Teacher of the Year finalists chosen

COVINGTON - Friday was a day filled with shock and surprises for three teachers in Newton County.

Officials with the Newton County School System surprised three teachers Friday morning in their classrooms to notify them that judges selected them as the top three candidates for Newton County's Teacher of the Year.

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley, Associate Superintendent for Administration Deborah Robertson, Associate Superintendent for Instruction Linda Hayden, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Dennis Carpenter, Public Relations Director Sherri Viniard, Newton County School Board member Cathy Dobbs, school administrators and family members surprised the teachers with balloons and flowers.

This year, judges selected Mansfield Elementary School Quest teacher Alicia Stewart, Cousins Middle School band teacher Christine Kraemer and Eastside High School AP and Quest government teacher Bart Buff as the county's top three Teachers of the Year.

"This is so surreal; I'm shaking all over," Stewart said after she was presented with the news.

School system officials, along with her parents, husband and two children, interrupted her class Friday morning.

"I had to hatch this elaborate lie" to get her to be at the school, said Mansfield Principal G.W. Davis.

Originally, she was scheduled to teach at Palmer Stone Elementary on Friday, but Davis told her she had to teach an important lesson to Mansfield students instead.

"I was really upset with Mr. Davis," said Stewart, who has taught at Mansfield for nine years and has been a teacher for 23 years.

Now she knows it was all in good fun - plus, it never hurts to teach students an extra lesson.

"They're doing a good job, and they're enjoying it," she said.

Buff, too, was surprised when his wife, Shannon, a government teacher at Newton High School, and his son, Braxton, came into his classroom with a group of individuals from the school system late Friday morning.

"I thought it was just a normal day at the office today," said Buff, who has taught at Eastside for seven years.

Like Davis, Buff's wife had to be a little sneaky.

"I had on a (Newton High School) sweatshirt and jeans this morning and told him it was jeans day again," she said.

When he left for school, she went to change into an Eagle green shirt and told Braxton, who is in first grade at Ficquett Elementary, she had a surprise - he was going to have to be late for school so he could help her surprise his dad with an award.

"He said, 'Am I going to get in trouble for being late?'" she said.

After they surprised his dad, Braxton went to school to take his spelling test.

The surprises didn't end at Eastside - later Friday morning during Kraemer's planning period, she was surprised to see her out-of-town parents, husband and the superintendent standing in her band room with flowers and balloons.

"I'm shaking; I'm shocked," she said, crying. "I'm so proud of Cousins Middle School and to represent them. ... Every time (the students) perform and play at school or in the community, it's wonderful."

The first-time TOTY nominee is serving in her fifth year at Cousins and her 13th year as a band teacher.

The TOTY selection committee is expected to observe the three finalists in their classrooms Tuesday, and the school system will announce the county's Teacher of the Year - the one who earns the highest score from the essay, interview and observation - during a ceremony at Newton High School, scheduled for 4:45 p.m. Nov. 6.

The two runners-up will receive a crystal vase, while the county Teacher of the Year will receive a crystal vase, three months free car rental from Covington Ford, a TOTY ring from Herrf-Jones and a $1,000 check.

The winner also will compete for the title of Georgia Teacher of the Year, who will move on to try to win the title of national Teacher of the Year.

Last school year, Eastside High Latin teacher Eric Adams was selected as the school system's Teacher of the Year.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.