Teachers, staff honored for reaching milestone years at USJ

Pictured, from left, are Sylvia Bell, Lisa Cates, Karen Morganti, Regina Sills, Sherri Brauss, Phyllis Gayton, and Linda Yates.

Several teachers reached important milestones as employees of USJ this year, and they were recognized for working at USJ for 20, 25, or 30 years.

They were honored at the All-Staff Christmas Luncheon and received fresh leis flown in from Hawaii by Head of School Stu Hirstein. Besides being a widely known symbol for “welcome,” leis also mean “honored one,” said Hirstein, who moved to Jackson from Hawaii. 

Second Grade Teacher Linda Yates grew up in Memphis and earned a degree from the University of Memphis. She joined USJ in 1984. She and her husband, Boyce, have a son, Brian, and twin granddaughters, CeCe and Kaylee, who live in Jackson.

“I have enjoyed all these years at USJ because of the support of the parents and administration, the many friendships I have developed with colleagues, and the freedom and opportunities to individualize instruction to meet the needs of my students,” she said.

Lisa Cates, Lower School Secretary, graduated from North Side High School and attended West Tennessee Business College. She joined USJ as the Upper School Secretary in 1984.

“Being at USJ has been a rewarding experience because of the close relationships with the administration, staff, faculty, parents, and students,” said Cates. “It is always great to see graduates return to USJ with their children, including my own children returning to USJ with my grandchildren.”

Cates and her husband, Robert, have a daughter, Carrie, who is a junior at USJ. Her daughter, Jennifer Cash Biggs, graduated USJ in 1993 and lives in Pensacola, Florida. Her son, Russ Cash, graduated USJ in 1998 and lives in Jackson.

Second Grade Teacher Phyllis Gayton has a 35-year career in education. She is in her 26th year as a teacher at USJ. “I try to instill a love for learning in my classroom,” Gayton said. “I feel each child is an individual and should be treated with love and respect.”

She has a bachelor’s degree from Nazareth College and a master’s in education from the University of Michigan. She and her husband, Bill, have two children, Jeff and Colleen, both USJ graduates. Her grandson, Cade Gayton, is in kindergarten at USJ.

Sylvia Bell, Lower School Receptionist, has worked for 30 years in the Lower School. A graduate of South Side High School, Bell received her bachelor’s degree from Union University. She also did graduate work at the University of Memphis.

Before working at USJ, Bell taught language arts and was senior advisor at Medina High School in Gibson County. She and Gerald, her husband, have one child, Gerard, who is a graduate of USJ.

Cubs Teacher Karen Morganti has worked at USJ for 22 years. “I want the children to have fun while learning everything they possibly can,” she said. “Every day is an adventure! I cannot imagine not being a teacher. It is my passion!”

Her degree in early childhood education is from Mississippi State University. She and her husband, Jace, have two sons: Austin, a USJ 2013 graduate and student at Mississippi State, and Tyler, a USJ 2008 graduate, who is pursuing a degree as a physical therapist assistant.

Fourth Grade Teacher Regina Sills has been a Lower School teacher for 20 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UT Martin. “My teaching philosophy is to teach to the child,” she said. “Every child learns differently and at a different pace. You need to learn about your students and teach to the individual.”

She and her husband, Eric, have three children who attend USJ. Adam is in twelfth grade, Madison is in ninth grade, and Jackson is in fourth grade.

Originally from Knoxville, Fifth Grade Teacher Sherri Brauss moved to Jackson in 1994 when she married her husband, Chris. She has been teaching at USJ for 20 years.

She earned an undergraduate degree from East Tennessee State University and a master’s degree from West Georgia University. Her children are all Bruins. Her son, Daron, is a Class of 2008 graduate. Ben is a senior, Eli is a ninth grader, and Sarah Beth is a sixth grader.