teacher of the year finalists

State School Superintendent Richard Woods has announced the full list of finalists for 2025 Georgia Teacher of the Year.

Throughout the month of March, Superintendent Woods surprised each finalist in their classroom to let them know they’d been selected. All 10 finalists will meet with a panel of judges for formal interviews and speeches before the 2025 Georgia Teacher of the Year selection in May.

“Congratulations to the ten outstanding finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year!” Superintendent Woods said. “Each one of these educators is a shining example of the best of public education – their professionalism, talent, and dedication are examples for us all. It was a joy to meet each of them this month and see their skill in the classroom firsthand. I look forward to the rest of the selection process for the 2025 Georgia Teacher of the Year – and to celebrating these first-class educators.”

The finalists were chosen from a pool of applicants all previously selected as their school district’s Teacher of the Year. The applications were read and scored by a group of reviewers that included past Georgia Teacher of the Year winners and finalists along with Georgia Department of Education representatives.

The 2025 Georgia Teacher of the Year will serve as an ambassador for the teaching profession in Georgia and will be entered in the National Teacher of the Year competition. The 2024 Georgia Teacher of the Year is Christy Todd of Fayette County – who was also named a top-four finalist for the National Teacher of the Year.

“Participation in the Georgia Teacher of the Year program has been life-changing, helping me grow professionally to positively impact my classroom and community,” Todd said. “I am so excited for our top 10 finalists to now step onto this stage, where their stories and advocacy efforts can have statewide impact. I can’t wait to meet them!”

Georgia Teacher of the Year operates one year ahead to align with the national program; the 2025 Teacher of the Year will serve from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025.

2025 Georgia Teacher of the Year Finalists (in alphabetical order by last name)

Leigha Burnham – Chattooga County
Leigha Burnham serves as the Library Media & Technology Specialist at Summerville Middle School in Chattooga County. Burnham is a highly qualified, veteran Georgia educator with unparalleled enthusiasm for promoting literacy and STEM education through the school library media center. She began the school’s first STEM program, which has now expanded to all three grade levels. Burnham believes the best teachers create collaborative and creative environments where students are empowered to take ownership of their learning. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Berry College, a master’s from Jacksonville State University, and a specialist’s degree from the University of West Georgia.

Jenny Cofield – Morgan County
Jenny Cofield is a 12th-grade literature and 9-12 ESOL teacher at Morgan County High School. Cofield works to prepare her students with the skills they need to take on the world once they leave high school and focuses on projects that connect them with their community. For example, she worked with her students to write, illustrate, and publish a bilingual children’s book. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Valdosta State University and, this spring, was honored as Citizen of the Year by the mayor of Madison, Georgia.

Crystal McDowell – Columbia County
Crystal McDowell teaches AP biology, human anatomy and physiology, and genetics at Greenbrier High School in Columbia County Schools. McDowell aims to revive student curiosity and creativity to inspire the next generation of innovators. She enthusiastically advocates for STEM integration, community partnerships, and experiential learning. She holds a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina State University and master’s and specialist’s degrees from Missouri Baptist University.

Steven McIntyre – Hall County
Steven McIntyre teaches CTAE: Audio and Film Tech at Chestatee High School in Hall County. Before teaching, McIntyre spent 12 years working in the broadcast television industry, spending most of his career at WAGA Fox 5 Atlanta. This unique set of experiences allows him to bring a dynamic and real-world experience to the classroom, enabling his students to be storytellers and content creators. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia and will complete a specialist’s degree there in May.

Alicia Reno – City Schools of Decatur
Alicia Reno teaches 3rd-5th STEM/STEAM at Talley Street Upper Elementary School in Decatur. Reno was chosen to design the curriculum and teach all 700 students the magic of STEM. She believes in giving students opportunities to work cooperatively to design thoughtful solutions to real-world problems – for example, through the “Electric House” project, her fifth-grade students design and build a house powered by electric circuits. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University and a master’s from California State University, Los Angeles.

Daisha Taylor – Clayton County
Daisha Taylor teaches fifth-grade math and science at Church Street Elementary School in Clayton County. Taylor, who is the grade-level chair, believes that learning should be exciting and strives to meet students where they are by being relatable and connecting with them. Her innovative teaching approach of incorporating music into her lessons has received significant recognition. Taylor holds a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University, a master’s from Thomas University, and a specialist’s degree from Mercer University.

Candace Torrence – Marietta City
Candace Torrence teaches gifted students of all grades at A.L. Burruss Elementary School. Torrence has a deep passion for building relationships with students and families as well as pushing students to their maximum potential. She believes each student has a unique set of gifts and works to create a platform for students to show and develop those gifts. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Shorter University and a master’s from Grand Canyon University.

Holly Witcher – White County
Holly Witcher is a special education teacher at Tesnatee Gap Elementary School in White County. Witcher works to connect her students to the community as a way to build adaptive skills, through monthly community-based instruction outings for students. She also focuses on providing a language-rich classroom and building her students’ ability to communicate effectively. Witcher holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgia College and State University and a master’s from the American College of Education.

Ashleigh Wright – Bulloch County
Ashleigh Wright teaches social studies at Southeast Bulloch High School in Bulloch County. Wright – who has been a Teacher of the Year finalist in both Bryan County and Bulloch County – has a lifelong love of learning and finds joy in seeking knowledge. Numerous teachers inspired her – most notably her mother, who was her fourth-grade teacher. She served as the role model for the kind of teacher Wright hoped to be, and now Wright’s own love of learning leads her to share that passion with others. Wright is a triple Eagle, having obtained her bachelor’s, master’s, and specialist’s degrees from Georgia Southern University.

Ashley Young – Lanier County
Ashley Young is an eighth-grade teacher at Lanier County Middle School in Lanier County Schools. Young is a passionate and dedicated teacher with an infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy for teaching, which has earned her a special place in the hearts of students and colleagues alike. She works to take education beyond the four walls of the classroom and connect with the community--for example, through “Genius Hour Projects,” her students are able to choose an area of interest and either produce a project or reach a goal. She was born and raised in Lanier County and is a graduate of Valdosta State University.