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Georgia College graduates win Teacher of the Year in five local counties

When a rollicking group of kindergartners are asked why they think their teacher won an important prize, one little boy’s hand immediately shoots up and he solemnly states the correct answer: “For being good.” 

Baldwin County Teacher of the Year LeeAnn Robinson gets a group hug from her kindergartners.

What’s she good at? “Everything!” the children yell, practically knocking their teacher over in a group hug. 

LeeAnn Robinson, their instructor at Blandy Hills Elementary School in Milledgeville, was recently named Teacher of the Year for Baldwin County. Robinson – and five other Baldwin Teacher of the Year finalists – are all Georgia College graduates.

Four additional Georgia College alumni were named Teachers of the Year in Bibb, Jones, Putnam and Wilkinson Counties. A finalist for Bibb’s Assistant Principal of the Year is also a Bobcat.

"It is not surprising that so many of our graduates are selected as Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year. We have outstanding programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that prepare future classroom teachers and school leaders who are ready to make a difference in children’s lives,” said Dr. Joseph Peters, Dean of the John H. Lounsbury College of Education.

LeeAnn Robinson graduated in 2000 with a BS degree in Special Education.

The four other alumni Teachers of the Year are:

  1. Angela Robinson, a fifth grade social studies and language arts teacher at Wilkinson County Elementary School in Irwinton. She graduated from Georgia College in 1997 with a BS degree in Early Childhood Education.

  2. Dominique Nichols, a 10th grade teacher and chair of the Language Arts department at Westside High School in Macon. He graduated from Georgia College in 2013 with a Master of Arts in Teaching - Secondary Education.

  3. Jennifer Holland, a third grade teacher at Dames Ferry Elementary School in Gray. She graduated from Georgia College in 1998 with a BS degree in Early Childhood Education.

  4. Jonathan Deen, an American Government and U.S. History teacher at Putnam County High School in Eatonton. He graduated from Georgia College in 1995 with a BS degree in History.

Georgia College was chartered in 1889 as Georgia Normal and Industrial College with a mission to prepare teachers, Peters said. The university continues to honor this tradition today by providing high-quality education for teachers, who enter the workforce and significantly impact communities they serve.

Georgia College’s education program received several high rankings this fall. The Early Childhood program was ranked fourth in the country by and in the top 10 percent nationwide by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). The university’s secondary education program was rated best in the nation for affordability by Guide to Online Schools.

Only five percent of schools studied by NCTQ incorporated a mentor experience into teacher education curriculum. Georgia College’s mentoring program is the key element to its success, said Dr. Holley Roberts, interim chair for teacher education.

Roberts was a first grade host teacher, when Jones County winner Jennifer Holland worked as a student in her classroom at Gray Elementary. As a developing teacher, Holland displayed a passion for making a difference, Roberts said.

"We are pleased that our graduates are making significant contributions to the children they teach.  We believe the preparation they receive at Georgia College has a positive influence on their teaching and student learning,” she said.

Byron Wellman, school and community relations coordinator for Baldwin County, said Georgia College students have made an “incredible impact” in local schools.

“The caliber of teachers that we've received from Georgia College & State University has been truly exceptional,” he said.

Georgia College alumni played a “critical role” in Baldwin County’s success in recent years, according to Dr. Sharon Hunt-Simmons, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. They helped raise graduation rates by 20 percent and improved test scores. Baldwin winner LeeAnn Robinson was chosen because of her “tireless commitment” to building relationships, taking risks and being innovative, she said.

“Her experience, passion and drive to constantly be improving as a teacher serves as a model for our district and our state,” Hunt-Simmons said.

A mother of two children, ages 13 and 8, Robinson worked 10 years as a special education teacher at Baldwin High School. She saw many struggling readers and wanted to make an impact earlier in children’s lives. So Robinson transferred to elementary – first as a special education instructor and then as a kindergarten teacher.

Her colorful classroom vibrates with energy. It’s an interactive environment, where things move quickly from one activity to another. Within minutes, children exercise, sing a song, identify rhyming words by standing up or sitting down, match picture cards to letter sounds and take turns circling sight words on the board with a marker.

Asked to circle the word “he,” one boy mulls it over. None were left to circle, but he finally identifies the “he” in “head.” Robinson’s expression is one of thrilled amazement. She praises the child for his creative thinking. She never says an answer is wrong, because she doesn’t want to discourage students or cause them to “shut down.” 

LeeAnn Robinon's kindergarten class at Blandy Hills Elementary School in Baldwin County.

“The kids know I love them regardless, without shadow of a doubt. That’s why I’m here in this room – for those babies. They’re my number one priority,” Robinson said. “I can tell you, with all the dramas and the stresses and everything else, that’s the reason I come to work everyday.”

Nominated by their colleagues, teachers submit applications and get interviewed. Observers judge their teaching capability. Each school in a district selects one winner and, from that pool, someone’s chosen to represent the county as Teacher of the Year.

All district winners will now compete to become the state’s Teacher of the Year, who’ll be announced in April 2017.

Five other alumni finalists for Baldwin County Teacher of the Year are Almuni Elizabeth Hawkins, ’12, '16, who works with exceptional kindergartners and first graders at Eagle Ridge Elementary School; Desiree King, ’97, who works with exceptional eighth graders at Oak Hill Middle School; Elisa Koehler, ’91, who teaches fourth grade at Midway Elementary School; Pam Longino, ’96, who’s the media specialist at Baldwin High School; and Stephanie McMillan, ’00, who teaches first grade at Creekside Elementary School.

Alumna Stacey Bennett – who graduated from Georgia College in 2002 with a master’s degree in Business Administration – now works at Howard High School in Macon. She was a finalist for Bibb County’s Assistant Principal of the Year, a contest sponsored by the Georgia Association of Secondary School Principals.

LeeAnn Robinson said it speaks highly of the university that so many winners and finalists chose to get their degrees at Georgia College. She wouldn’t trade a minute of her time in the education department’s cohort program. Hands-on experience, field placements and mentoring prepare Georgia College graduates to jump right in and handle any job.

Her advice?

“What makes a teacher great is somebody who’s going to love their children regardless of the issues they have. Just be there for them,” she said, “because they have so many issues outside of school, and you can’t fix those. But you certainly can control what you do in your classroom to make sure they feel loved and wanted.”

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