Herman L. Horn Elementary School in Vinton is beginning the new school year with 14 new staff members.
Brittany Akers is a new Special Education teacher at HLH. She is originally from Roanoke but has been living in West Virginia for the past four years. She is a graduate of Northside High School.
Akers majored in Elementary and Special Education at the University of Charleston in West Virginia.
“After living in Charleston after graduating college, I decided it was time to move back home and closer to family,” said Akers. “I moved here in June and began looking for a position with the county. I am excited to be back.”
She has taught for four years at the elementary level in second, third, and fourth grades.
“I’m excited to work at Herman L. Horn,” said Akers. “It seems like a great school and the staff has been very welcoming. Herman L. Horn puts students first, which is a very strong belief of mine.”
Laura Barton is working this year as an instructional assistant in the preschool program at Herman L. Horn. She was born and raised in Vinton and graduated from William Byrd with the Class of 2005. She briefly attended Radford University to study Elementary Education and may potentially return to finish her degree.
Barton spent the last 12 years in both restaurant and retail management and decided she would look for a career with more fulfillment.
“My roots are in Vinton; my son attends HLH and will be a rising first grader,” said Barton. “I look forward to being a part of this community and enriching the lives of all the students I encounter.”
Barton’s sister is a Special Education teacher at William Byrd Middle. Her father, Greg Barton, is the coach of the William Byrd High School softball team. Her son attends HLH and wrestles for the Big Orange Wrestling Club that her boyfriend coaches. Her grandmother and both parents attended William Byrd as well. That leaves Barton “excited to start my educational career in the same hometown I grew up in.”
Grace Cisco is teaching pre-kindergarten Special Education at HLH. She is from Roanoke and graduated from William Byrd in 2010. She majored in Inclusive Early Childhood Education at James Madison University. She has taught for four years in Franklin County.
“I started at HLH and it has been my dream to come back home,” said Cisco. “I always loved HLH and was part of Teachers for Tomorrow in high school and was able to help at HLH during that time. I have always wanted to come back to where I started.”
Cisco started school at HLH for two years in kindergarten and first grade until Bonsack was built and she attended there from second through fifth grades.
Emily Conner is also teaching Special Education at HLH, primarily with third, fourth, and fifth grade. She is originally from Roanoke and a 2014 graduate of Cave Spring High School. She attended Longwood University where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 2017 with a concentration in Special Education and a Master’s degree in 2018 with a concentration in Special Education.
She worked previously as a high school Special Education teacher in Powhatan County while working on her Master’s degree. Once she graduated, she returned to Roanoke and was hired for a mid-year position as a middle school Special Education teacher at Hidden Valley Middle. This will be her first year in Special Education on the elementary level, although she did her student teaching at Back Creek.
“I am so excited to begin this journey at HLH,” said Conner. “I’m excited to see all the changes that the administration is making and to be a part of this new team. I decided to make the move to Vinton because this summer I got married. My husband and I purchased a house and I wanted to help serve the community we live in.”
Kristin Gonzalez is teaching fourth grade reading and science. She is from Montvale and graduated from Liberty High School in Bedford. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Roanoke College, a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and her Master’s in Educational Leadership from the University of North Texas.
“After military service and my husband retiring from the military, we decided to move back to the area where I grew up,” said Gonzalez.
This will be her third year in teaching. She says the faculty and staff at HLH have been “so pleasant and welcoming.”
“I have three little ones of my own, one of which is starting kindergarten this year,” Gonzalez said. As for hobbies, her favorite is bouldering (rock climbing).
Erica Jackson is a school counselor at HLH. She is from Bedford and graduated from Liberty High School. She earned her Bachelor of Social Work degree from James Madison University and her Master of Education with a concentration in school counseling from Liberty University. She has been in the social work field since 2008, including mental health settings. For the past two years she was a school social worker with Franklin County Schools.
“Coming to HLH will cut my commute in half, allowing me to spend more time with my family and my work kiddos,” said Jackson.
“Out of all the settings I have worked in, being in a school setting has been my favorite,” said Jackson. “In elementary, the children are eager and excited about life. I want to help them navigate the challenges that arise in the academic, social, and emotional aspects of their lives so they can continue to be great people. I look forward to serving the Vinton community.”
Her special interests are kickboxing, mysteries, and spending time with her family and friends.
Morgan Lafferty will be teaching third grade at HLH. She was born and raised in Vinton and graduated from WBHS. She went on to major in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Elementary Education PreK-6 at Radford University.
After spending the past five years teaching in various districts across the state, “I decided it was time to come back home and make a difference in my own community.
“I am so excited to be teaching at an elementary school in the town I grew up in,” said Lafferty. “I’m looking forward to the many connections I’m going to make teaching in Vinton and making an impact so close to home.”
Sarah Mercer teaches fourth grade math and Virginia studies at HLH. She recently moved to the area from Bristol, Va. She grew up in Florida.
Mercer majored in elementary education at Mars Hill College and then earned her Master’s in Educational Leadership from Radford University. She taught in Washington County for 15 and a half years at Rhea Valley Elementary in kindergarten, first, third and fourth grades.
“I am very excited to be working at HLH because I love teaching and all of the staff members that I have met have made me feel very welcome,” said Mercer.
Megan Molnar is the speech and language pathologist this year at HLH. She is originally from Roanoke and a graduate of WBHS. She received her undergraduate degree in Communication Disorders with minors in Spanish and Psychology and her Master’s in Communication Disorders from Marshall University.
“I saw a job position opening in Roanoke County and I knew I wanted to come ‘home’ to work after living in West Virginia for the past six years,” said Molnar. “At the time of my interview I wasn’t sure which school or schools I would be placed at if I got the job. After finding out, I was ecstatic as a majority of my high school classmates graduated from there and I knew it was a great school. It has only grown over the years and I am blessed to be a part of the staff and work with the people who have made it the great school that it is today.”
This is her first year in teaching SLP. Although she doesn’t have the experience quite yet, Molnar believes she has a fresh set of skills after just leaving the educational setting. “My brain is filled with recent and up-to-date knowledge and research that I am eager to apply and utilize in my position.”
“My main priority for now is to get to know each one of my students, establish a strong individualized relationship with each of them, and show them how fun speech therapy can be.
“I am blessed to be working at HLH!” said Molnar. “The staff has already been so kind and inviting. It is evident that they work together as a team and that is the type of work environment that I have always wanted to be in. The administration not only cares for their employees, but they care about their students and ensuring that they receive the best education and care possible. A school or any work environment for that matter, thrives when people who care and lead are in charge, and that is definitely the case at HLH. I am eager to give back to Roanoke County Schools as they gave so much to me from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.”
Molnar has a very strong passion for sign language and loves integrating it into therapy sessions when she can. She taught sign language to college students while a student at Marshall.
She comes from a teaching/educational setting background. Her grandmother is a retired teacher; her aunt is a daycare director/owner, and her mother has been a teacher for the past 29 years in the Roanoke/Botetourt area.
“I am blessed to be a part of the educational setting but in a different role than the rest of my family,” said Molnar. “Helping individuals has always been a passion of mine and I can’t wait to show that while working with the students at HLH.”
Emily Moritz teaches kindergarten at HLH. She is from Richmond. Her father is from Roanoke so she would visit her grandparents here every Christmas and summer as a child.
She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Early Elementary Education and her Master’s in Teaching Early and Elementary Education, both from Virginia Commonwealth University. This is her first year in teaching.
“I decided to move to Roanoke with my new husband to start our life and was blessed to have been hired by Julie Sandzimier,” said Moritz. “My kindergarten team reminds me of home back in Richmond. I am here with just my husband and I feel more support from the HLH staff than I ever could have imagined.”
Sherry Nicely is the new bookkeeper/administrative assistant at HLH, after serving as an instructional assistant at the school for four years working in the FACES program.
She is from Manassas, but has lived in Vinton and Roanoke for over 25 years. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication from Old Dominion University.
“I enjoy working at Herman L. Horn because it is a great school,” said Nicely. “The teachers and staff love the students and it shows! I love my new position because it allows me to work with students, staff, and parents. It truly is great to be part of the HIVE.”
Nicely has two children who recently graduated from WBHS and one still enrolled there.
“The biggest interest I have outside of HLH is working with the youth at my church,” said Nicely. “We have a stick ministry and perform many different places. One of the highlights of our year was marching with our lighted sticks in the Vinton Christmas Parade.”
Kristin Purnell is an instructional assistant in the Pre-K classroom, working with Grace Cisco. She comes from San Antonio, Texas. She earned her Associate degree in early childhood education from Virginia Western. Purnell applied to work with preschoolers “because that is my favorite age group.”
She has 15 years of teaching and assisting in preschool classrooms.
“I am glad to be with my favorite age group and happy to be working with other passionate teachers,” said Purnell.
In her spare time, she loves to craft and sew and “spend time with my wonderful family.”
Shannon Smith is a kindergarten instructional assistant with eight years of experience. She is from North Carolina. Smith says she has heard great things about HLH and “it is in my local community.”
Heather Waldron is a Special Education teacher at Herman L. Horn working in kindergarten, first, and fifth grades. She is from Vinton and a 2007 graduate of William Byrd. She lived in Vinton for 26 years before moving to Glenvar.
She earned her Bachelor’s in Business Administration from Radford University, her Master’s in Management and Leadership from Liberty University, and a Master’s in Teaching with a concentration in Special Education, also from Liberty. Waldron is a career switcher and spent eight years working in Human Resources before teaching for four years.
She is a former HLH student and “excited to be back.”
“I adore the Vinton community and I am excited to work with the staff and students at HLH,” said Waldron.
In her spare time, she loves spending time with her children outdoors. “We enjoy kayaking, tubing, traveling, and drive-in movies!”
Julie Sandzimier remains the principal at HLH with Theresa Kabath continuing to serve as assistant principal. In 2018-2019 Herman L. Horn had an enrollment of 441 students.