A special-education pre-K educator in her second year at the school was named the 2012-13 Liberty County School System Teacher of the Year during a ceremony last week.
Sara Taylor, who began her education career with Teach for America in 2004, dabbed tears from her eyes as she received the award.
This year, the 14 school-level teachers of the year spanned a range from young teachers to veterans, with subject areas including art, band and physical education.
But for Taylor and pre-K center Principal Shelby Bush, the honor signifies appreciation for educators in both preschool and special education — two programs that often are overlooked.
“I was completely overwhelmed,” Taylor said after hearing her name. “I think the most amazing part of that is that I work for the pre-K center, and I think sometimes people question the value of early childhood education. ... I really took it as the opportunity to demonstrate the work that my students are doing and how critical it is to them.”
Each year, staff members vote on their favorite candidates at their school, and the winner becomes the school’s teacher of the year.
At the pre-K center, the first votes were overwhelmingly in favor of Taylor, Bush said.
“Last year when she started with us, she quickly made her mark by bringing her expertise with technology … and she uses it each and every day in that classroom,” Bush said, adding that Taylor always is willing to help her peers with discipline, classroom management and instruction techniques.
“On her door, it says ‘Welcome scholars,’” Bush said. “She expects her students to succeed and sets those high expectations, and she follows through — she is the full package.”
A three-person committee of community representatives who are not affiliated with the school system evaluates the applications and conducts classroom observations to select the district candidate, LCSS Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer said.
United Way Liberty County Director Jennifer Darsey, New Day Outreach Ministry Pastor Richard Hayes and The Heritage Bank business developer Jessica Riner were on this year’s selection committee.
The wife of an Army judge advocate general attorney and mother to a 7-month-old daughter brings great expertise to the school, Bush added.
Taylor taught middle-schoolers in the lowest socioeconomic district in South Bronx, N.Y., and also served as dean of curriculum and instruction at Little Rock Preparatory Academy, an Arkansas charter school that provides a rigorous learning environment for traditionally underserved students in grades five through eight.
Working with students who have to overcome social and financial obstacles to succeed has shown Taylor just how capable students are, she said.
“There are absolutely no excuses for what a child can achieve,” she said. “Every child can be successful if you tap into their potential. … What it really showed me was that even in a school that had no resources, with mostly first-year teachers … they can achieve incredible things — I think that teaching special education is really just another part of that.”
Once a school selects its teacher of the year, the candidate fills out a district application with information about their professional accomplishments and philosophies.
“Teacher of the year is important because it gives teachers as a profession, and excellent teachers, some recognition,” Scherer said. “And it’s a way of saying ‘job well done,’ and in this case, it is a job well done. She’s an excellent teacher.”
Taylor will move on to compete with educators from up to 197 other school districts in the Georgia Teacher of the Year contest.
“Many people say that pre-K is babysitting, and if you go look at the instructional stuff that goes on in her classroom, it is definitely not babysitting,” Scherer said. “If you go observe in her classroom and look at the use of technology and the things that she’s teaching to 3-, 4- and 5-year-old special-needs students, it’s just phenomenal.”