“A great teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart.” – Unknown

Five Durham Public Schools educators with diverse teaching styles and expertise have been selected as finalists for the 2019-2020 DPS Teacher of the Year.

Each year, DPS teachers nominate their peers in celebrating their excellence in and outside of the classroom. One of the finalists announced today will represent Durham Public Schools as the best of the best in the North Carolina regional competition.

The finalists and their guests will attend the DPS Teacher of the Year Dinner on May 15. The district winner will be announced during this event.

2019-20 DPS Teacher of the Year Finalists


Kindergarten Teacher, Eastway Elementary

It was the professionalism, encouragement and love shown by her tenth-grade English teacher that inspired Camesa Dawson to become a teacher. That teacher modeled the selfless, compassionate and loving teacher that Dawson wanted to become.

After working in education for more than 16 years, Dawson prides herself on spending her free time to continue to tutor students. She uses several different approaches to ensure that there is a growth in learning. And it’s not only students Dawson likes to help in her spare time – she also enjoys giving back to beginning teachers by modeling lesson, observing classrooms and providing feedback.

“Ms. Dawson us a special teacher that I am privileged to have on my staff,” said Eastway principal Shayla Holeman. “She continues to work on the social and emotional development of her students and realizes that is a crucial piece in ensuring their success. She can be seen working with individual students, meeting with parents, reaching out to support staff and gathering additional supports for her students.”

Dawson earned an associate degree in general education from Craven Community College, a bachelor’s degree from Mount Olive University and Post Baccalaureate Certification License from Eastern Carolina University.

2019-2020 TOTY Video


Spanish Teacher, Riverside High School

After starting her career in Hospitality Management, Ellen Holmes felt like she needed to change to a career that would make more of an impact on society and give her a sense of fulfillment and passion. It was then she chose to quit her job and start substitute teaching while she completed the NC TEACH program at NC State University. Originally wanting to teach History, her dean at NC State encouraged her to pursue Spanish.

As a Spanish teacher, Holmes wants her students to have a positive experience with her and the Spanish language to help prepare them with a world where 80 percent of the population speaks Spanish. Outside of the classroom Holmes works very closely with the school’s Latino students and families. She is the advisor for Destino Success, a club that supports its members culturally, academically and within their community. Through her efforts, Holmes has helped increase graduation rates for these students and has gotten their families more involved in education.

“Ms. Holmes exemplifies servant leadership within the Riverside school community. Of course, she serves her students as an exceptional teacher on a daily basis, but she also serves a large number of our Latinx students by being the advisor Destino Success," said Riverside principal Tonya Williams. "In addition, Ms. Holmes serves our parents as the co-leader of our Grupos de Padres Latinos, and serves her colleagues as a mentor, advocate, and supporter! Ms. Holmes’ passion and expertise is needed to influence education policy and programming, not only at the local level, but also at the state level.”

Holmes earned her bachelor’s degree from Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, spent a semester abroad at Menendez Pelayo International University in Seville, Spain and lateral entry and teaching license through NC State University’s NC TEACH program.

2019-2020 TOTY Video


English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher, Holt Elementary Language Academy

Holly Woodard was working in Midtown, Manhattan on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Woodard transformed how she measured happiness and completely changed her career path to become a teacher. Even though she had little preparation, Woodard jumped into the world of education two weeks later and fell in love with her students and their families.

After starting as a first-grade bilingual teacher, Woodard became a huge proponent of bilingual education. She went back to school herself and learned how to better manage her classroom and best practices for language learners. Through her bilingual educator cohort, she found resources, multiple models of bilingual education and encouragement. Woodard is proud of her students’ ability to thrive and be able to accomplish in two languages what most American are only able to do in one.

“Ms. Woodard has consistently shown strong leadership qualities. Her highest priority as an educator is to serve the needs of her students,” said Holt Elementary principal Donya Jones. “She embraces challenges, learns from them, and adapts her curriculum and instructional methods without compromising her values or her students’ needs.”

Woodard has been teaching for Durham Public Schools for eight years. She received her bachelor’s degree from NC State University and her master’s in Elementary Education from Hunter College in New York, NY.

2019-2020 TOTY Video


U.S. History Teacher, City of Medicine Academy

Prepared by loving parents and excellent public school teachers and encouraged to apply, and be accepted to become a North Carolina Teaching Fellow, Tracey Barrett was on the path to a teaching career right out of high school. But it was spending a summer as a Global Connect Teacher at Student U that laid the foundation for how she thinks about teaching today.

As an Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher, Barrett uses projects as a central element of her class. These projects culminate with an art exhibit/poetry slam and the event was featured in the New York Times in an article she co-wrote with Jordan High teacher Kate Harris. Barrett also uses field trips to historical locations around North Carolina and Virginia. But the highlight this year was the opportunity to bring 100 of her students to see the musical Hamilton in Charlotte where one of Barrett’s students was selected to perform her original song about the Declaration of Independence on stage.

“Ms. Barrett does not work for awards or accolades, but to inspire and impact all the students she is in contact with each day,” said City of Medicine Academy principal Jackie Tobias. “She can reach a troubled or struggling student with her simple, yet profound instincts and empathy coupled with professionalism. In the same manner, she can accelerate and challenge the brightest of students.”

Barrett earned her bachelor’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and her master’s degree from Duke University. She also continues to work with Student U as an advocate for their High School Program.

2019-2020 TOTY Video


5th Grade Teacher, Burton Magnet Elementary School

The experience of being raised by his grandparents, growing up in Durham, and being a product of Durham Public Schools have helped shape Brandon Daniel into the teacher he is today. While he didn’t grow up with lots of material things, he was surrounded with social, emotional and educational support from his grandparents who encouraged Daniel to watch, learn and do things himself – the same principles that he uses in his classroom.

While Daniel has had many important teachers in his life, from college professors, teacher assistants and his wife, he credits his students with being his most important teachers. Through his students, Daniel has learned that an engaged student is the best behavior management for any teacher; that they understand math and science better when they “do” it; that smiles and respect both need reciprocity; and most importantly how to be a better teacher, parent and overall human being.

“Mr. Daniel motivates his students to unlock their hidden potential. His ability to facilitate rigorous learning through increased student engagement sets him apart from other educators,” said Burton Elementary principal Dr. Kimberly Ferrell. “In 2018, 95 percent of his students were proficient on the North Carolina Science EOG. But his most distinguishing quality is his love for his students and the impact he is making in our school.”

Daniel has been teaching at Burton since 2013 and was a finalist for the Durham Public Schools Beginning Teacher of the Year in 2017. He received both his bachelor and master’s degrees from North Carolina State University.

2019-2020 TOTY Video

Teacher of the Year Semifinalists

We are also proud of our Teacher of the Year semifinalists for all of their hard work and success in supporting our students and school communities.

  • Maureen Goan, Bethesda Elementary
  • Jennifer Harrison, Morehead Montessori Elementary
  • Marie Hopkins, Club Boulevard Elementary
  • Mary Katherine Napier Bailey, Jordan High
  • Keaundra Robinson, Rogers-Herr Middle
  • LaToya Thomas, Glenn Elementary
Created By
Durham Public Schools Office of Public Affairs


Truitt O'Neal for Durham Public School Office of Public Affairs

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