District Five announces 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year Finalists

Lexington-Richland School District Five has named finalists for its 2023-2024 Teacher of the Year award. The finalists are: Grace Abbott, a Chapin High School English teacher; Cari Bonhomme, a Chapin Middle School Special Education teacher; and Dr. Sandra Markowitz, a Chapin Intermediate School Digital Integration Specialist.

Abbott has served at Chapin High School since 2020. She began her teaching career in 2017. She received her bachelor’s degree in French and English from the University of South Carolina (USC) Honors College, and a masters of teaching English degree from USC.

Abbott has always wanted to be a teacher and genuinely doesn’t know what she would be doing if she weren’t in a classroom. She feels her best when she is teaching.

“As an educator, I want to provide students with opportunities to see themselves in the content while having new experiences to expand their world view,” Abbott said. “I want to show students that their skills and talents are enough, validate their personal experiences and opinions and also help them think in new ways. One way I do this is with the English III American Literature unit I created on NPR’s list of “American Anthems” (which was started to “tell 50 stories about 50 songs that have become galvanizing forces in American culture, each representing a cause or group or identity through music”). This project, I thought, was an immensely cool concept for students to encounter because it would provide students with authentically engaging texts that are modern interesting, and thought provoking.”

Bonhomme has served at Chapin Middle School for 13 years. She also taught at Chapin High School and at the Union School District in San Jose, CA. during her 21 years of teaching. She received a Bachelor of Science in Communication Disorders from Eastern Kentucky University and A Master of Arts in Learning Disabilities from the University of South Carolina. She became National Board Certified in 2006.

Upon graduating and working in the public schools as a speech therapist, Bonhomme fell in love with students with disabilities and wanted to spend more time with them helping them achieve their potential. This led to a bigger desire to extend her learning to work with students who have various abilities.

My primary goal when working with my students is to make the lesson applicable and important to the students’ future and for them to transition out of public education being as independent as possible,” Bonhomme said. “Earlier in my career I worked with students with moderate to severe disabilities. Ultimately, I hoped to make as many students ready for employment as possible while reducing the number of students who transitioned to day programs. Community based education was an important component to teaching these students essential skills necessary for them to be successful as young adults.”

Markowitz has worked at Chapin Intermediate School since 2021. For 15 years, she has taught general education and technology integration to students in grades 4-6. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Education from Columbia College. She earned a Masters of Science in Adult Education: Instructional Technology from Troy University and her Doctor of Education in Teacher Leader in Digital Transformation from Capella University.

Growing up, Dr. Markowitz’s life was not always easy. She had many obstacles that could have prevented her from reaching her goals. However, her answer has always been education. The teachers who provided that education helped Dr. Markowitz realize she was valued and intelligent. Education has been her saving grace because educators pushed her to be her best and believed in her. Dr. Markowitz lives out those values instilled in her by those educators. She is a passionate educator that helps her students realize that no matter what obstacles they have in their life, they can also attain their goals.

“Learning environments impact students so much that even small changes can make a big difference in a classroom,” Markowitz said. “I frequently utilize room transformations throughout the school year to create an immersive learning environment for ALL students. Classroom transformations allow teachers to engage students in a new, exciting learning environment. After determining the content to be taught, the teacher decides on a theme. The teacher then creates activities and decor that relate to the chosen theme. Classroom transformations increase student engagement which leads to more effective learning. Additionally, it improves critical thinking skills, inspires teamwork and collaboration, fosters creativity, and accommodates many different learning styles.

Teacher of the Year winners from each school include: Jenifer Gibson (Academy For Success), Carolyn Searles (Adult Education), Jessica Fisher (Ballentine Elementary), Jon Gray (Center for Advanced Technical Studies), Emily Nash (Chapin Elementary), Grace Abbott (Chapin High), Dr. Sandra Markowitz (Chapin Intermediate), Cari Bonohomme (Chapin Middle), Jennifer Koch (CrossRoads Intermediate), Beth Sisk (Dutch Fork Elementary), Holly Myers (Dutch Fork High), Claire Ecrement (Dutch Fork Middle), Cynthia Spafford (FIVE), Jacquelyn Lynch (H. E. Corley Elementary), Sherry Williams (Harbison West Elementary), Kimberly Moody (Irmo Elementary), Christopher Adams (Irmo Middle), Sara Crawford (Irmo High), Kelly Bland (Lake Murray Elementary), Ashley O’Neal (Leaphart Elementary), Amanda Jackson (Nursery Road Elementary), Meg Wolf (Oak Pointe Elementary), Heather Callahan (Piney Woods Elementary), Tammy Rings (River Springs Elementary), Crista Bedenbaugh (Seven Oaks Elementary), and Rachel Hay (Spring Hill High).

Superintendent Akil E. Ross, Sr. said, “Congratulations to our Teacher of the Year finalists and those who were selected by their peers to represent their school in our district! Our staff truly shares the vision that “We love and grow our students” and exemplify that in their classrooms. We are thankful to have the incredible talent and dedication of our teachers in School District Five and grateful for all they do to help our students be successful.”