They work in three parts of Sullivan County in different subjects with different age students, but they have at least two things in common: They are veteran teachers, and they have been chosen as Teachers of the Year in the county school system by their peers and bosses.
Jamie Robinette, fourth-grade math teacher at Indian Springs Elementary; Tom Bowers, Blountville Middle School band director; and Sam Rasnake, Sullivan East High School teacher of English I, Advanced Placement English and creative writing, are this year’s winners from the county school system.
Larry Hall, director of personnel for the school system, said the three will move forward to a regional competition for Northeast Tennessee based on paperwork completed and turned in by Friday.
This marks the fourth consecutive year an Indian Springs teacher has won the elementary teaching award.
Teachers are nominated and voted on at the school level, and a panel of two directors and a supervisor chose the winners in the three categories.
Robinette, a 20-year teacher in Sullivan County who has been at Indian Springs for four years, was interviewed on an afternoon after school while she helped tutor math students, which she does two days a week during the school year.
“I love it,” Robinette said of teaching. “All my family were in education. Both of my parents were teachers, and my grandparents were teachers.”
Robinette said she likes the job because it is different every day and has a direct impact.
“If you’re going to work hard at something, you need to do something that makes a difference,” Robinette said.
She graduated from East Tennessee State University with an undergraduate teaching degree and from Milligan College with a master’s degree.
She and her husband, Kent, have three children: Mara, 13; Amanda, 6; and Seth, 5.
Bowers, in his 31st year as an educator, has been band director at Blountville Middle for 18 years.
“It’s just a great place,” Bowers said of Blountville Middle and the students he’s had excel in band and other areas over the years. “I’m very honored to be chosen.”
Bowers began his career in Marion County, Tenn., for two years, followed by six years in Hawkins County, where he was band director at Church Hill and Volunteer high schools and Church Hill and Surgoinsville middle schools. He also spent five years as band director at Virginia High School in Bristol.
Bowers, who has 140 students in the band program, earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, his master’s in music education from VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, and is working on an Ed.S. or educational studies degree in school leadership from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
He and his wife, Patty, director of special education for the Bristol, Va., school system, have a grown son and daughter.
Rasnake, a teacher for more than 29 years, has spent almost his entire career at East, starting there in 1980. He had a short stint at an elementary school.
“I love it,” Rasnake said of teaching. “I also work as an adjunct (faculty member) at Northeast State in humanities.” He’s done that since the fall of 2000.
Rasnake said two things stick out in his mind when thinking over his career.
One is working with students who don’t pass the Gateway exams or are deemed in danger of not passing them.
The remediation work with at-risk students is rewarding when he sees them make progress and graduate. Rasnake said some are four or five years behind, and he puts them on individualized reading programs to help them catch up.
The other is a scholarship fund he and another teacher helped set up to honor a chemistry and science teacher who died while teaching at East.
The Orion Callison Memorial Scholarship is in its fourth year, has reached the $25,000 level, and last year gave out two scholarships. Given to students with a demonstrated interest in science and financial need, Rasnake said the program is at the point of perpetuating itself and will be something tangible for students and their families “when I’m long gone.”
Rasnake, former chief negotiator for the Sullivan County Education Association, received a bachelor’s degree in English, the humanities and philosophy; a master’s in English; and an Ed.S. in counseling leadership from ETSU.
He and his wife, Mary, have a son, Ryan Rasnake; a daughter, teacher Jordannah Peters; and a granddaughter.