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OCS announces Beginning Teacher of the Year!

October 3, 2022


Joyce Hatcher hands balloons and flowers to Makenzie Mason


Makenzie Mason is the OCS Beginning Teacher of the Year


HILLSBOROUGH– “Marigolds are called a ‘helping plant’ because the other plants around them always grow strong and tall when you plant marigolds next to them.”


Ms. Makenzie Mason uses this image to describe not only her student and classroom, but her professional support network as well. Mason is now in her second year teaching kindergarten at Grady A. Brown Elementary School, where she student-taught before graduating from Elon University.


Standing out among the marigolds at Grady Brown, Ms. Mason had already been named her school’s Beginning Teacher of the Year. She was still caught by surprise, however, when district leadership announced at the school’s October 3 staff meeting that Mason will represent all her Grady Brown and Orange County Schools colleagues in the year ahead.


“We are so proud to have Makenzie Mason to represent all the amazing beginning teachers of Orange County Schools as the OCS Beginning Teacher of the Year,” said Joyce Hatcher, Chief of Human Capital.


Each year, school administrators, district staff, and beginning teacher mentors nominate a teacher for this honor. District Beginning Teachers of the Year are eligible to advance toward state recognition through a program of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching (NCCAT). 


Last year, Mr. Xavier Adams of Orange High School earned the title and is currently serving as NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year, which carries great responsibility to advocate for the teaching profession. He and reigning OCS Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Shannon Floyd–who also teaches at Grady A. Brown–were present for the surprise announcement. 


Ms. Mason was recommended by her assigned mentor, Anthony Folden, a fellow kindergarten teacher and Grady A. Brown “Cougar.”


Mason said you have to “find your marigolds in the teaching profession,” as she expressed heartfelt thanks to teacher leaders and administrators who helped her find a home in Orange County Schools and the kindergarten team at Grady Brown.


After the Orange County Board of Education recognized her at their October 10 meeting, Ms. Mason said:


I am so honored and grateful to be standing before you today as the Beginning Teacher of the Year for Orange County Schools. I began my teaching journey at Grady A. Brown as a student-teacher. I loved the communities we served and the camaraderie between teachers and members of the Orange County Schools staff so much that I stayed on as a kindergarten teacher. During my first year, I was stretched and challenged by COVID protocols, supporting students who did not speak any English, and the typical hurdles a first-year teacher faces. I leaned on my team and my colleagues to support me and encourage me and validate my actions to support all students and partner with families as best as I could. And I am so thankful for the emphasis that Orange County Schools places on collaboration and teamwork across the entire staff, because that allowed me to thrive during my first year. 


I learned that teachers are both teachers and learners, and even the most seasoned teachers can always learn more, try new strategies, communicate more effectively, and deepen their relationships with students. 


In college, I learned a phrase about marigolds, the flower. My class at Grady A. Brown is called “Miss Mason’s Marigolds.” And it [the phrase] is about marigolds and teaching. 


For background, marigolds are called a “helping plant” because the other plants around them always grow strong and tall when you plant marigolds next to them. And the saying is that teachers need to find their marigolds in the profession. You want to find the people that collaborate with you, celebrate you, and support you. And I want to thank the staff of Grady A. Brown for supporting me and being my marigolds. I truly think that’s how I came to be. It’s because of the staff at Grady A. Brown … Additionally, I want to thank my administrators, Mr. Marks and Ms. Griffis, for building and maintaining a workplace full of love and community. 


According to the NCCAT website:


The NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year process was developed to honor beginning teachers and to retain teachers who show promise as excellent teachers and education leaders in North Carolina public schools and public charter schools.

The NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year will receive:

  • $5,000 cash prize

  • Participation for the winner in a GoGlobal NC trip in 2024

  • Instructional supply funds for the teacher's school

       The runner-up will receive:

  • $2,000 cash prize

       Finalists will receive:

  • Travel expenses and substitute costs for regional finalists to participate in NCCAT professional development and leadership development.

To be eligible to participate in the NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year process, the following criteria must be met:

1. Successful completion of first year of teaching in a NC public school.

2. Continued employment in the same school district or charter school for second year.

3. Met minimum full year of teaching as determined by NC Department of Public Instruction.

4. Lateral entry experience and Teach for America experience meet requirements.

5. Must teach students directly for at least 70% of the time.

Mr. Chris Marks, principal of Grady A. Brown Elementary School, added: 


Makenzie Mason joined the GAB team with enthusiasm to make a positive impact not only in the classroom but also in the teaching profession. She strives to create and maintain positive relationships with her students while building a classroom community lovingly known as “Mason's Marigolds.” As a new teacher, she has worked hard to become knowledgeable of her curriculum and has developed collegial relationships with her colleagues and support staff. Ms. Mason approaches each day with a positive attitude and eager to help her students achieve.


OCS Superintendent Dr. Monique Felder said:


We are so happy to celebrate Ms. Mason! As the Beginning Teacher of the Year, she will have the opportunity to influence other beginning teachers and to encourage others to become future educators. She is a natural leader and we are happy to have her represent her colleagues, her school, and the district in a positive and meaningful way.


The annual NCCAT Beginning Teacher of the Year competition brings privileges and responsibilities for those who have earned the distinction. 


From this point, Mason will complete essays, recommendations, and an interview process at the regional level. Eight regional winners to be determined in December will compete for the NCCAT 2022 Prudential NC Beginning Teacher of the Year award, set to be announced in March 2023.