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Waynesboro Schools celebrates ‘heart and soul of our educational community’

Waynesboro Schools’ division Teacher of the Year for 2024 Adreana Sprouse stands with Wayne Hills Principal Sarah Ross and her mother after Waynesboro Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Barber announced her name. Photos by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Waynesboro Schools’ 2024 Teacher of the Year is Adreana Sprouse, a pre-K teacher at Wayne Hills Preschool Center.

“For the way you love,” Debra Freeman, chair of the Waynesboro School Board, said in thanking the teachers. “It’s an honor to honor you,” she said.

Waynesboro Schools Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ryan Barber said that Teacher of the Year is a celebration of the extraordinary dedication and talent of the school system’s teachers. “This honor is a reflection of the tireless commitment and unwavering passion that our educators bring to the classroom each day.”

Barber said he is continually inspired by Waynesboro’s teachers.

“They are the heart and soul of our educational community,” he said, “shaping minds, shaping futures.”

Anja Brenneman, a 2nd-grade teacher at Berkeley Glenn Elementary School became interested in teaching when she was in 4th grade. Her 4th and 5th grade teachers “paved the way” for her to become a teacher. Her 4th grade teacher said “I love you” to her parents each day and reminded each of her students that school was their safe space.

Berkeley Glenn Principal William Perry has worked with Brenneman for two years and said she “embodies all of the qualities of an outstanding educator.” He added that Brenneman “cultivates a love for learning among her students” while tailoring lessons to meet the needs of each child in her classroom.

“What truly sets Anja apart is her unwavering dedication to the wholistic development of her students,” Perry said. She also works to instill empathy, kindness and respect in her classroom.

Brenneman volunteered this year to chair the school’s climate committee in which she leads five colleagues.

Sprouse has taught at Wayne Hills for two years.

“I know she has taught in other grades, but, I think, pre-school is where she truly belongs,” Principal Sarah Ross said. “She has such creative ideas.”

Wenonah Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year is Ashley Coffman, who is an Intervention Specialist.

In her first year of teaching, Coffman’s focus shifted from student achievement to building relationships.

“I had to be the change,” she wrote in her nomination essay. “I, as the teacher, had to do the hard work. I had to educate myself before I could educate them. Students needs to feel valued, seen, heard and loved to excel in school.”

Wenonah Elementary Principal Abby Arey said that she has known Coffman for a long time. Coffman was one of her mentors when Arey became a mother 13 years ago.

“The reason I share that story today is it reveals so much of who Ashley is,” Arey said. “And what she does. She listens, she observes, she identifies the need, and then she digs into her tool kit to offer support and cheering on every step of the way.”

Jamie Laroche has been a 4th-grade teacher at Westwood Hills Elementary School for two years, but a teacher for 11 years. Even as a child, Laroche loved school. When she was in 4th grade, her school burned to the ground.

“I remember standing in the street, in tears, feeling absolutely devastated as I watched the flames and smoke engulf my school,” Laroche wrote in her essay. “That building was my home away from home. Looking back at this moment and the things that I felt shows me just how much school meant to me even as a child.”

Westwood Hills Principal Greg Harris said it did not take staff at Westwood long to realize how wonderful Laroche is as a teacher and colleague. He read comments from colleagues and teachers about Laroche.

Band teacher Peter Echols is Kate Collins Middle School’s Teacher of the Year. His teaching philosophy is that every student wants to succeed, every student loves music, even if they don’t know it, and every student wants and needs structure and expectations.

“Music is one of the most human forms of communication,” he wrote in his essay. “Every day where we get to make music together is a win. Harmony is the most significant human achievement.”

Principal Marcia Nester said Echols is a role model as a person and as a teacher. He took the school’s music program from 46 to more than 120 students.

“Instead of sprinkling our families in the audience during a performance, we now have standing room only,” Nester said of attendance.

Laurie Pennock, a 2nd-grade teacher, is William Perry Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year. Each day she tells her students that it is good to be their teacher and each day they tell her it is good to be her students.

“No matter what happens in the school day, I remind myself that each day is a gift with them and to not get distraught over what we did not get done but to focus on what we did,” Pennock said. Despite a rigorous pace in the classroom, she does not compromise the chance for students to learn if pivoting her plan is necessary.

William Perry Principal Sharon Barker has worked with Pennock for two years.

Waynesboro Schools celebrated the 2024 Teachers of the Year at The Wayne Theatre on Monday, April 22, 2024.

“When you meet Laurie, you know you are in the presence of a master educator,” Barker said. What stands out about Pennock is her love for all of her students. “Even in the most challenging of situations, Laurie never forgets that each day she is shaping the minds and touching the hearts of children.”

Waynesboro High School’s Teacher of the Year is Stephanie Caldwell, who teaches English Language Learners (ELL).

“As educators, we are awarded with the opportunity to be a part of our students’ story,” Caldwell wrote in her essay.

She said that educators should continually review their teaching practices, humble themselves and admit when they are wrong.

Caldwell, who grew up in Baltimore and experienced homelessness as a child, lost her mother when she was a junior in high school. She always referred to school as her safe haven.

“She’s a safe haven for her students,” Waynesboro High Principal Bryan Stamm said.

Stamm encouraged everyone in the audience to come to the high school and see Caldwell in action in the classroom where she not only teaches but works with her colleagues.

Students at the high school are encouraged to have an adult to go to when they need help. Stamm said that Caldwell is that for many of the students.

“We can’t be a great school division without you,” Barber said of all nominees after Sprouse was announced the division Teacher of the Year.


Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.