Math teacher Leslie Nix became the second consecutive WHS educator to be named the Bartow County School District’s Teacher of the Year.
Nix, who will represent the district in next year’s Georgia Teacher of the Year competition, was among the 20 Teachers of the Year who were honored Thursday night during a banquet sponsored by the Bartow Education Foundation at the Bartow County College and Career Academy in Cartersville.
“I’m honored, surprised, overwhelmed — most of all, I guess, honored,” she said moments after being named the for 2017-18 winner. “I’m excited to go back to school and tell my kids because I feel like they won.”
Nix, a 23-year veteran educator, took over the title of Bartow County Teacher of the Year from her colleague, Melinda Wilder, who won for Woodland last year.
“I have big shoes to fill,” the Cartersville resident said. “I was afraid I was going to embarrass us and knock us off the ledge, but that’s exciting. I’m proud for Woodland.”
Her principal, Dr. Wes Dickey, called the recognition “very long overdue” and said Nix, 43, “embodies all of the attributes of a true educator.”
“She’s just the ultimate representation of what a teacher should be and what we want a teacher at Woodland High School to be,” he said, noting he’s known her since they opened WHS together as teachers 20 years ago. “She goes and supports her kids and watches their events when her kid isn’t playing. She’s all about that. Her whole life is geared around that. It really, really is. She’s just phenomenal.”
At one point in her career, Nix left the school to become a homebound teacher “and then realized that she was being taken out of her element and wanted to get back into that face-to-face interaction with multiple kids instead of just the one-on-one situation,” he added.
For Dickey, the only negative aspect about Nix, who is teaching ninth-grade Foundations of Algebra and Algebra I this semester, is “neither one of my daughters had the opportunity to have her as a teacher.”
“They would’ve learned so much from her and just so many different things,” he said.
A couple of Nix’s students made glowing remarks about their teacher in a video presentation on the three finalists.
“She’s the best of both worlds,” senior Ansley Hyde said. “She helps you with personal and school problems, and I think that’s what makes her stand out from other teachers. “
“She’s like the most outgoing person I’ve ever met,” junior Hannah Smith said. “She cares about her students so much. She wants them succeeding.”
Nix, whose husband, Kevin, accompanied her to the banquet, said she “can’t even imagine” what it would be like to win the state Teacher of the Year title.
“I’m not comfortable in the spotlight so this has all been kind of out of my comfort zone for me, but of course, the kind words from everybody and encouragement and appreciation has been big because a lot of times we put in the hard work and lots of effort, and we always feel like there’s always more we could’ve done,” she said.
“We always feel like we didn’t do good enough and so it is nice to feel like, OK, what we are doing is making a difference. I wish I could spread that to all the teachers in the county and let them feel that, too.”
The other finalists were Elementary School Teacher of the Year Debra Prendergast, a third-grade teacher at Pine Log, and Middle School Teacher of the Year Heather Carter, a sixth-grade science teacher at Woodland Middle.
“Ms. Prendergast is one of the most dedicated educators with whom I have worked,” Pine Log Principal Dr. Lenora Nyeste said in a presentation statement. “She is a positive role model for both students and our staff.”
Prendergast previously said she was “filled with pride and grateful to my students and staff who helped me achieve this amazing honor” when she found out she’d been named a finalist.
In his presentation statement, Woodland Principal Michael Blankenship called Carter a “role-model teacher who gives her all every day.”
“She’s passionate, content and caring with her students,” he said. “She’s creative and dedicated and seeks to do excellence in everything she does.”
“There were so many awesome teachers named this year that I really didn’t expect to be chosen for our middle school TOTY representative,” Carter said previously.
Before the winner was announced, all 20 Teachers of the Year were called up front to receive a plaque from BEF Executive Director Dot Frasier, Superintendent Dr. John Harper and BEF President John Howard, who’s also the school board chairman.
All teachers also received a corsage or boutonniere and a gift bag filled with items donated by local sponsors, and the finalists and winner were awarded additional gifts, all totaling more than $13,000, Frasier said.
School board members, foundation board members, principals and school system department heads attended the banquet to honor the Teachers of the Year.
“We’re honoring the best of the best, and it is such a joy to my heart because we have something in common — you love children, and I love children,” Frasier said. “And if we’re going to change this world, that’s where we have to start because you can’t do much with adults.”
Howard thanked the teachers for “being a part of our school system.”
“Congratulations for being here,” he said. “We hope that this is just one of those steppingstones that you use to better yourselves, to make you feel that you’re an important part of our school system, that you are loved and that we appreciate you, and we honor you this evening, and I hope so much that you continue to enjoy all the blessings that the good Lord has for you.”
While expressing his gratitude to the educators, Harper acknowledged that “things are much different today in classrooms” than in years past.
“I do truly appreciate you being the life blood of supporting our children day in and day out inside your classrooms,” he said. “Thank you very much for that.”
Chief Human Resources and Operations Officer Macy Defnall added the selection committee from Reinhardt University commented that this has been “the toughest year ever to not only choose finalists but to choose the Teacher of the Year.”
Other elementary school TOTY were Gwynn Brookshire from Adairsville, Whitney Rupp from Allatoona, Breanna Page from Clear Creek, Amanda Kemp from Cloverleaf, Eric Elrod from Emerson, Carla McCollum from Euharlee, Randi Burlison from Hamilton Crossing, Candice Forsyth from Kingston, Kimberly Wynn from Mission Road, Michelle Henry from Taylorsville and J.J. Wilson from White.
Representing the other middle schools were Carla Ray from Adairsville, Nicole Woodard from Cass and Amy Towriss from South Central.
From the other high schools were Ryan Torrence from Adairsville, Randi Slye from Cass and Harry Wyche from the BCCCA.