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Six Finalists for Teacher of the Year

Six Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) teachers have been selected as this year’s finalists for the Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year (TOTY) title. On November 10, 2022, GCPS will host a celebration honoring this year’s local school teachers of the year, recognizing the finalists, and naming the top teacher in Gwinnett County.

Let’s learn about the teachers being considered for the honor:

Jessica Gaskin

2nd Grade Teacher at Head Elementary School

(5 years in education, all with GCPS)

Jessica Gaskin believes being a great educator requires continuous reflection and a commitment to helping others do and be better. “I see my growth when I learn and apply new strategies with my students and their faces light up when they understand and can share with their peers and parents,” she explains. “I see the result of my growth every day when I am helping others and they are telling me that strategies are working in their classrooms or that their child is improving and finally loving learning.” Mrs. Gaskin is proud of the positive impact she’s had on the school community through the ‘Kindness Squad’, an initiative she spearheaded. “The Kindness Squad is a school family that celebrates each other’s differences,” Mrs. Gaskin says. “Its goal is to create an inclusive and engaging environment for all.” 

Mrs. Gaskin began her teaching career in 2018 at Baggett Elementary School as a 2nd grade teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Georgia Gwinnett College and is pursuing a master’s degree in Mathematics Education from Western Governors University.

Myesha Jenkins

ESOL & Instructional Support, 2nd Grade Teacher at Baggett Elementary School

(11 years in education, all with GCPS)

Myesha Jenkins creates an inclusive classroom by forming trusting relationships with students. She shares, “The relationships with my students allow me to warmly push them beyond what they think is possible when they encounter new learning. No student feels alienated or helpless, they are encouraged and empowered in their productive struggle towards growth.” Mrs. Jenkins is most proud of her role in creating and launching a monthly professional learning opportunity called ‘Let’s Talk: Facilitating Critical Conversations with Students’. “This resource provided specific ideas for teachers on how to facilitate a conversation in class along with the philosophy and origin of the social justice standards (identity, diversity, justice, and action),” Mrs. Jenkins says. “By the end of the program, teachers were sharing success stories about how they were able to use the standards in their social studies and literacy lessons. After implementing the professional learning, our discipline referrals decreased. Classroom disruptions decreased, and the ones that did crop up were teacher managed and not administrator managed.” 

Mrs. Jenkins began her teaching career in 2012 at Stripling Elementary School as a 4th grade teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Religion and History from Emory University, a master’s degree in Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Mercer University.

Serina Gay

6th – 8th Grade Family & Consumer Science / Sustainable Living Teacher at Crews Middle School

(17 years in education, all with GCPS)

Serina Gay recognizes and celebrates student diversity by encouraging whole group conversations that introduce cultural variations in traditions, foods, and lifestyles. She says “This sets the stage for students to feel a sense of belonging in my classroom and gives students an opportunity to connect. I encourage conversations and inclusion between my general education students and my students with special needs. I attempt to put together teams with strengths that will complement each other and allow all team members to have a sense of purpose and belonging taking on varying roles.” Mrs. Gay is most proud of her work delivering professional development to her school colleagues. “I have led professional learning for teachers on Teaching with Your Strengths, Thinking Maps, and Critical Friends,” Mrs. Gay shares. “I have also developed a multi-tiered support system for teachers new to the school and new to education that is based on their experience, skills, and needs. As I continue to grow as an educator and teacher leader, I remain committed to making a positive impact on the growth of my students, of my fellow educators, and my school culture.”

Mrs. Gay began her teaching career in 2005 at GIVE Center West where she was a Family and Consumer Science teacher for grades 6th – 12th. She has a bachelor’s degree in Consumer and Family Studies from Missouri State University, a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Georgia Southern University, and a Certification in Workforce Education from the University of Georgia.

Becca Rackley

6th Grade Social Studies Teacher at Northbrook Middle School

(16 years in education, 11 with GCPS)

Becca Rackley says the use of small learning groups has helped her students tremendously. She explains, “As my work with small groups developed during the year, I was able to see the effect of the work. On the semester finals, 78.8% and 76.4% of my students scored proficient or distinguished. I had students of all different abilities, backgrounds, and language abilities. And yet, these small groups helped so many of my students reach academic excellence.” Mrs. Rackley started an after-school running club for girls at Northbrook Middle and she is proud of its impact. “When I arrived, my school did not have any after-school programming of this nature,” she says. “During the 2021-22 school year, our school’s Heart & Sole team supported 25 girls. We learned, we laughed, we joyfully completed two 5Ks, and we had a great time! Our girls and their parents reported overwhelming positive responses to surveys from Girls on the Run of Georgia about the program and its implementation.”

Mrs. Rackley started her GCPS career in 2012 at Summerour Middle School where she was a 6th-8th grade Reading Interventions teacher. She has a bachelor’s degree in Middle School English and Social Studies Education as well as a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri. 

Jason Hurd

9th-12th Grade Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science Teacher at Seckinger High School.

(13 years in education, all with GCPS)

Jason Hurd has a passion for artificial intelligence. He is fueled by a desire to learn as much as he can and then share the knowledge with his students and peers. “Last year, I was selected to be a part of a team of professionals to develop the academic standards for the new artificial intelligence pathway for the state of Georgia,” Mr. Hurd shares. “I am now the first teacher in the state of Georgia to implement these standards and develop the content and curriculum for these three courses. I’m most proud of this achievement in my teaching career as there is no other school system in the country that offers this type of pathway for students, and I get to share my knowledge and skills with other educators.” Mr. Hurd is also focused on increasing the interest in computer science among girls. He explains, “Historically, there has been a significant decrease in the number of women pursuing computer science and STEM careers. I lead our Girl Powered initiative focused on providing equal representation for girls in our robotics program. I am also partnered with Girls Who Code in an effort to prepare underrepresented students to enter, lead, and transform the workforce in STEM.”

Mr. Hurd began his teaching career in 2009 as a Paraprofessional at Twin Rivers Middle School. He has a bachelor’s degree in Photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s degree in Instructional Technology from Piedmont College.

Ashley Wright

10th and 11th Grade Graphic Design and Production Teacher at Paul Duke STEM High School

(12 years in education, 4 with GCPS)

Ashley Wright believes it is important for her to evoke change by understanding the importance on equity centered lessons and school communities. She explains, “Throughout the year I focus on building relationships with my students. Last year I worked with a struggling student who was not on task and completing his work. After working with him one on one and building a relationship where he knew I cared, he shared his viewpoints and we came up with a design he was proud to print and showcase.” Mrs. Wright is most proud of the work she and her students put in during the pandemic to open Paul Duke STEM’s ‘Print Shop’. “The vision was to build an inclusive community of student designers to grow and achieve success through building a creative-based business for all,” Mrs. Wright shares. “Students came in on Saturdays, wearing masks and social distancing, to print and assemble the store. When we welcomed students back in January 2021, the grand opening was truly an accomplishment for myself and my students. Our total sales from January to April was $3,000. Those profits continue to help our staff supply more materials and equipment for the Graphic Design Program.”

Mrs. Wright began her career with GCPS in 2018 as a Graphic Design teacher at Paul Duke STEM High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in Business Education from Valdosta State University and a master’s degree in Instructional Technology from Kennesaw State University.

As the final element of the judging process, the selection committee will conduct in-person and virtual visits and complete thorough interviews with each educator. The committee will look for original teaching methods, study the educator’s teaching philosophy, consider the influence the teacher has had on the teaching practices of his or her colleagues, and review any special class projects the teacher has initiated.

Based on their findings, committee members will select an elementary, a middle, and a high school Teacher of the Year. One of the three level winners will be named Gwinnett’s 2023 Teacher of the Year.   

GCPS would like to thank this year’s sponsors for their support of great teachers and for making this celebration of outstanding teaching possible.

Presenting Sponsor: Peach State Federal Credit Union

Platinum Sponsors: Corebridge Financial and Herff-Jones

Gold Sponsors: Coca-Cola Bottling Company United and Lifetouch

Silver Sponsors: Junior Achievement of Georgia, Scholastic Images and Kroger Co.

PHOTOS / INFORMATION SOURCED : Gwinnett County Public Schools