Past Award Winners

2023 Teacher Achievement Award Winners

Published: 9/15/2023 4:22 PM

Group Picture of 2024 KY Teacher of the Year award winners 

The Valvoline Teacher Achievement Awards program recognizes 24 outstanding teachers in the Commonwealth, culminating in the presentation of the distinguished Kentucky Teacher of the Year Award. Kentucky public school teachers with at least three years of service are eligible. Nominations open in November.


On Sept. 20, 2022, 6th-grade English Language Arts teacher Mandy Perez was named the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. Additional information about the 2023 elementary, middle and high school teachers of the year, as well as the 2023 Kentucky Teacher Achievement Award winners is available on this webpage.

Mandy Perez
2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and 2023 Middle School Teacher of the Year
Crittenden County Middle School (Crittenden County)
Kelly Gates
2023 Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year
​​Pride Elementary (Hopkins County)
Amber Sergent
2023 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year
Woodford County High School (Woodford County)

Read more about the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year winners on Kentucky Teacher

24 Kentucky Valvoline Teacher Achievement Award winners named for 2023

​​Elementary School Teacher Achievement Award Winners

      ​        Elementary Teacher Brewer Rebecca​​​​​​​​

​Rebecca Brewer, Norton Commons Elementary (Jefferson County)

Rebecca Brewer, a teacher for 10 years, has served as the 3rd grade and 4th grade team leader, Bellarmine literacy project coach and on the interview and culture and climate committees at her school. Brewer choreographed the spring plays, coached cheerleading and problem solving, led a drama club for grades 3 through 5 and helped other teachers with technology. She values the incorporation of technology, hands-on learning and the arts to create memorabl​​e ​​learning expe​​riences.

​               Elementary Teacher Buchanon Ashley

​Ashley Buchanon, Rockfield Elementary (Warren County)

Ashley Buchanon, an educator for 10 years, holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Kentucky University. She has been a Kentucky math teacher leader since 2010 and archery and academic team coach since 2014. She currently teaches 4th grade and serves on her school’s site-based decision making council.

​               Elementary Teacher Gates Kelly

​Kelly Gates, Pride Elementary (Hopkins County)

Kelly Gates, a 25-year teaching veteran, is a 5th-grade teacher. She holds an associate degree from Madisonville Community College, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Western Kentucky University and a master’s degree from Indiana Wesleyan University. In 2016, she was named Hopkins County Schools Elementary Teacher of the year; 2019, Farm Bureau Kentucky Teacher of the Year; and 2020, Hopkins County Farm City Educator of the year. In 2021, she received the National Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture Award. For the past decade, she has volunteered to host a year-round school gardening club. 

​                    Elementary Teacher Amber Hays

​Amber Hays, Thelma B. Johnson Early Learning Center (Henderson County)

Amber Hays, an early childhood educator, earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Kentucky and a master’s degree in special education from Murray State University. Hays is a national board certified teacher and was named a 2007 Walmart Teacher of the Year. She has developed relationships with students that continue beyond their preschool year.

              ​ Elementary Teacher Shannon  Kay

​Shannon Kay, New Haven Elementary (Boone County)

Shannon Kay is a 15-year veteran teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a master’s degree in educational leadership with a focus in diversity studies and educational theorists from University of Cincinnati. Kay started a classroom designed for preschool and kindergarten aged children with autism. Her experience includes serving on the positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) team, on the vertical reading team and as a team leader. Kay has continued to learn through continued education and professional development opportunities.

​                    Elementary Teacher Julie Moore

​Julie Moore, School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Bluegrass (Fayette County)

Julie Moore is a 15-year veteran teacher. Moore was selected as the 2017 KSTA Elementary Science Teacher of the Year. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Roanoke College, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Midway College and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Kentucky (UK). She parents two children, Gus – a 7th grade art major at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Bluegrass – and Kate – a 5th grade drama major at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts at bluegrass.

​                    Elementary Teacher Melinda Richardson

​Melinda Richardson, Clay City Elementary (Powell County)

Melinda Richardson has been teaching for 18 years. She holds bachelor’s degrees in elementary education and biology from Georgetown College and a master’s degree in elementary education from Eastern Kentucky University. She sponsors after-school programs, clubs and mentoring grants. Richardson has been selected as one of the teachers to work with the PEBC (Public Education and Business Coalition) Initiative with a group of educators from Colorado.​

                   Elementary Teacher Cassandra  Walden​​

​Cassandra Walden, East Bernstadt Elementary (East Bernstadt Independent) 

Cassandra Walden has taught kindergarten for the past four years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from University of the Cumberlands and a master’s degree in education, learning and technology from Western Governors University. She coaches the district’s elementary and middle school archery teams.


Middle School Teacher Achievement Award Winners

              Middle School Teacher Caitlen Buckley​​

​Keva Buckley, Kentucky School for the Deaf

​Keva Buckley has taught for over four years. She has taught across middle and high school levels, including courses in literature and composition with English/language arts (ELA) and reading development students. She has served as a class sponsor, helped develop and deliver professional development, and worked alongside colleagues to combat language deprivation.

                Middle School Teacher Pollock Dilts   

Angela Dilts-Pollock, Farnsley Middle (Jefferson County)

Angela Dilts-Pollock is a 15-year veteran 7th-grade mathematics teacher. She holds a bachelor’s degree in middle grades education with emphasis in English/language arts and mathematics from Thomas More College, a master’s degree in gifted and talented education and an educational specialist certification in curriculum and instruction from Northern Kentucky University. She also is an academic instructional coach.

                Middle School Teacher  Nathaniel Green​ 

​Nathaniel Green, Newport High (Newport Independent Schools)

Nathaniel “Nate” Green has been teaching for 15 years. He began his teaching career on Jeju Island in South Korea as a camp counselor teaching English. Green holds a bachelor’s degree from Berea College and a master’s degree in teaching from Northern Kentucky University. He helped in the founding of northern Kentucky’s first Gay Straight Alliance/Gender Sexuality Alliance club, which has served as a model for other schools.

                Middle School Teacher Danielle Hicks

​Danielle Hicks, Clinton County Middle

Danielle Hicks is an 18-year veteran 8th grade English/language arts (ELA) teacher. She earned her bachelor’s degree in middle school education from Lindsey Wilson College, master’s degree in instructional leadership from Eastern Kentucky University and an educational specialist degree in instructional leadership from Tennessee Technological University. As a teacher, Hicks teaches in a way that promotes student growth and understanding.

​                Middle School Teacher of Justin Mitchell

​Justin Mitchell, Franklin-Simpson Middle (Simpson County)

Justin Mitchell is a 12th year teacher. A social studies teacher, Mitchell sponsors many school groups, including Kentucky Youth Assembly, travel club and student council. His previous awards include the Gilder Lehrman National History Teacher of the Year Finalist and the Gilder Lehrman Kentucky History Teacher of the Year. Mitchell currently chairs the Educational Professional Standards Board and is secretary with the Kentucky Association for Gifted Education.

                Middle School Teacher Mandy Perez

​Mandy Perez, Crittenden County Middle

Mandy Perez is a 6th grade English/language arts teacher. Perez earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education and her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Murray State University. Perez is a first-generation college graduate. She has been an educator for over 18 years.


​                Middle School Teacher Rhoda Whitekar

​Rhoda Whitaker, Whitesburg Middle (Letcher County)

Rhoda Whitaker has 27 years of experience teaching students with moderate to severe disabilities. She holds a bachelor’s degree in special education and a master’s degree in special education from Morehead State University. After graduating college, she chose to return to eastern Kentucky. She is married with three children; two daughters that currently attend Morehead State University and a son who is currently a junior in high school.

​                  Middle School Teacher Charlena Williams

​Charlena Williams, Hancock County Middle

Charlena Williams is a 28-year veteran teacher, having spent the past six years teaching students with emotional and behavior disabilities. She holds an associate degree from Vincennes University, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from University of Southern Indiana, a special education certification from University of Evansville and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from Brescia University. She began her teaching career in Dale, Ind. at David Turnham Elementary, but chose to move to Kentucky.


High School Teacher Achievement Award Winners​

​​                   High School Teacher Cathy Conley​​​

​Cathy Conley, Knott County Central High (Knott County)

A 26-year-veteran teacher, Cathy Conley teaches English/Language Arts (E/LA). She received a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a rank I certification from Morehead State University. She has received several KVEC (Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative)-sponsored grants from 2017-2022. In 2017, she was accepted into the Freedom Writers Foundation in Long Beach, Calif. During the summers of 2019-2021, Ms. Conley worked with teachers, professors, counselors, and students from all 50 states and 20 different countries in the development of a global curriculum for grades K-12. Conley and one of her students were chosen to be a co-author in a book, Dear Freedom Writer, released on March 29, 2022.

​                    High School Teacher Eddie Groves

​Eddie Groves, Ohio County High

Edward “Eddie” Groves has taught at Ohio County High School for 14 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky, a master’s of teaching in learning and behavioral disorders from the University of Campbellsville and a rank 1 in educational leadership from the University of the Cumberlands. He currently teaches multiple social studies classes, serving on the board of the Kentucky Council for Social Studies. He has been an assistant band director for 10 years. Groves lives in Beaver Dam, KY with his wife, Amanda, who also teaches at Ohio County High School. Together, they run the National Honor Society and the school’s academic team.

​                    High School Teacher Tina Henry

​Tina Henry, Boyle County High

Tina Henry is a 29-year veteran teacher, having taught special education in Boyle County for the past 17 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in special education from Western Carolina University. Henry emphasizes functional skills in the classroom, encouraging students to transfer them into their communities and homes. She regularly leads her students in volunteering in their communities.

​                    High School Teacher Lauren Niemann

​Robin Kemp, Highlands High (Fort Thomas Independent)

From an early age, Robin Kemp dreamed of being a teacher. Now, she is a 26-year veteran teacher. She teaches physics and chemistry and serves as the academic team coach and junior class sponsor. Kemp holds a bachelor’s degree and masters’ degrees from Murray State University and a superintendent certification from Eastern Kentucky University. She has served as director of secondary education and assistant superintendent in Henderson County Schools, principal at Union County High School, an adjunct faculty member at Murray State University and with the highly skilled educator program at the Kentucky Department of Education.

​                    High School Teacher Victoryia Mohon

​Victoria Mohon, Christian County High

Victoria Mohon is a six-year teacher. She obtained her bachelor’s of science in agricultural education and her master’s of science in agriculture from Murray State University. She is currently pursuing her National Board Certification in the area of career and technical education. Mohon teaches courses across secondary grade levels. She also serves as an advisor to their FFA chapter and supervises the work-based learning program.


​Lauren Niemann, Fern Creek High (Jefferson County)

Lauren Niemann began her professional career as a grassland community ecologist, but discovered her passion for science education while teaching undergraduate Zoology laboratory classes at the University of Oklahoma. For the last 12 years, she has taught middle and high school science classes. Niemann advocates for sustainability in the city of Louisville.

​                    High School Teacher Amber Sergent

​Amber L. Sergent, Woodford County High​

Amber Sergent started teaching American and European history almost 20 years ago. She has worked as an adjunct history professor at University of Kentucky (UK) and Northern Kentucky University (NKU), and she has taught history at Gateway Community and Technical College. She has been teaching high school social studies for nine years, and currently serves as the summer school director and academic coach/advisor for the football team at her school. She holds a bachelor’s degree in art, history and government and a master’s degree in social studies education from Morehead State University. She holds a master’s degree in American history and a doctorate degree in American history from UK.

​                     High School Teacher Steven Thomas

​Steven Thomas, Green County Area Technology Center (Green County)

Steven Thomas never planned to become a teacher; instead, his professional career began as a welder. He holds a bachelor’s degree in vocational education from Western Kentucky University and is completing a master’s degree in education administration from Murray State University. He won the 2021 Golden Apple award in Green County, 2018 Teacher who Made a Difference award from the University of Kentucky and the 2017 Change award from Campbellsville Independent Schools. For the past 10 years, Thomas has taught welding at Green County Area Technology Center. During his time in the classroom, he has secured grants for career-and-technical education, growing his welding lab.


GlyptusAnn ​Jones
Office of the Commissioner
Division of Communications 
300 Sower Boulevard
(502) 564-2000 ext. 4616

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