The Dawson County Board of Education recognized the teachers of the year at the district's seven schools, as well as the system's top teacher, during a ceremony Monday night.
Dawson County Middle School's honoree, seventh-grade social studies teacher Tami Barrett, claimed the top honor and will represent the system in the state competition.
"I was amazed. The people that work here are just remarkable teachers," Barrett said. "I've been here 23 years and for them to even think about me, much less that many people vote on me, it's just amazing."
It was the second year in a row that Dawson County Middle has the system's top teacher, after it went to Caroline Bridges last year.
The meeting, held at the former board office on Allen Street, began with recognition of each school's teacher of the year.
"Teachers of the year are selected from each school by their peers," said Lisa Perry, assistant superintendent of personnel and support services.
"I can think of no higher honor than to have your hard work and achievements recognized by those that work beside you day in and day out."
Each school in the county chooses a teacher of the year. The honorees receive an engraved statue as well as presents, including gift cards to several local businesses.
The meeting also recognized the system's Teacher of the Year.
After the schools select their teachers of the year, each teacher completes application questions in writing and is interviewed by a committee of educators from outside the system and across all grade levels.
Perry said the committee is always surprised by the modesty of Dawson County teachers.
"[The committee] expressed how impressed they are with the caliber of teachers representing Dawson County Schools," Perry said. "They always tell me how great of teachers we have, but how they have to really pull it out of them. They don't like to toot their own horn."
Perry went on to note how she was impressed by Barrett's "ability to set goals for every student, regardless of their starting point."
"She will get these students where they need to be, whatever it takes," she said.
Mark Merges, principal of the school, described Barrett as a teacher who will go to any length to help her students succeed.
"Tami Barrett is one of those teachers you want your child to have. She doesn't allow students to fail," he said. "In her classroom, she has set up folders for all 125 students that she has.
"If they don't do well on a test, she breaks it down and they track down what happened. At the end of classes, she works with the students to figure it out."
According to Merges, Barrett's dedication shows not only in the attitude of her students but also in their test scores.
"It's impressive to have 87 percent of your students to exceed on the CRCT," he said. "Most teachers are just getting their students to meet the standard, let alone exceed. Her data is just incredible."
The CRCTs, or Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, are designed to measure how well students acquire the skills and knowledge of the state mandated content standards in reading, English/language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.
"She works really hard. She spends all of her time in that classroom, focusing on those kids," Merges said. "She's been teaching for 25 years and this is the first time she's been nominated for teacher of the year for a school, let alone the entire county."
For her part, Barrett wasn't aware at first that her name had been called.
"I was standing up in the front and when Ms. Perry was speaking and I was sure that it was somebody else she was reading about," she said. "I'm a little deaf, so I wasn't sure I heard my name. I looked up and my husband was motioning that it was me."
Barrett's inspiration for teaching comes from the kids she sees herself in.
"It's really the kids that don't really have a strong family influence at home. My parents were great, but my parents worked late hours, so I had to be very independent," she said. "I want to do as much as I can with these kids in the classroom so that when these kids that may not have someone at home to push them, don't need someone to push them."