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Blacks Mill Elementary School assistant principal selected as 2023 Philip Wright Award recipient
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Blacks Mill Elementary School Assistant Principal Mandy Smith, center left, has been selected as the 2023 Philip Wright Award recipient for the Dawson County school district. (Photo courtesy of Dawson County Schools)

Blacks Mill Elementary School’s assistant principal, Mandy Smith, has been selected as the district’s 2023 Philip Wright Award recipient. 

The Philip Wright award is an annual award given to an educator who is making an impact on students with disabilities in the school system. The award is named after Philip Wright, an educator who created a legacy of service in the area of special education. Every year, each school district selects a recipient, and all of the winners are presented with their awards at a regional event. 

The Philip Wright award recipient is selected each year by administrators and peers, and can be anyone who is involved in helping to educate special education students. 

“The award is presented to an employee, any type of employee in the system, who works and impacts the lives of our exceptional children in Dawson County,” Director of Exceptional Children Todd Langley said. “It really comes down to, Mr. Wright was an educator in the North Georgia area and he really had a high impact on special education kids, so the award just honors somebody who really goes above and beyond for our students.” 

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Blacks Mill Elementary School Assistant Principal Mandy Smith, center, has been selected as the 2023 Philip Wright Award recipient for the Dawson County school district. (Photo courtesy of Dawson County Schools)

Smith is in her 24th year in education, all of which have been in the Dawson County School System. She taught first grade at Blacks Mill for three years before teaching kindergarten through fourth graders at Kilough Elementary School for 15 years, and is now in her sixth year as the assistant principal at Blacks Mill. 

Smith said that she first decided to enter the education field when she saw the impact that her mother, who was a middle school teacher, had on the students she taught. 

“My mother was a teacher, so I’ve just had a lifetime love of kids and learning and watching my mom influence how many kids she did in her 33 years of teaching,” Smith said. “I love the kids, I love seeing their smiling faces, I love when that lightbulb goes off when they learn to read or get a math problem right.” 

As the assistant principal, she said that she especially enjoys getting to know all of the students in the school, rather than just the students in her classroom. 

“My big thing is building the relationships with those kids and now I get all of them,” Smith said. “Being in a classroom I got 20 of them but now I’ve got 485 of them here at Blacks Mill so that’s great.” 

Smith was nominated for the Philip Wright award last year too, and she said that she was incredibly honored even just to have that nomination. 

“Last year I was nominated, and then I was nominated again this year which is amazing to be nominated twice,” Smith said. 

During a recent faculty meeting, Smith was paid a visit by Langley and other administrators, including Blacks Mill principal Cindy Kinney and last year’s Philip Wright Award recipient Angie Delaney. They announced that she had been selected to receive this year’s award, and she then received an extra surprise: a visit from her family to celebrate with her. 

“When Ms. Kinney said my name (as the award recipient) and I saw my family come out it just kind of took my breath away because it is such a huge honor just to be nominated for the Philip Wright award,” Smith said. “I took my award to visit some of the students and they were all cheering and clapping and just very excited; it was just the best feeling.” 

Langley said that Smith’s peers listed many reasons why they believed she was deserving of the award, including her dedication and love for her students. 

“Just in reading what people said in their comments about Ms. Smith, it’s just that she is always available, she goes that a extra mile for our kids, she has a heart for all children but in particular for our exceptional children in our district, and I think her day-to-day interactions just exemplify the professionalism and empathy she has each and every day for all of our kids,” Langley said. 

Smith said that receiving the award will serve as even more of a spur to her in the future to keep serving the students to the best of her ability each day. 

“I said ‘okay well maybe I’m making a difference somewhere’,” Smith said. "I’m very excited; very honored and humbled by the award and it just makes everything I do on a daily basis even more worthwhile.” 

Smith, along with other school districts’ winners, will attend a regional event in March to be presented with her official award.