An elementary teacher who uses technology to engage students has been named the 2016 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year (TOTY). During the annual Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year banquet, Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks announced Trisha Connor of Harbins Elementary School as the recipient of the school system’s highest honor. The announcement took place during the annual celebration on Tuesday, November 10, 2015, at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth. In all, the school district recognized 134 local school Teachers of the Year who were joined by loved ones, local school and central office administrators, and the Gwinnett County Board of Education.
Prior to earning the school system’s top honor, Mrs. Connor was first named the 2016 Gwinnett County Elementary School Teacher of the Year. She was selected as Gwinnett’s top teacher from a group of six finalists which included two teachers from each level. Jennifer W. Sevier of Dacula Middle School was named the 2015-16 Middle School Teacher of the Year and Alix McHardy of Norcross High School was presented with the 2016 High School Teacher of the Year honor.
The selection process for the Teacher of the Year honor began at the start of the school year when thousands of teachers from throughout the district nominated and selected 134 teachers to represent their local schools. A selection committee later narrowed the group to 25 semifinalists, and finally to the six finalists. In addition to the three level winners (Connor, Sevier, and McHardy), the other three finalists were Janelle Draper of White Oak Elementary, Felisha Strong of Richards Middle, and Emily Heend of Phoenix High.
Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year and
Elementary School Teacher of the Year
Mrs. Trisha Connor, a STEM Teacher (Grades K-5 ) at Harbins Elementary
Mrs. Connor is passionate about creating a learning environment that engages students’ natural curiosity. She says, "Empowering students to make decisions about their own learning path is vital to student engagement. It is the teacher who must find ways to allow this student empowerment while still meeting standards. I am able to allow student voice and choice in my classroom through the use of technology, choice boards, and differentiated learning stations. Students can move through these activities at the pace that is best for them. I use eCLASS, our district online learning platform, to increase differentiation for many classroom activities. Students can choose the way they want to share their learning with others. Sharing in an authentic way, to a real audience, adds such worth to the work my students are doing."
Gwinnett’s 2016 TOTY is committed to ensuring that all students receive a quality and effective education. She says, "I have a direct impact on equity and excellence in my school and beyond. I work with every student in our school, providing me a unique opportunity to impact every life. As a STEM educator, I work to address the achievement gap in STEM fields by being intentional in my efforts to provide mentors and models in STEM fields from varied backgrounds, races, and genders. I encourage student choice in my STEM classroom to increase the level of connection students have with STEM topics, no matter their background. I create a classroom that is a model of equity and excellence, constantly reflecting on my practice with these as non-negotiable standards."
Mrs. Connor joined GCPS in 1999 as a teacher at Stripling Elementary School. During her tenure at the school (1999-2008) she taught 1st grade and technology, and served as a parent coordinator. From 2008 to 2010, she taught gifted education and accelerated mathematics at Magill Elementary School. Mrs. Connor joined the staff at Harbins Elementary School in 2011 as a 4th grade and advanced mathematics teacher, transitioning to her current role teaching STEM and serving as a technology/STEM coach in 2014.
She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education from Georgia State University.
As Gwinnett County’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Connor will now compete for the Georgia title. She will receive an annual award of $1,000 and the other two level winners will each receive $750 each year, for as long as they are employed with GCPS. The finalists will receive a one-time award of $500. The five finalists who did not win the county honor also will receive a $250 grocery store gift card. Each local school winner will receive a one-time award of $200.
Mrs. Connor also will receive a crystal peach, a $500 grocery store gift card, a commemorative ring, a laptop computer, and the use of a new car for one year.
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Jennifer W. Sevier, a Science Teacher (Grade 7) at Dacula Middle School
Jennifer Sevier begins her day, every day, reciting the quote, "To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world." This quote is the driving
force in her interactions with students. She explains, "I feel I have been called into teaching to be there for each student, not only as his or her learning facilitator, but also as an advocate and listener.
As a public school teacher, I must challenge each student to reach his or her maximum potential in my given academic area and meet my students’ personal needs. I must support, challenge, encourage, and remediate for each of them always when it comes to academics. I honestly believe every single student who walks through my door can learn at high levels, but it is up to us as a team to discover how they best learn and what needs to be done to get them there. I can never quit on them, and I won’t let them quit on me."
A veteran educator, Mrs. Sevier started her career as an educator at Oakland Junior High School (Columbia, Mo.) in 2003, teaching 8th grade U.S. History. She joined GCPS in 2005 as a 7th grade language arts and social studies teacher at Shiloh Middle School. In 2008, she transferred to her current position teaching 7th grade language arts and, now, science at Dacula Middle School.
Mrs. Sevier earned her undergraduate degree in Middle Level Education from Maryville University and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri.
High School Teacher of the Year
Alix McHardy, an AP Chemistry, Chemistry, and Biology Teacher (Grades 9-12) at Norcross High School
Alix McHardy truly believes all kids can learn. She explains, "It’s not just the smart ones or the ones who get three square meals a day and have the latest cell phone. It’s just a matter of finding out what will get them there." She says, "I became a teacher because I really believe that all kids deserve to have a spark for learning ignited inside them. I furiously rub sticks together all day long in hopes that something will catch. Some days it seems futile, but it definitely pays off in a million little ways."
Examples of how she "rubs sticks together" are found in her teaching strategies. She thinks of her classroom as her "own little theatre," complete with teaching strategies that change every day. Her classes do hands-on labs at least once a week, from simple cookbook tasks to inquiry-based problem solving activities. Students use foldables, posters, relay races, trivia games, and more to master concepts. As she says, "I challenge myself each year to design newer, shinier activities, incorporate new technologies, and exercise literacy-building strategies."
Ms. McHardy joined the staff at Norcross High, teaching Chemistry, Advanced Placement Chemistry, and Biology in 2011. Prior to her work at Norcross, she taught at Fremont Senior High School in Oakland, Calif. (2005-2010).
She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Agnes Scott College.
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, Hayes Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Horizon Software International, Lifetouch, Peach State Federal Credit Union, and VALIC
Gold Sponsor: IBM
Silver Sponsors: The Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Company, HMH, J Smith Lanier & Company, and Kroger
Bronze Sponsors: Celia Brien, Classworks, Corporate Specialty Insignia, EyeMed, Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation, Mellon Global Securities, MetLife, and Pearson.