Starnes named Fine Arts Educator of the Year

Since 2014, the Stanly County Arts Council has recognized a Fine Arts Educator of the Year, affectionately known as the “Jim Kennedy” award in memory of long-time arts advocate, teacher and coach, James D. Kennedy.

The award recognizes a fine arts teacher in the Stanly County public school system who has made a significant positive impact on the arts in education and has inspired students to pursue, appreciate, and respect the fine arts. Nominations are submitted by principals from the elementary, middle and high schools in Stanly County.

The 2024 recipient of the Fine Arts Educator award is Julie Starnes, visual arts teacher at Locust Elementary.

Starnes received her award at the Celebration of the ARTS awards ceremony on March 23. Starnes was also recognized at the April Board of Education meeting on April 10.

Starnes received a $250 classroom scholarship to help her continue her successful arts program at Locust Elementary.

Kim Dean, assistant principal at Locust Elementary, had the following words to describe Starnes in her nomination: “I have previously worked in an A+ Arts Magnet School, so I am used to high quality artwork displayed in classrooms and school hallways. If I had to compare the artwork produced in the magnet school with what is happening at Locust Elementary, Mrs. Starnes’ hard work far outshines what I once thought was stellar work. Mrs. Starnes goes above and beyond the scope of her responsibilities as the Visual Art teacher at our school. She has created a YouTube channel to help with her instruction which allows students to see the beginning stages of their projects, but also a completed masterpiece. When teaching, Mrs. Starnes exposes students to a variety of mediums to create art and monitors student mastery of art standards. Mrs. Starnes has an abundance of patience and ensures that all students feel successful in her class. I cannot think of anyone who is more purposeful and thoughtful in her planning of lessons. Mrs. Starnes is a kind and compassionate teacher who treats all students with dignity and respect. All students are engaged in all of Mrs. Starnes’ classes. I was amazed that, even when students felt they could not complete the task, with Mrs. Starnes’ support, they not only completed the art task, but enjoyed it and were happy with the outcome. Mrs. Starnes is truly worthy of this recognition.”

Starnes began her journey into art education in 2011, after graduating with her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Gardner-Webb University. During her time at GWU, she met her husband, Trey, and they were married in 2011. Her husband gifted her with her first DSLR camera, sparking her passion for photography. Julie went on to obtain her teaching certification from UNCC and study digital photography at SCC.

In 2011, she began teaching elementary art in Charlotte at Highland Creek Elementary. She taught in various schools in CMS until she joined Locust Elementary School in Stanly County in January 2020. While teaching as an elementary visual arts educator, Starnes has also grown her family and wedding photography business, A Work of Heart Photography. In 2021, she and her husband moved to Albemarle with their three children, Kate, Carter and Caroline.

Starnes joins previous Fine Arts Educators of the Year awardees Lori Watson, music teacher at Stanfield and Locust elementary schools; Michelle Osborne, art teacher at Central Elementary; Stacy Bottoms, art teacher at West Stanly Middle School; Jessica Kiser, band/music teacher at Albemarle Middle School; Frank Poolos, band director at North Stanly High School; Rebekah Crisco, art teacher at North Stanly Middle School: Derek Smith, band director at West Stanly High School; Randy Fike, art teacher at West Stanly High School; and Wanda Maness, art teacher at South Stanly High School.

For the year 2021, the Arts Person and Fine Arts Educator of the Year awards were combined and honored all arts educators in the county for their dedication to aspiring youth to pursue the arts during the pandemic.

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Stanly County Arts Council, all previous award winners were recognized during the awards ceremony and thanked for all that they do to cultivate creativity with the next generation.

The Stanly County Arts Council was founded in 1974. It is celebrating its 50th Anniversary with the theme “50 Years of Cultivating Creativity.” It continues to promote and support all art forms in the community. Its mission is to encourage and promote broad-based cultural and educational activities in the arts throughout Stanly County.

The Stanly County Arts Council is supported by private donations and by the NC Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

For the latest information on the arts in Stanly County, visit, or “Like” them on Facebook or follow them on Instagram. You may also contact Renee VanHorn, Executive Director at