Suzanne Russell might just be the happiest educator in the Liberty County School System.
The Taylors Creek Elementary teacher won the 2011-12 Liberty County School System’s Teacher of the Year award Tuesday, just a few days after her husband, Matt Russell, returned from Iraq.
“It is very exciting, very overwhelming, [and] the biggest thing, I think, is it is just an honor,” the fifth-grade writing and language arts teacher said. “Teaching is hard work and it just makes it all pay off.”
The ceremony spotlighted 14 teachers, one from each school in Liberty County, selected by their peers for the yearly award. Candidates from each school were required to fill out a department of education application for approval before being selected by colleagues.
The judges — Chamber of Commerce Interim Director Leah Poole, Hinesville CFO Kim Ryon and Liberty Regional Medical Center marketing director Rene’ Harwell — sought teachers who are exceptional, dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled, according to the application packet. Educators also were selected based on their work in the community and how well they inspire students and garner respect from parents and colleagues.
After a short video presentation highlighting each candidate’s nomination qualifications, Superintendent Dr. Judy Scherer addressed the audience of about 100 guests.
“What a great group of individuals to represent the teachers we have in Liberty County. It is great tonight to represent our teachers of the year. I’m just glad I wasn’t on the panel [to make] final selections,” she said of the judge’s tough decision.
Scherer handed out certificates of recognition to each teacher and LCSS spokeswoman Demere’ Bowen gave each candidate a DVD copy of the video presentation.
After all certificates were handed out, Scherer proclaimed Russell, 28, teacher of the year. After hugging her family members in the audience, the teary-eyed educator made her way to the side of the room where she accepted a glass plaque, a laptop computer and carrying case and a VISA gift card.
“It is an honor to work in this county and this school and it is an honor to represent such a great school and to represent this county,” Russell said. “It is more than I could wrap my brain around.”
After Scherer presented the award to Russell, she learned that Russell’s husband had just returned Dec. 10 from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
“That’s just an example of how our teachers dig in, even when things aren’t ideal,” Scherer said. “She’s absolutely great and she’s taken such an initiative in the writing program.”
Russell’s husband beamed while he watched his wife pose for photographs with the superintendent and family members.
“I’m speechless, honestly,” he said.