Classroom Champs

Pencils and rulers have given way to in-class iPads over the years, but some classroom standards remain the same, such as the dedicated pros who lead our children in learning for life.

In honor of a new school year, we caught up with two busy educators in Garner, for a glimpse at how they work, play — and a sampling of how all the town’s teachers strive to put kids first.

Tiffany Lachenmayr: Timber Drive Elementary

It’s a blast from the past, stepping into Tiffany Lachenmayr’s fourth-grade classroom: The alphabet, in cursive, serves as a wall border, and 26 book bags stuff numbered cubbies.

A motivational sign declares “Your choices + Your actions = Your life,” and the posted schedule includes the three R’s and then some.

But a lot more is new in today’s classroom than old, from iPads for each student to teacher Tiffany Lachenmayr, who professes hot yoga and marathon running as her afterschool passions.

“I wanted to be a doctor, to make an impact on people’s lives, and studied pre-med for two years,” said Lachenmayr. “Then I had an epiphany in the library while studying for a biology test: What would make the biggest impact on lives is teaching. I already had a love for kids. I switched majors the next day.”

Lachenmayr, recipient of the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award in 2012, has helped lead her students to exceed state averages in math and reading. Also a National Board Certified teacher, she guides them through busy days of lessons blended with group study, and pays attention to which children might need a little extra help.

The Common Core curriculum currently used in our state’s schools is rigorous, she says, in an ever-changing field that requires adaptability.

“I try to make sure I’m prepared with what I’m doing and teaching,” Lachenmayr said, “then reflect, revise and improve …it’s rewarding to see their light bulbs go off.”  

Timber Drive Elementary is recognized by the state as a high-growth School of Distinction. As the fourth-grade representative on the school’s leadership team, Lachenmayr says the group puts meeting students’ academic and emotional needs at the forefront, while helping them follow a path to success.  

“I have really high hopes for them,” she said. “I want each one to know, ‘I’m your biggest cheerleader, you’re college smart, and we’ll do whatever we need to, to get you there."

For more information on the Milken Educator Awards, see


Drew Cook: Garner Magnet High School

Another five minutes would have changed the life story of Drew Cook, and those of students at Garner Magnet High School.

Literally on his way to accept his first teaching job, a middle school position, Cook received an offer from then-GMHS principal John Williams.

“My wife Becky and I married in 1997, right after college, and we had a deal that whoever got the first job, that’s where we would go,” Cook said. Williams’ offer of a social studies teaching spot and junior varsity basketball coach at Cook’s alma mater was a dream come true.

Along the way, Cook’s career took a turn toward school administration. He jokes that’s due to his DNA.

“My dad spent his career in law enforcement and government, and currently works as sergeant-at-arms for the North Carolina House, and my mom is a retired teacher; I’m genetically predisposed to becoming a high school principal!” he said.

As his own family grew to include daughters Leah, 12, and Madelyn, 9, Cook pursued a graduate degree in school administration from N.C. State University, and became assistant principal at Garner High.

In 2009, Cook took on the role of head principal at GMHS. The school, home to an International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, has since been recognized as a state School of Distinction, and in 2012 and 2013 received Bronze Medal recognition in US News & World Report’s annual rankings of the nation’s best high schools.

In 2011, Cook also found his school in the national spotlight as GMHS student Scotty McCreery was crowned TV’s American Idol.

“There’s no college class for that!” he said. “It was all-new territory, with (celebrity gossip shows) TMZ and Access Hollywood calling me. But the McCreerys were wonderful and deferential on behalf of the other students.

“Scotty’s management team was concerned about him coming back to school. After his Idol tour, I made one brief announcement asking the kids to be respectful, and after the first day everything was back to normal.

“It’s a tribute to the kids and this community, how they created a cocoon for Scotty. And his character, his values and demeanor, offer a positive legacy for our school.”  

Also in 2011, Cook was named Principal of the Year for Wake County, and in 2012 he was the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ State High School Principal of the Year.
“More than anything, it’s humbling,” said Cook. “I know the kind of people my peers are, and it motivates me to do even better. I can’t even express how inspiring it is to work with people who work so hard.”

This school year, Cook is overseeing 2,500 students and preparing for a mid-year transition for freshmen to a new ninth-grade center created from a former movie theater adjacent to the GMHS campus.

Change is constant, Cook notes.

“But at the core, we want to provide a safe, focused learning environment, a place students enjoy being and a place for them to be successful.

“You don’t get an immediate payback in this profession. But as my mom says, ‘Never discount the power one person can have.’”

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