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Forsyth County Teacher of the Year contest narrowed to final three
Superintendent Jeff Bearden hands flowers to Michele Dugan as he surprises her in class at Forsyth Central High School, telling her she’s been named High School Teacher of the Year. - photo by Jim Dean

Three Forsyth County teachers received surprise visits from Superintendent Jeff Bearden and others Friday morning after being chosen as finalists for this year’s Teacher of the Year.

Shiloh Point Elementary School kindergarten teacher Maggie Tompkins, North Forsyth Middle School speech pathologist Maleah Stewart and Forsyth Central High School Advanced Placement English language teacher Michele Dugan were given the honors.

“We have a committee of folks from our community that come together, read the resumes, conduct interviews and then they select the final three and then ultimately the Teacher of the Year for the school system,” Bearden said. “This is always one of the best days of the year in Forsyth County Schools. It’s a surprise visit [and] they have no idea they’ve been named the final three for Teacher of the Year.”

Each school in the county announced a Teacher of the Year in September.

In December, 18 of those teachers moved on to the semifinalist round. After completing interviews with a selection committee, the 18 semifinalists were narrowed down to three: one for each school level.

Shiloh Point’s Tompkins, who was visited first, said she had no idea she would be chosen as a finalist.

She has been teaching for 12 years, the last nine in Forsyth County.

“I know a lot of people deserve [the award] and just like them, I come to work every day and do the best I can do and pour what I have into my students and try to teach them to be the best citizens they can be in our community,” she said. “I hope that I can be an inspiration to other teachers to continue to do their best and to really look at what’s important to teach our students.”

North Middle’s Stewart, who teaches children with special needs, said she was equally shocked by the visit.

“I feel overwhelmed — it’s just a variety of emotions,” she said. “I feel humbled, I feel extremely blessed, I feel excited, shocked … but mostly I am just so blessed to be here. I am so blessed by this school, and I’ve only been here since 2014 but the minute I walked in the doors to this school, I felt valued and I felt supported.

“I’ve been in special education for 17 years and I’ve never accomplished as much as I have these past two-and-a-half years being here with the support of my colleagues. They value me and believe in me.”

Stewart said she felt as if teachers at her past schools didn’t consider her a true colleague at times.

“Coming from special education and as a speech language pathologist, a lot of times — and I’ve worked at a lot of different schools — I’m not always recognized as a fellow teacher,” she said. “‘She’s the therapist, she travels between schools,’ [they say], so you never really feel a part of your school, [but] this is home. I feel like [North] is my daytime home.”

Like Stewart, Dugan said she was overwhelmed by the surprise.

“All of our teachers in Forsyth County are phenomenal and amazing and especially here at Forsyth Central we have such a fantastic family, but I am very sincerely honored to have the opportunity to represent our school and what we do in our high schools in Forsyth,” she said. “I’m proud that in Forsyth, we have a way to recognize the hard work our teachers do every day and so, for me, this is just a celebration of the excellence that we have.”

Along with Bearden, President and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce James McCoy and Jacob Otwell, sales special ist at Andean Chevrolet, attended the visits.

The district-wide Teacher of the Year will receive a car from Andean to lease for a year.

The program has run consistently since 1990, though Cumming Elementary’s Edith Wright was given the inaugural honor in 1976.

On Friday, March 10, the district-wide Teacher of the Year will be announced at the annual Forsyth County Schools Celebration of Excellence.

The winner will represent Forsyth County in the Georgia Teacher of the Year program, a competition that ultimately sends one state representative to the national level.

Last year, Andrew Poor, band teacher for South Forsyth Middle School, was honored at the district level.

Two years ago, Marlo Miranda, automotive technology teacher at Forsyth Central High School, was named a finalist for the statewide recognition.