Polk district chooses its teacher of the year

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Sean Wil­liams SJ Cor­re­spon­dent

Polk School District re­cently hon­ored some of the county’s best and bright­est with the Teacher of the Year award.

In­clud­ing an over­all, coun­ty­wide teacher of the year, a sin­gle win­ner was se­lected from each of Rock­mart and Cedar­town’s schools for a to­tal of 11 teach­ers who re­ceived plaques and $100 prizes.

Laura Cox — as the win­ner of the over­all teacher of the year — re­ceived a lofty $500 prize.

Cox was se­lected to reprise her role as the over­all teacher of the year for 2017. Cox teaches at Cedar­town Mid­dle School where she puts her Bach­e­lor of Science de­gree in Mid­dle-Grade Ed­u­ca­tion from the State Univer­sity of West Ge­or­gia and a Mas­ter of Science de­gree in Li­brary Me­dia and Tech­nol­ogy from Jack­sonville State Univer­sity to good use. With upwards of 18 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in ed­u­ca­tion, Cox en­sures any stu­dent who en­ters her class­room leaves a lit­tle bit more knowl­edge­able.

“I don’t even know where to be­gin,” Cedar­town Mid­dle School staff Shan­non Hulsey said be­fore award­ing Cox with her plaque. “I don’t know that there’s an ed­u­ca­tor with a big­ger heart than Laura Cox. Those who know her are shak­ing your heads in agree­ment. She re­ally likes the me­dia cen­ter, but she re­ally misses that con­nec­tion with her stu­dents, so she’s look­ing for­ward to the time she can go back into the class­room. She goes over and above and be­yond that con­nec­tion with her stu­dents.”

Cedar­town High School’s Teacher of the Year was Jen­nifer Cupp.

A teacher with vast ex­pe­ri­ence, Cupp re­ceived a Mas­ters in English Lit­er­a­ture from Berry Col­lege and has been teach­ing youth about read­ing and writ­ing for 17 years. She be­lieves ev­ery stu­dent has the po­ten­tial to learn, and each child will learn in dif­fer­ent ways at dif­fer­ent times.

“I could tell you about how great Mrs. Cupp is,” Prin­ci­pal Scott Hen­drix said. “But I think it would mean more to her if she heard what her stu­dents had to say, so I stopped two of her stu­dents in the hallway and asked them to write some­thing about her. They wrote that Mrs. Cupp ‘doesn’t limit her­self to the 55 min­utes the schedule pro­vides her. She has in­spired me to take AP (ad­vanced place­ment) and not to limit my­self to what I think I can ac­com­plish.’”

Kristin Miller was named Teacher of the Year from Chero­kee El­e­men­tary School.

Miller has been teach­ing at Chero­kee for her en­tire nine-year ca­reer, and with a BA in ed­u­ca­tion with a fo­cus on early ed­u­ca­tion, the teacher makes sure Chero­kee stu­dents be­come more adept at writ­ing and his­tory ev­ery year. Miller be­lieves ed­u­ca­tion should spark an in­ter­est one’s mind.

“She comes ev­ery day and she loves our kids,” Chero­kee prin­ci­pal Johnathan Kirsch said be­fore pre­sent­ing Miller the plaque. “That’s the main thing towards be­ing a great teacher. She’s taught two of mine and I’m ex­cited for the third to get to her. She’s a great teacher, great leader, and a great friend.”

East­side El­e­men­tary School se­lected Kent Mathis as Teacher of the Year. A mas­sive 30 years of teach­ing has led Mathis to be­come one of Polk’s most beloved teach­ers, and with 29 years of teach­ing phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, East­side stu­dents have been im­prov­ing their health for al­most 3 decades. Mathis served as as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal at Rock­mart High for one year be­fore re­turn­ing to East­side.

“Coach Kent Mathis is an ex­tra­or­di­nary man,” East­side Prin­ci­pal Wes­ley Cupp said. “He’s been do­ing this for 30 years. He’s ded­i­cated his whole life to ed­u­ca­tion, it’s not just about the four walls that are around him. He re­ally teaches boys and girls how to be young men and women. He makes that dif­fer­ence.”

Amy Thompson took home Teacher of the Year from North­side El­e­men­tary. Thompson has been teach­ing at North­side for 20 years, and the Univer­sity of West Ge­or­gia grad­u­ate is cur­rently teach­ing third-grade math. Thompson be­lieves chil­dren learn best when they feel safe and nur­tured, and that all chil­dren have the abil­ity to learn.

“She helps her stu­dents al­ways, al­ways feel safe,” North­side Prin­ci­pal Ken­neth Wal­lace said. “She has a true pas­sion for teach­ing, and she’s very pa­tient. She be­lieves in her stu­dents; she loves her stu­dents. If you come to North­side and walk down the halls, you might see her danc­ing or singing, and she has the scores to back up what she does.”

Matt Hay­den se­cured his spot as the Polk County Col­lege and Ca­reer Academy (PCCCA) Teacher of the Year. Hay­den is a Cer­ti­fied Weld­ing In­struc­tor and Cer­ti­fied Weld­ing In­spec­tor through the Amer­i­can Weld­ing So­ci­ety, and via his in­struc­tion, nu­mer­ous state and na­tional weld­ing com­pe­ti­tions have been won by Cedar­town stu­dents. “He is a leader that I’m so proud to stand by each and ev­ery day at our school,” PCCCA Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Katie Thomas said. “In case you’re not fa­mil­iar with how much welders make, you can get a lot more than they can make teach­ing weld­ing. That goes to show his pas­sion and dedication to his stu­dents. Cur­rently, he’s had over 20 state and na­tional cham­pi­ons, and right now we’re eight years run­ning at the state weld­ing cham­pi­ons.”

Greg Moss is Rock­mart High School’s choice for Teacher of the Year.

A Rock­mart na­tive and RHS alumni, Moss uses his var­i­ous de­grees in ac­count­ing, math­e­mat­ics, and chem­istry to en­sure his stu­dents learn as much as pos­si­ble. Moss served as a pub­lic safety in­struc­tor for over 13 years prior to work­ing at RHS.

“Work­ing with him for about 13 weeks now, it’s amaz­ing how quick you learn about Greg Moss,” Rock­mart Mid­dle School Co-prin­ci­pal Robyn Teems said. “No mat­ter what hap­pens at the school, peo­ple will tell you that Greg Moss will help you. Go get Greg. What­ever it is, go get Greg. He is the goto guy. He helps both fac­ulty and kids- he’s all about serv­ing and help­ing other peo­ple.”

La­toiya Waller took home Teacher of the Year from Rock­mart Mid­dle School. Since she be­gan teach­ing in 2007, Waller has been a fan fa­vorite among staff and stu­dents for her high en­ergy and creative out­look.

Waller holds a Bach­e­lor’s De­gree in Com­puter In­for­ma­tion Sys­tems and a Mas­ters in ed­u­ca­tion. Waller is also re­spon­si­ble for the school’s dance team, The Roc Town Step­pers.

“Ev­ery­day when you see her, there’s a smile on her face,” Rock­mart Mid­dle School Co-prin­ci­pal Chris Love­less said. “Any­one who knows her, you will not a see day that she’s not smil­ing. She’s an in­cred­i­ble teacher. She goes above and be­yond. She stays af­ter school to help kids at no charge. She’s an in­cred­i­ble teacher, but even more so, she’s an in­cred­i­ble per­son.”

Nikki Smith is Van Wert El­e­men­tary School’s Teacher of the Year. Smith holds a Bach­e­lor’s De­gree in early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion from Berry Col­lege and a Mas­ter’s De­gree in El­e­men­tary Read­ing In­struc­tion from Nova South­east­ern Univer­sity. With 22 years of teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Smith puts her ed­u­ca­tion to good use by mak­ing sure her stu­dents are read­ing and writ­ing to the best of their abil­ity.

“When we make our morn­ing rounds, we al­ways see the stu­dents crowded around her,” Van Wert Prin­ci­pal Tamra Walker said. “They can’t wait to speak to her, and they’re al­ways look­ing to get even just a lit­tle at­ten­tion from her. Luck­ily, she’s al­ways pre­pared for that be­cause she’s one of the last per­sons to leave and one of the first to ar­rive. What­ever it takes, she’s there.”

Beth Branch was named the West­side El­e­men­tary’s Teacher of the Year.

Branch grad­u­ated from the State Univer­sity of West GA and now teaches adult ed­u­ca­tion classes at Ge­or­gia North­west­ern Tech­ni­cal Col­lege when not at West­side. Branch’s phi­los­o­phy on ed­u­ca­tion is based on get­ting the stu­dent pre­pared for life, not the next grade.

“I’ve got the best teacher here. I know that with­out a doubt!” West­side Prin­ci­pal Laura Lit­tle joked. “One of her say­ings is, ‘you’re a branch kid un­til I die,’ and that is true. A cou­ple of weeks ago, she went to see one of her for­mer stu­dents play. She loves her kids, she loves teach­ing, and if you ask the kids who’s the boss at West­side, Mrs. Branch is.”

Sharon Carter is the Young’s Grove Teacher of the Year. Carter has ded­i­cated the last 28 years of her life to teach­ing youth, and a Bach­e­lor of Science and Mas­ter’s De­gree from JSU and an Ed­u­ca­tional Spe­cial­ist from Lin­coln Memo­rial Univer­sity en­sure she is pro­vid­ing the best pos­si­ble ed­u­ca­tion to her stu­dents.

“I’m sure we’ve all no­ticed a theme,” Young’s Grove prin­ci­pal Wes­ley Styles said. “All of the teach­ers here love their stu­dents, and they all care about them. I don’t think Mrs. Carter, my sec­ond-grade math teacher, is an ex­cep­tion to that. No mat­ter what, she al­ways has a smile on her face. The thing about Mrs. Carter is that she brain­washes her stu­dents- in a good way. Most kids don’t like do­ing math. They don’t think they’re good at math, but Mrs. Carter has con­vinced all of her stu­dent’s that they are good at math and that they can do math. She even bought them wrist­bands that say, ‘I am a math­e­ma­ti­cian.’ She’s an all-around great teacher.”

All the teach­ers who win for 2017 get a re­served park­ing spot and are given cash awards for the year, and a plaque to com­mem­o­rate the award.

Sean Wil­liams /

Laura Cox (cen­ter) is the 2017 Teacher of the Year for both Cedar­town Mid­dle School and the Polk County School District. Part of her award is a $500 prize.

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