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Meet Sarah Gams : 2021 South Carolina Teacher of the Year

From District Five’s website:

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, Lexington-Richland School District Five superintendent Dr. Christina Melton, and others surprised Sarah Gams at her home today with news that she was selected as the 2021 South Carolina Teacher of the Year.

“The role of speaking on behalf of all South Carolina teachers and helping them navigate through the upcoming school year will require tremendous leadership,” said State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. “Sarah has shown throughout her career her ability to rise to the occasion and meet the needs of students wherever they are. She is most deserving of this honor and the attributes she possesses will be invaluable assets as she helps to lead our state and the teaching profession forward.”

Sarah Gams says a love for teaching and learning was probably embedded in her DNA from her parents who are both retired educators. With school as a second home, teaching was always her dream career. An avid reader and writer, Sarah majored in English at the Honors College of the University of South Carolina and earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. Sarah studied abroad at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she discovered a passion for travel and the global classroom. Believing that multicultural experiences create global citizens, she partnered with Education First (EF) Tours in 2006 and has led nine student tours to Europe and other countries. She was a keynote speaker for EF in Paris, France. To share her love of reading and promote parental involvement, Sarah created Community Book Club to discuss books each month. Sarah earned National Board certification in 2007 and re-certified in 2017. Sarah currently serves as a cooperating teacher for student teachers. As an adjunct professor, Sarah teaches Young Adult Literature, English Methods in Education, and APEC Module 3, a graduate program for teacher certification. After sixteen years in the classroom, teaching middle school, high school, and graduate courses, Sarah still loves the teaching profession. She believes her greatest accomplishment is providing a strong foundation in literacy for her students to pursue personal and career goals. Through her active support of the next generation of teachers, Sarah makes a positive and long-lasting impact on the future of the education profession.

“We are beyond excited for Mrs. Gams and the entire School District Five community,” said Lexington-Richland School District Five Superintendent Dr. Christina Melton. “At a time when education has been challenged and changed, Mrs. Gams represents the best of what teaching is in South Carolina. In Mrs. Gams, her students and peers have a champion and advocate who leads with passion and by example. Throughout her career, she has shown that the impact educators have on their students go beyond the school walls, and I know she will be an excellent ambassador for our field of public education. Congratulations, Mrs. Gams.”

As part of the state Teacher of the Year awards program, Sarah receives a total of $25,000 and is provided with a brand new BMW to use while serving for one year as a roving ambassador providing mentoring, attending speaking engagements, working with teacher cadets and teaching fellows, leading the State Teacher Forum, and serving as the state spokesperson for over 50,000 educators.

Sarah and the four finalists, or Honor Roll teachers, will be celebrated at the South Carolina Teacher of the Year Gala, which has been postponed and will be rescheduled for later this year.

Considered one of the country’s strongest, the South Carolina Teacher of the Year program celebrates excellence and strengthens the teaching force by honoring and recognizing exceptional teachers on a district, state, and national level. These awards not only assist in retention efforts but serve as a powerful recruitment tool.

Meet Matthew Calhoun – Chief of SC Bureau of Protective Services

Matthew P. Calhoun, a 21-year veteran of the Bureau of Protective Services (BPS), was chosen to succeed Chief John Hancock, who retires July 1 after 28 years of service to the state.

“The sign of a good leader is preparing those in the wings to succeed,” said S.C. Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) Acting Director Robert Woods. “It has been my privilege to work alongside both these men through the years. They have shown exemplary leadership during some difficult times in our state and have been instrumental in keeping the employees and visitors at our State House Complex, Governor’s Mansion and other state buildings safe.”

For Calhoun, currently a major and the Assistant Chief at BPS, being selected as the next commander of BPS was “a lifelong dream that came to fruition.”

“I’d aspired to serve the department in whatever capacity that I was assigned to, but it was always a dream to serve in this position and be able to provide leadership for the officers at BPS and work closely with our sister divisions within SCDPS – the Highway Patrol and State Transport Police,” said Calhoun, a 1994 graduate of Barnwell High School.

When he officially takes over as Chief of BPS on July 2, Calhoun will be responsible for overseeing 72 officers who are responsible for ensuring the safety of citizens, employees, elected representatives and those attending events or visiting or conducting business on the grounds of the S.C. State Capitol Complex and other designated state facilities.

“I want to build young officers to be the next leaders in law enforcement and the state of South Carolina,” said Calhoun, who wants to ensure his officers have the equipment and training they need to do their jobs effectively.

Calhoun joined SCDPS in 1999 after earning a criminal justice degree from the University of South Carolina. Before serving as Assistant Chief of BPS, Calhoun was the field commander for the agency’s State House and Judicial divisions, a training officer, and he oversaw field operations for the Governor’s Mansion, State Agency Support Division and Special Operations. His career has allowed him to meet many dignitaries, including presidential candidates, and witness history, such as when the Confederate flag was removed from the state Capitol grounds.

In 2017 Calhoun joined a prestigious group comprised of less than 1 percent of the country’s law enforcement officers when he completed the FBI National Academy. The FBI National Academy allowed Calhoun the opportunity to “find the best practices” by learning from the experiences of other law enforcement officers, which will assist him in better protecting citizens, legislators, the governor and other leaders.

He is the son of Phillip and Jeanne Calhoun of Irmo, formerly of Barnwell. Calhoun is married to Lori Weeks Calhoun, also a Barnwell County native, and they have two children, Olivia and Andrew, both 18.

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety includes the Highway Patrol, State Transport Police, Bureau of Protective Services, Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs, Immigration Enforcement Unit and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame. Their mission is to ensure public safety by protecting and serving the people of South Carolina and its visitors.

Meet Laura Boccanfuso and ABii – Shark Tank 5/6 at 10pm

It’s been awhile since I added a “Meet Your Neighbor” post, but now’s the time for y’all to meet Laura Boccanfuso who lives right here in our community with her husband Tony, their 2 daughters and 1 son.

You can learn more about her and her work by watching Shark Tank, next week, May 6th at 10pm!


Teachers and parents are always going to be the most important people responsible for helping children learn. Laura Boccanfuso, founder and CEO of Van Robotics , knows this very well, but is convinced that most teachers (and many parents) could use some help. Children have different learning styles, and need differing amounts of time and attention to achieve their educational goals, but most schools require a standardized curriculum. Teachers often struggle to meet the needs of more than 20 students in a classroom of varied style-learners.

Because of this, many school districts have already incorporated technology into their classrooms to enhance their students’ learning experience. But most standard technology and the accompanying software is not sophisticated enough to gather information necessary to adapt to the individual student’s learning preferences. Meet ABii, a small robot teacher’s aide, who delivers grades 2-5 core subject instruction by engaging students with fun, social interactions designed to improve individual academic achievement.

Before establishing Van Robotics, Boccanfuso earned an MS in computer science from Bowling Green State University and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of South Carolina. Her focus was on artificial intelligence and human-computer interactions, and she was specifically interested in how to engage students with new materials. Working as a researcher for Yale University, she learned that the most effective methods involved continual monitoring and adapting to individual stress levels, and that this is especially important for children on the autism spectrum, or who have ADHD or other developmental issues.

After establishing Van Robotics in 2016, Boccanfuso developed eight prototype robots with 22 math lessons. In early 2018 they launched the first pilot program in schools in Alabama, Kansas, New York and South Carolina. Seed money was provided through Tech Stars Austin, South Carolina Research Authority, and Right Side Capital Management, totaling $1 million during the period January 2018 through June 2019. On January 27, 2018, Van Robotics was chosen as one of ten companies for the Techstars Austin 2018 accelerator, and The Tech Tribune named it as one of the very best tech startups in South Carolina in 2020.

Read more here.

Meet Michael Nieri – Hall of Fame, Clemson University

Even this lifelong Gamecock can recognize when my rival Tiger fans do well in life! Michael Nieri has certainly done that, not only building a successful family business; but also in building a legacy of helping others. Recently, he was recognized for his many achievements and contributions to his alma mater. Michael and most his family still live in our area and we’re fortunate for the way he conducts himself and his business.

From The Newstand:

The College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities at Clemson University welcomed eight new honorees to its Hall of Fame at a formal dinner held on March 6.

Founded in 2017, The Hall of Fame is the highest honor within the College. It was created to recognize exceptional individuals who are leaders in their profession or have made a significant impact on the educational, research and service goals of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.

Members of the CAAH Hall of Fame Class of 2020 are listed by nominating department:

Clementina E. Adams, Department of Languages
Robert M. Burdette, Department of History
Bill and Donna Eskridge, Department of Performing Arts
Richard E. Goodstein, College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities
Dixie Gooch Goswami, Department of English
David Houston, Department of Art
Michael Nieri, Nieri Family Department of Construction Science and Management
Paul C. Steelman, School of Architecture
A night to celebrate

One remarkable feature of this year’s event was a strong sense of family, with large contingents attending from the Nieri and Gooch/Goswami groups, along with other members of the Clemson Family.

The ceremony at the Madren Center was attended by Provost Robert H. Jones and three of the founding members of the Hall of Fame: Michael East, Ronald Moran and Ben Skardon, now 102. From the Class of 2018, John Acorn, Chip Egan, Mickey Harder and Art Young were represented, and from the class of 2019, John Butler and Barry Nocks. In addition, Associate Deans James Burns and Jim Spencer were joined by department chairs and several of the College’s top students, the CAAH Ambassadors.

To read more, click here.

Ballentine Civic Association Monthly Meeting

From email I received:

Please be sure to mark your calendars for March 2nd at 6:30 PM for the monthly Ballentine Community meeting with the Ballentine Civic Association. As always, this meeting is held at the Ballentine Community Center, Bird Road, off Bickley Road, Ballentine. Since there is a lot going on at this time within our neighborhoods, it is worth your time to join us. Since everyone is welcome, please bring your friends and neighbors to keep them up to date.

If you know anyone who would like to join the BCA, please have them see Joan after the meeting. Thank you.


May Community Meetings – Irmo, Chapin, Ballentine

Mark your calendars for these monthly meetings next month

May 6
Ballentine Civic Association
6:30 pm
Monthly Membership Meeting
Ballentine Park
The Ballentine Civic Association was formed to help build and support the Ballentine Community. We work hard to keep our community members informed and aware of all events, changes and updates that are happening in our area. We partner with local businesses to help grow and build their services. Our partners are what make our community great and strive to keep those connections strong.

May 8
Irmo Chamber of Commerce
Monthly Member Luncheon
11:30 am – 1pm
St Andrews Presbyterian Church
Please join us for our May Chamber Luncheon on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 from 11:30am-1pm at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. This month, we will learn about the Palmetto Health/Prisma Health merger and they role they will continue to play in the Irmo community. FATZ Southern Kitchen will be catering.

May 16
Greater Chapin Chamber of Commerce
Monthly Member Luncheon
12 until 1:30 pm
Make plans to join us at the Ole Oak Barn Wedding and Event Venue, our Sponsor for our May Chamber luncheon. 1155 Holy Trinity Church Road. Kelly Jeffcoat, Cancer Survivor, Nurse Navigator helps diagnosed women navigate the healthcare system, providing much needed emotion support. She will be speaking to us about Breast Cancer and our very own LeeAnn Bergren may share a few encouraging words as well.
Lunch will be provided by Doc’s BBQ

Lake Murray Republican Women February meeting

Tuesday, February 19th
Social starts 6:00, meeting starts at 6:30pm
Dutch Treat
Liberty on the Lake

Guest Speakers: Alexis Scurry, Richland County Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator
Bob Healy, Director of Policy for Lighthouse for Life

For more information visit their Facebook Page

NOTE: The Richland County GOP will have Precinct Reorganization meetings in March. Stay in contact here or with the party to be sure you are aware of the time and location.

District Five – public information meeting

From D5 Website:

CHAPIN – School District Five of Lexington & Richland Counties has scheduled a public information meeting Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, concerning proposed design plans for a new elementary school. The planned location for School District Five’s Elementary School 13 is on Amicks Ferry Road in Chapin, S.C.

The meeting will be held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies in Chapin. The meeting will have a drop-in type format with displays for viewing, and members of the public will have the opportunity to provide written comments. Formal, verbal comments will not be taken during this meeting. Project information, including meeting materials and comment forms will also be available on the project website at

“The purpose of this meeting is to provide an opportunity to review and discuss individually with representatives the proposed design plans for Elementary School 13,” said School District Five School Board Chairman Robert Gantt. “Another purpose of the meeting is to gather information from the public on questions or concerns. We have strived to be transparent throughout this process. Personnel from the design firm will be available to answer questions and discuss the project with interested members of the public individually.”

Project information, including meeting materials, will also be available after the meeting on the project website at Members of the public may also submit input through the online comment card through January 31 by visiting the project website.

Meet John Burriss: our SCDOT Commissioner

Many remember how I spotlight members of our community here on NathansNews as readers pass along news and accomplishments of their friends and neighbors.

Today, we have one of our own who has been appointed to the SCDOT Commission. This is a very good move for our area and actually comes as part of the restructuring the General Assembly put in place years ago when we passed the Roads Bill (aka “gas tax”).

Y’all know I’m tight with money, but the roads needed to be fixed (and they have, and continue to see improvements). One thing that made that vote easier was the ability to change how DOT Commissioners are appointed. Long story short, a powerful Senator’s brother-in-law had been on the Commission for awhile; but this year, that changed.

Please join me in welcoming one of our own, John Burris from Chapin, to this position!

Commissioner Burriss is President and owner of The Burriss Corporation, a real estate and construction management company. He is also President and owner of St. Andrews Fitness Corporation.

Burris served in the S.C. House of Representatives from 1984-1988. He was also a member of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) Board from 1988-1999. He served as the Board’s Chairman from 1994 through 1999.

Commissioner Burriss earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from St. Andrews Presbyterian College (now St. Andrews University) in Laurinburg, N.C.

He and his wife Becca have three children and five grandchildren.

Next Ballentine Civic Association Meeting