, recording at Studio B in Nashville, live at Graceland in Memphis, and alongside performers like Knoxville star Chris Blue.

Many of her students have pursued careers in music, performance, church music, theater and education. She counts the privilege of using music and the arts to help kids build a better life as “the best job in the world.”

Lunsford said, “I would love to publicly thank some key West Carroll teachers who not only helped prepare me for my career, but also played a big part in my being able to handle the competition components. Randy Wilson, Cory Bridges, Pamela Joyner, Joyce Scates and the late Dianne Hicks. These people made me believe I could do and be anything, and I wanted to be them.”

While in high school, she served as the field commander for the West Carroll Marching War Eagles.

Her mother, Joyce Lunsford of Trezevant, along with her supportive family, made sure she had opportunities to pursue music. She grew up surrounded by great musicians like Mrs. Peggy Conley, Mrs. Patricia Gowan, Mrs. Teresa Norton and Mrs. Suzanne Atwood, along with strong educator models like Pat Hudgins, Claudia Argo, Angie Moore and Bro. Malcolm Norton. Her husband, Mark Naylor, a web developer and Director of Internet Communications for UT sports, is also a musician originally from McLemoresville, and has played a large part in her success at Karns Middle, as well as her pursuits in the theater and music scenes of Knoxville.

Teacher of the Year candidates are chosen first at their school, then county. The third round is narrowed to the top nine teachers, who will all serve together on the teacher advisory board for the Tennessee Department of Education. Submitting a resumé and several essays on educational issues, as well as interviews, are big parts of the process, with this year’s interviews being conducted virtually.

On September 9, the TDOE held a virtual banquet in which the top nine were honored at their local school during a ceremony that included awarding three grand division winners for west, middle, and east Tennessee. The event included congratulatory messages from Governor Bill Lee and legislators representing areas for various finalists.

The final announcement was delivered with a surprise visit from Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and Dale Lynch, director of Tennessee Office of School Superintendents (TOSS), who awarded Lunsford with a $3,000 check and the title of Tennessee Teacher of the Year 2020-2021.

“Tennessee is fortunate to have so many talented educators that, now more than ever, are going above and beyond to ensure our kids receive a good education. Congratulations to Kami Lunsford and the 2020-21 Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalists for this much-deserved recognition and honor,” said Commissioner Schwinn. “Our Tennessee teachers truly embody the meaning behind the Volunteer state, and I am proud to support these dedicated individuals who are shaping the minds of our next generation. I am so thankful to all our incredible teachers across the state for your hard work and commitment to students.”

Additionally, three of the nine Teacher of the Year finalists have been selected to represent the East, Middle, and West Grand Divisions of the state. The East Tennessee Grand Division winner is Hannah Hopper, Fairview-Marguerite Elementary in Hamblen County Schools. The Middle Tennessee Grand Division winner is Lauryn England, Fall-Hamilton Elementary in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The West Tennessee Grand Division Winner is Daniel Warner, East High School in Shelby County Schools.

Brian McLaughlin, 2019-20 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, said, “Serving as a voice for your peers is always a huge responsibility, and being a State Teacher of the Year is uniquely special. Representing the thousands of amazing educators in Tennessee is something I have treasured, and it is with a happy heart that I reflect on those experiences. It is my hope that teachers’ voices be heard and respected for their intrinsic value always. The Teacher of the Year program and TDOE’s Teacher Advisory Council serve as places to give teachers opportunities to share their expertise with leaders in important ways, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve in both capacities.”

To qualify for Teacher of the Year, candidates must have been teaching full-time for at least three years, have a track record of exceptional gains in student learning, and be effective school and community leaders.

Lunsford will represent Tennessee in the National Teacher of the Year competition and serve as an ambassador for education in the state throughout the 2020-21 school year.

All nine finalists will also serve on Commissioner Schwinn’s Teacher Advisory Council for the duration of the 2020-21 school year. This council acts as a working group of expert teachers to provide feedback and inform the work of the department throughout the school year. Additionally, to provide continuity and leadership, the three Grand Division winners will continue their terms on the Council during the 2021-22 school year.


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