Northside’s Branch honored as Houston’s Teacher of the Year

Katherine Branch has made a commitment to teaching in Houston County, and she was rewarded with the district’s Teacher of the Year honor Monday.

All 21 of Branch’s years in the teaching field have been as an English and language arts teacher at Northside High School. The quality of the faculty there left Branch “very stunned” to even be the nominee from the school, which made the countywide award an even bigger surprise.

“I really feel quite overwhelmed at it, because the school I work in is fantastic,” she said. “It is a tremendous honor.”

Branch, 42, is known for investing in her students both in and out of the classroom at Northside. She has served as sponsor for the Senior Ball as well as working as senior class adviser.

“I can just sum it up by saying she’s willing to do whatever it takes to see her students succeed,” said Northside’s principal, Greg Peavy.

When dealing with students, Peavy said Branch is loving but firm, and she has expectations that her students need to meet.

“She’s really one of those ‘roll your sleeves up, work hard, know who your kids are,’ ” he said.

Knowing her students is important to Branch. She said some students will shut down if they’re given verbal critique of their work while others need to hear correction to really understand what’s wrong.

Because writing and editing are so key to Branch’s chosen subject matter, correctly identifying which students respond to which methods is crucial.

“I try to get to know my students on a personal level to know how best to reach them,” she said.

Her parents, Forsyth residents Kay and Dohn Bonner, attended the county’s opening session Monday to see Branch being honored. Even before she started her career after graduating from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina, Branch wanted to be a teacher more than anything else, her father said.

“(She) never really cared about administration, just always wanted to be a teacher,” said Dohn Bonner, who served on the Monroe County school board for 16 years.

Branch credited her parents with her combination of nurture and expectations, and her father said the Bonners just wanted to see their children -- both Branch and her brother, former Macon lawyer Wallace Bonner -- do their best.

“We’ve always been very interested in education from the get-go,” Dohn Bonner said. “Our children grew up with that in mind.”

Branch’s husband, John, also was in attendance Monday. He’s known about the honor for a couple of weeks but had to keep the secret.

The Branches have two children, 9-year-old Jena and 4-year-old J.R., who will both be students at Centerville Elementary School this year. In addition to seeing her volunteer on the PTO at her kids’ school, Branch also said her students see her passion for education in her interaction with other teachers. After years learning from her more experienced peers, she has entered a different phase of the profession now.

“Now I’m in the part of my career where I can mentor newer teachers coming up,” she said.

The other nine semifinalists for the award were Bonaire Middle’s Leah Williams, Hilltop Elementary’s Jennifer Yawn, Kings Chapel Elementary’s Phyllis Toliver, Lake Joy Elementary’s Traci Shipp, Northside Middle’s Amanda Hayes, Perry High’s Argene Claxton, Quail Run Elementary’s Chris Henderson, Tucker Elementary’s Danielle Greer and Veterans High’s Carrie Chastain.

Branch said the strength of the competition added to the prestige of the recognition.

“Houston County has such a reputation for a great place for children to get their education,” she said.

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or follow him on Twitternote>