• Lizzie Vansant is Cherokee Bend Elementary School's 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year.

    Jan. 13, 2021 — Lizzie Vansant has come a long way since first arriving at Cherokee Bend Elementary School nine years ago. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Auburn University, she decided to dabble in education and accepted a position as a special education aide.

    It didn't take her long to realize that she had found a home and career.

    “I came in and literally fell in love with the building,” Vansant said.

    The building has loved her back.

    Once she earned her master’s degree in collaborative education from UAB, Vansant ascended from aide to special education teacher. She held that position for six years until becoming the school’s literacy coach before the 2019-2020 school year.

    Already, she has made an impact in her new role. Vansant’s colleagues selected her as Cherokee Bend’s 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year.

    “She’s a listening ear and a calm presence,” Cherokee Bend Assistant Principal Carla Dudley said. “I think people gravitate toward that and gravitate toward her because they feed off of the energy that she provides.”

    As the school’s literacy coach, Vansant works with students and teachers across every grade level to help them enhance their skills. She evaluates data, observes and models lessons for teachers, and provides support to anyone who needs it.

    Vansant also led the school on its journey to revise its literacy curriculum.

    “Day to day, my biggest focus is to make sure that people — including teachers, students, administrators, and front office staff — are OK,” Vansant said. “My main focus is relationships.”

    As she grows into her coaching role, Vansant strives to follow the example set by the educator nearest to her heart.  Her mother, Lacy LeBeau, taught for many years at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School in Homewood and Vestavia Hills Elementary West.

    Vansant said she was an incredible teacher who modeled excellence in the classroom.

    “I can’t help but try to live up to that expectation, that standard that she set, and she continues to set,” Vansant said. “She’s retired, but she continues to set it for my kids. Every conversation she has with them is a teachable moment, and that spark, that love of learning and love of teaching, you can’t teach anybody. It’s just innate in your own person.”

    Earlier in her career, Dudley held a position similar to Vansant’s when she served as a reading coach at Oak Mountain Intermediate School. Vansant has impressed Dudley with her work ethic, demeanor, and dedication to the school community.

    “There isn’t a thing that Lizzie has been given or asked to do that she hasn’t gone above and beyond to get it done,” Dudley said.

    Vansant credits her peers for enabling her success.

    "I couldn't do it without our teachers, staff, and admin team," Vansant said. "Truly, first and foremost, [Principal] Sandy [Ritchey] took a chance on me to be literacy coach, and Carla has come in seamlessly throughout this journey. I would have never seen myself in this role if I wasn't empowered from our administration.”

    Teacher of the Year Overview

    Name: Lizzie Vansant

    Role: Literacy Coach

    Years at Cherokee Bend: 9

    Fun Fact: Vansant is a fan of Survivor and once tried out for the reality TV show when auditions were held in Birmingham.