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Schools name Top 3 teachers

East Newton Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Julie Thompson was congratulated by her husband John Thompson, a fellow fourth-grade teacher at Middle Ridge Elementary School for being chosen as one of the finalists. The winner will be announced during a special ceremony at Newton High School at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.

East Newton Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Julie Thompson was congratulated by her husband John Thompson, a fellow fourth-grade teacher at Middle Ridge Elementary School for being chosen as one of the finalists. The winner will be announced during a special ceremony at Newton High School at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.

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The Newton County School System announced its Top 3 finalists for its Teacher of the Year competition on Thursday afternoon. Pictured is Whitney Jackson, a sixth-grade math teacher at Veterans Memorial Middle School, after being surprised by her parents and NCSS officials to let her know she is a finalist.

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South Salem Elementary School teacher Kim Malcom was interrupted by her family and NCSS officials during her class on Thursday to inform her of being a finalist. Her niece Blair Rebholz, pictured with her mom Allison Haralson, made her a sign for the big surprise visit. Her dad Kent, sister Kelly Rebholz and nephew Judd also surprised her at the school.

COVINGTON -- Students were cheering "hip-hip-horray" for their teachers on Thursday afternoon as they were informed that they were finalists for the county title of Teacher of the Year.

Newton County School System Superintendent Gary Mathews and other system officials informed three teachers of just that -- Veterans Memorial Middle School's Whitney Jackson, South Salem Elementary School's Kim Malcom and East Newton Elementary School'sJulie Thompson.

They were selected as the Top 3 finalists from a pool of 22 teachers who completed an essay packet and interviews with a panel of volunteer judges representing Newton County Schools, the Newton County Chamber of Commerce and local businesses and civic organizations.

"Teaching today is still a calling for so much of our workforce. It has challenges of bringing students to academic mastery and challenges from outside the school that make teaching a very rewarding, but difficult task at times," Mathews said. "These finalists represent all of us in NCSS extremely well. But, moreover, they represent the entire community by giving us the best of the best when it comes to serving the whole child."

Along with Mathews, NCSS Deputy Superintendent Dennis Carpenter, Human Resources Director Nyree Sanders and Public Relations Director Sherri Davis-Viniard, as well as some of the finalists' family members and fellow coworkers, surprised the teachers in their classrooms on Thursday afternoon.

Veterans Memorial Middle School -- Whitney Jackson

Jackson has worked at Veterans for seven years, teaching for six years as a special education teacher and now as a sixth-grade math teacher.

"I try to do the best for these kids everyday," she said. "It's an honor (to be named a finalist). I wasn't expecting it."

She graduated from Eastside High School in 1999 and wanted to return to the system to teach.

"It is the place I was raised," she said. "They invested in me ... and I wanted to give back."

Jackson also is co-chair of the school Relay for Life team and sponsors Girls Engaged in Meaningful Service, or G.E.M.S., an all-girls' service organization that happens to be the most active organization at Veterans.

"She is an excellent teacher. She does an awesome job," Assistant Principal Cindy Causey said. "She makes class fun for the kids."

Her parents Colleen and Dwayne Jackson of Covington, along with her uncle and fellow teacher at the school, Preston Capes, helped surprise her in her classroom on Thursday.

South Salem Elementary School -- Kim Malcom

Malcom has taught special education in Newton County for seven years, including two at Fairview Elementary School and then at South Salem.

"It's my calling, what I was meant to do," Malcom said. "I see miracle everyday -- I see children who can't talk, talk and children who can't write, write."

She said she was shocked, happy and grateful for being named a finalist.

Malcom graduated from Newton High School in 2001 and wanted to return to the county after studying at school and realizing she needed to be a teacher.

She serves as a member of the South Salem Building Leadership Team.

"It's not a surprise to me," said school Principal Holly Dubois of Malcom being selected as a finalist. "I've seen her work miracles with children. She's totally dedicated to students and the profession."

Her parents Allison and Kent Haralson of Covington, along with sister Kelly Rebholz and niece and nephew, Blair and Judd Rebholz, helped surprise her in class Thursday. Her mom is a media paraprofessional at Fairview Elementary School.

East Newton Elementary School --Julie Thompson

Thompson has taught at East Newton for 12 years, including 10 years teaching third grade and the past two in fourth grade.

"I love seeing kids finding joy and passion," said Thompson. "I'm shocked and humbled. I never thought I'd do this."

She's also East Newton's Teacher Leader for the Learning Focused Schools and Keys to Quality programs, a role that requires her to attend monthly meetings on instructional strategies and then redeliver that information to her fellow teachers and assist them in their implementation within the classroom.

The school's Principal Kim Coady screamed and cried with excitement for Thompson on Thursday as she was named a finalist.

"I've got the best teachers in the whole world," said Coady, who also had a Top 3 finalist last year, too, and was a finalist herself in the past. "We are so blessed at this school."

She said Thompson is a "phenomenal" teacher.

"She doesn't just think outside the box -- she doesn't even have a box," Coady said. "She's so compassionate and professional."Her husband John Thompson, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Middle Ridge Elementary School, and several of their family members surprised her at the school.

Each of the finalists received balloons and a vase of flowers on Thursday.

Next week, the TOTY selection committee will observe each of the three finalists in his or her classroom. The teacher with the highest combined score on the essay, interview and observation will be announced as the Newton County School System's 2013 Teacher of the Year during a special ceremony at Newton High School at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25.

All 22 TOTYs will be recognized at the reception, with the two runners-up each receiving a crystal vase. The 2013 Newton County Teacher of the Year also will receive a crystal vase, a free three-month car rental from Covington Ford and a check for $1,000.

The winner also will represent NCSS in the state-level Teacher of the Year competition.