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Excellent educators: Finalists chosen for top teacher

COVINGTON - School officials and family members surprised three teachers in their classrooms Friday to let them know they were finalists for Newton County School System's Teacher of the Year competition.

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley, school and system staff, some school board members and family of the teachers interrupted their lessons Friday morning and presented them balloons and flowers to congratulate them.

The teachers - Livingston Elementary School's Gail Bemis, Fairview Theme School's Laurie Carpenter and Heard-Mixon Elementary School's Melanie Sheets - are the top three choices out of all of the public schools in Newton County and will go on to compete for the county's top Teacher of the Year title.

Gail Bemis, Livingston Elementary

Bemis has been a teacher in Newton County since 1980, after teaching for a year at Fitzgerald Elementary School in South Georgia.

She teaches third grade at Livingston Elementary School, where she has been for three years.

"I thought I was too old for this," she said when she was

surprised. "I had no idea it was going to be me."

She said it's hard to believe she's been teaching for 30 years, but she still enjoys it just as much as when she started.

"She is a breath of fresh air, which you don't always see with someone with 30 years of experience," said school Principal Wendy Hughes. "She's always looking for innovative ways to reach children, and she always seeks all kinds of grants to do interesting things. ... She's never met a challenge that she couldn't handle."

Laurie Carpenter, Fairview Theme School

Carpenter, a second-grade teacher at the Fairview parent-involvement theme school, began her educational career in 1992 in Kansas City. Three years ago, she started teaching in Newton County at Ficquett Elementary School, before moving to the theme school this year.

"There is no way I could have done all that I've done through my career without my family, friends and all my students," she said when she was interrupted during reading time Friday morning. "I wish all of my students I've ever had could be here. I'm overwhelmed .... I am very proud to be recognized."

The school's principal said Carpenter, who also was surprised by her husband Jim and three kids Allison, Jack and Adam, deserves it.

"She is the most fabulous teacher," said Principal Ruth Anne Smith. "She knows how to get the children to do everything she wants them to do. She is the teacher that every parent wants their child in her class."

Melanie Sheets, Heard-Mixon Elementary

Sheets teaches fourth grade at Heard-Mixon Elementary School and taught at Ficquett Elementary School for 15 years before that.

"I'm so excited," she said when school system officials and her husband and son interrupted her classroom Friday morning. "I am surprised and thrilled and humbled. What an honor."

And school staff members are excited for her.

"She is very deserving," said school Principal Lee Peck. "She is one of the hardest working teachers I've had the pleasure of working with."

Next, the teachers will endure classroom observations before learning the winner, which will be announced at a ceremony at Newton High School on Nov. 12.

Newton's selected Teacher of the Year will go on to compete for the state's Teacher of the Year.

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