Six Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) teachers have been announced as this year’s finalists for the Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year (TOTY) title. The finalists for the 2017 honor are Brittany Mayweather of Mulberry Elementary School, Jamie Lynn McFarland of Rock Springs Elementary School, Brian Sinyard of Chattahoochee Elementary School, Lisa Hamilton of Pinckneyville Middle School, Alex Robson of GIVE Center West, and Luke Smith of Norcross High School. A selection committee, comprised of GCPS educators, narrowed the field from 25 semifinalists who had been selected from an impressive list of 135 local school TOTYs. The committee which includes former teachers of the year, local school administrators, and central office support staff, now has the difficult task of selecting the 2017 Teacher of the Year. That announcement will be made at a banquet on November 10, 2016, at the Infinite Energy Center, located at 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. All 135 local school Teachers of the Year will be recognized that evening.
THE 2016-17 FINALISTS
Brittany Mayweather, 4th grade teacher, Mulberry Elementary School
(7 years in education, all with GCPS)
In her 4th grade classroom, Brittany Mayweather strives to provide a student-centered learning environment that fosters the development of the “whole child,” empowering her students as learners and prepping them to be informed and influential citizens of our community. She explains, “The components of my teaching philosophy involve dimensions of ‘whole child’ learning like physical, mental, emotional, and social development. Each component intertwines itself in my personal teaching style, and makes my learning environment a particularly unique one that fosters intelligence and character development.”
Mrs. Mayweather started her career at Bethesda Elementary School in 2010 as a 4th grade teacher. She transferred to Mulberry Elementary in 2014. Mrs. Mayweather earned a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Alabama and completed a master’s degree in Curriculum Instruction from the American College of Education.
Jamie Lynn McFarland, teacher of students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities (grades 3-5), Rock Springs Elementary School
(6 years in education, all with Gwinnett)
Most of Jamie Lynn McFarland’s students and their families come into the school system having only heard of the things they cannot do and things they will never do. Her philosophy as a special education teacher is to treat her students and their families like they are important, like she believes in them, and like anything is possible for them. She says, “My personal teaching style has developed out of my belief that nothing is impossible for my students, no matter what their diagnosis may be or what doctors may have said in the past. My students may not learn to do things in the same way as their typically developing peers, but I am committed to figuring out a way for them to be involved and a way for them to learn.”
Ms. McFarland began teaching with a preschool special education program during the summer of 2011. However, in August of that year, she joined the staff of Rock Springs Elementary School, working with students with severe and profound intellectual disabilities. Ms. McFarland earned a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Georgia.
Brian Sinyard, 4th grade teacher,
Chattahoochee Elementary School
(14 years in education, all with GCPS)
Brian Sinyard is a 4th grade teacher whose classroom presents unique opportunities for students’ individual learning styles to be celebrated and nurtured. One way he does this is by presenting scenarios that are relevant to students’ own lives. He says, “Building relationships with my students and their parents is the cornerstone of my personal teaching style. For my students to succeed, I believe they must feel capable in their learning processes, connected to the classroom environment, and like consistently contributing members of the classroom community.”
Mr. Sinyard first entered the profession as a Rockbridge Elementary teacher in 2003. He joined the staff of Chattahoochee in 2013. Mr. Sinyard earned his bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Georgia State University and completed a master’s degree in Elementary Math and Language Arts from Walden University.
Lisa Hamilton, 8th grade social studies teacher, Pinckneyville Middle School
(6 years in education, 3 with Gwinnett)
In her 8th grade social studies classroom, Lisa Hamilton embraces a theme of empowerment. She explains, “The philosophy of my teaching and learning is, ‘We are the Makers of History.’ From the first day of school to the last time they walk out of my classroom, this is what my students are told. I strive to instill this belief of empowerment all year so my students never forget their power to remake circumstances and improve the world around them.”
Before entering the classroom, Ms. Hamilton nurtured her love of history as an education facilitator for the Smithsonian Institution (2011-12). Her first experience working in a public school system came in 2012 when she served as a 4th grade math research assistant through a Department of Education grant in the Nashville Public Schools. In 2014, Ms. Hamilton joined the staff of Pinckneyville Middle School as an 8th grade social studies teacher. She holds bachelor’s degrees in History and Social Studies Education from the University of Georgia and earned a master’s degree in Education Policy from Vanderbilt University.
Alex Robson, 6th and 7th grade language arts teacher, GIVE Center West
(4 years in education, 3 with GCPS)
Alex Robson’s students typically end up in his class because of disciplinary challenges. His classroom at GIVE Center West is their second chance. His goal is to give students hope, and, in turn, they give him hope. Mr. Robson explains his dedication to his students, saying,
“They are the rule breakers; the students who think differently. I believe they are the future leaders and innovators because they are not afraid to break the rules… As a teacher I need to help these student express themselves in an appropriate way.” At times he has been asked if he would rather work with other students and his response is emphatic. “I would never give up my students’ rebellious attitudes,” he says. “These are the students I have been waiting for— these are the students who will change the world.”
Mr. Robson began his career in education as a language arts tutor in 2013. In 2014, he joined the staff of GIVE Center West teaching language arts to 6th and 7th grade students. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master’s degree in the Art of Teaching from Georgia State University.
Luke Smith, Algebra II/11th grade math teacher, Norcross High School
(8 years in education, 4 with GCPS)
Luke Smith firmly believes that all students need a positive relationship with their teacher and that all students can learn at high levels with necessary teacher expectations, differentiated instruction, and academic support. He says, “The greatest advantage you can have as a teacher is to create a personal relationship with your students… Making an investment in their personal life allows me to connect with them and ultimately help hold them accountable for the things they enjoy… Ultimately, the main goal of creating a relationship is to gain an understanding of their future goals and aspirations and to be a positive adult in support of their dreams. There is nothing better than unlocking a student’s potential for the future because you know and care about them.”
Mr. Smith joined the staff at Norcross High School as a math teacher in 2013. Prior to his work at Norcross, he taught at Eagle’s Landing High School in Henry County (2011-2013) and in Clarke County Schools (2009-2011). He earned his bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Georgia.
As the final element of the judging process, the selection committee will complete classroom observations and conduct interviews with the six finalists. Committee members will look for original teaching methods, study the teacher’s teaching philosophy, review special class projects the teacher has initiated, and consider the influence the teacher has had on the teaching practices of his/her colleagues. They also will review each teacher’s educational degrees and civic activities.
Based on their findings, committee members will select an elementary, middle, and a high school Teacher of the Year. They will be announced during the banquest on November 10. One of the three “level winners” will be named Gwinnett’s 2016-17 Teacher of the Year. The district winner will be selected from among the three level winners and will go on to represent GCPS in the Georgia TOTY competition.
GCPS would like to thank this year’s sponsors for their support of great teachers and for making this celebration of outstanding teaching possible.
Platinum Sponsors: Balfour, Emtec, Georgia United Credit Union, Hayes Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Lifetouch, Peach State Federal Credit Union, and VALIC
Gold Sponsors: IBM and The Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company
Silver Sponsors: Classworks, HMH, J Smith Lanier & Company, Junior Achievement of Georgia, and Kroger
Bronze Sponsors: Celia Brien, EyeMed, Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation, MetLife, Pearson Education, and Performance Matters.
Also published on Medium.