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3rd Grade Teacher Receives 2022 Flame for Learning Award

Four Oaks Elementary third grade teacher Jennifer Beninate was named the 2022 Johnston County Teacher of the Year at the annual Flame for Learning Award banquet on April 26.


Because of the importance of teachers in developing and educating children, the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce adopted the Flame For Learning Award. Their goal is to support and elevate the teaching profession in the public schools. This award recognizes outstanding creativity and innovation in the classroom and nominees are selected strictly on merit, without regard to school or residence.

Through a blind judging process, twenty semifinalists were selected to move on to the interview phase and submitted a Best Practice from the classroom. The twenty semifinalists represented 18 schools from all across Johnston County.


Three innovative teachers were chosen as finalists for the award: Amanda Astoske of Smithfield-Selma High, Amanda  Jackson of South Smithfield Elementary, and Melissa Pearce of Cleveland High.


Beninate will move forward to represent Johnston County in the regional competition, which is a part of the competition for North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year. She received $1,000 for being named the Flame for Learning Award recipient.


The finalists for the award, Astoske, Jackson, and Pearce received $500 dollars, and the semifinalists for the award received $100 individually. All of the cash awards were made possible thanks to the Flame for Learning Awards sponsors. 


The 20 semifinalists for the Flame for Learning award were:


Abigail Valdes -Cooper Elementary

Amanda Astoske - Smithfield-Selma High

Amanda Jackson - South Smithfield Elementary

Beverly Harper - Smithfield Middle

Brandy Williams - Selma Elementary

Carlos Jimenez - Selma Middle

Gail R. Lawhorn - River Dell Elementary

Jennifer Beninate - Four Oaks Elementary

Karen Newhart - Riverwood Elementary

Kristine Gear - Innovation Academy

Lee Hudson - West Johnston High

LiAnn Cheong     - Riverwood Elementary

Maria Eby - Dixon Road Elementary

Melissa Pearce - Cleveland High

Meredith Rakowski - Clayton High

Patience Spivey - Smithfield Middle

Rachel Hardin     - West View Elementary

Robin Tingle - Thanksgiving Elementary

Shannon Gibson - Pine Level Elementary

Will Marshall - West Johnston High


This year’s Flame For Learning program was made possible by several sponsors, including: Chick-fil-A of Smithfield, Walmart, InterState Outdoor, Inc., Johnston County Education Foundation, Pine Needle Square, Ryan Taylor Insurance & Financial Services, Rep. Donna McDowell White, The Armstrong Law Firm, Simple Twist, and the Committee to Elect Rick Mercier.

The banquet was held at The Farm @ 42 in Selma, and was hosted and catered by Johnston County Public Schools.


On behalf of Johnston County Public Schools, the Johnston County Board of Education and the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce , congratulations to all of the nominees and to Jennifer Beninate, our 2022 Flame for Learning Teacher of the Year. 


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