Kesha Payne: Jackson Elementary School | American Graduate Champions | PBA30

APS Elementary School Teacher of The Year Makes Students Feel Special

by Shelby Lin Erdman • NOV 16, 2015


Video produced by Dan Gillette and Gordon Ray

Top schools generally boast top teachers and Warren T. Jackson Elementary School in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood is no exception.

In fact, Jackson Elementary, a National Blue Ribbon School and a Georgia School of Excellence, has one of the top elementary educators in the district. The Atlanta Public Schools named third grade teacher Kesha Payne, who is also an American Graduate Champion, the 2015 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

The honor is no surprise to Payne’s students and colleagues at Jackson and probably the least surprising of all to her family.

Every decision you make, keep students first. I say communicate clearly with parents and administrators. I say collaborate effectively with your colleagues and keep students top of mind

“I am a passionate natural educator,” Payne explained during an interview with PBA’s American Graduate.

“I come from a long line of teachers. I can honestly say that every member of my immediate family is an educator in some capacity. So I grew up with teachers and fell in love with teaching,” she said.

Payne may have a passion for teaching, but she also has an enthusiasm, as well, that is evident in the classroom among her students.

“I think that learning should be fun for kids, particularly for elementary school age students,” Payne said

Her students seemed to agree that Ms. Payne makes learning fun.

“I like how Ms. Payne lets me do extra work because I love to work on things and I usually like to read so she lets me read extra time and she lets me work on things that people aren’t working on that makes me feel kind of special,” said a third grader named Genesis.

Payne’s ability to make her students feel special is part of what makes her such a great teacher, according to Jackson Principal Dr. Lorraine Reich. Reich called Payne an exciting teacher who is both demanding and inspiring.

“She is a very, very popular teacher, both with colleagues and teachers and students. Everyone is excited if they get to be in Kesha Payne’s class because they know they’re in for an exciting school year,” Reich told American Graduate.

Payne’s teaching style and mission may be part of what makes her classes so “exciting.”

“Every decision you make, keep students first. I say communicate clearly with parents and administrators. I say collaborate effectively with your colleagues and keep students top of mind,” Payne explained.

amgrad_logo.jpg  “Principal Reich said Jackson Elementary is lucky to have teachers like Payne

“We have a great school and we have a lot of great teachers. Kesha Payne is probably among the very, very best. She has a natural gift and a natural talent for working with children.”

Payne described her success at Jackson as more of a group effort.

“I think when you walk through the doors of our school you feel our commitment, our collaboration, our communication with families to support student success. And I think that every part of our culture surrounds that.”

PBA's Atlanta Champions


Scott Allen

"He is such a dedicated teacher who says that he is awed by his students’ creativity and original thought."


Mouhammed Bah

"I think education brings more wealth to being successful than any other thing in life."


Travis Brown

"He just does everything he can to insure that when a student comes in his class he’s removed all barriers so that they can truly learn."


Atia Butts

"You always want to have the mindset of succeeding and if you know the people around you are not going down that path then do your best to be nice, be cordial, but distance yourself from those".

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Kim Bearden

"No child should ever be allowed to be invisible in a classroom."

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Barry Blackmon

"I use a lot of different methods and try to mix my own type of gumbo within the classroom, such as discipline and humor."


Meria Carstarphen

"We really want parents to help us get children in school, on time, every single day and that starts with getting up and making sure they can get out of the house on time, into the bus or walking to school."

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Ron Clark

"We’re trying to lift the spirits of our students so they’ll be excited and they’ll be eager to learn."


Megan Gilroy

"Health can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery exercise in this terrible thing."


Dave Howland

"Literally every single grade a kid gets in high school has an impact on their future trajectory. So making sure that that’s a big piece, helps them stay on track to graduate."


Kesha Payne

"Every decision you make, keep students first. I say communicate clearly with parents and administrators. I say collaborate effectively with your colleagues and keep students top of mind."


Immanuel Reed

"When I was a kid, being a part of a program like this helped me tremendously, and I think that me doing the same thing for others, giving them chances, giving them the opportunity to make the best decisions, it’s full circle for me."


Dan Sims

"The hope is in the school house and we hold a primary place in inspiring kids to look beyond this time frame."


Amber Stewart

"The success of a student hinges on the teacher that’s standing in front of that classroom and hinges on the school leader that’s running that school."


Darryl Terry

"As a student in one of the most impoverished areas of Atlanta, I’ve always known that education is going to be my only way out."


Stuart Thorn

"We’ve been able to take the graduation rate for this cohort of kids up from probably what would have been in the neighborhood of five to 15 percent up to now above 85 percent."


Dennis Tolliver

"He captures his students’ attention and they hold on to every word that he says because they know what he gives will truly benefit their lives."

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Jayongela Wilder

"There is nothing more rewarding then seeing a kid that you taught graduate from college."