Gibson: A ‘big deal’ and ‘great honor’ to be named GA Pre-K Teacher of the Year finalist

Shannon Gibson was clearly caught off guard Monday when state education officials and local school administrators greeted her outside her classroom. The pre-kindergarten teacher at Baldwin Elementary School was even more surprised when she learned why they were there. School principal Rodney Long broke the good news to Gibson that she is one of six state finalists for Georgia pre-k teacher of the year.

Smiling broadly, Long capped off the announcement with a high-five.

The award, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, recognizes outstanding teachers in early childhood education. DECAL Commissioner Amy Jacobs was among the special guests at Baldwin Elementary on May 16 to congratulate Gibson. The surprise announcement came with balloons and flowers and a check for $500 Commissioner Jacobs presented to Gibson with explicit instructions to spend the money on herself, not her students.

Gibson was selected as Baldwin Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year for 2021-2022. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

Gibson was overwhelmed by the presentation. “This is a big deal,” she exclaimed. “It’s a great honor to be a finalist. I just really love what I do.”

This is not the first time Gibson has been recognized by her peers; her colleagues named her BES Teacher of the Year for 2021-2022. Interestingly, Gibson’s para-pro Megan Peyton was named the school’s support person of the year. She went on to win at the district level. Together, the two make a formidable pair.

Baldwin Elementary’s Principal Rodney Long has worked with Gibson for 5 years and continues to be amazed at the job she does with her students. (Margie Williamson/Now Habersham)

Principal Rodney Long was effusive in his praise. He says Gibson is the most patient person in the world with four-year-old kids who’ve never been in a school setting. He emphasizes, “She makes learning fun for them and keeps them engaged in the learning process. They are always doing something!”

Gibson poses with her class, and (L-R) Susan Adams, DECAL Commissioner Amy Jacobs, and BES para-pro and Megan Peyton. (Margie Williamson/Now Haabersham

When asked what makes Gibson so special, Long responded that he cannot say enough good things about her. In the letter he wrote in support of her being chosen as Georgia’s Pre-K Program Teacher of the Year, he stressed, “Ms. Gibson is loved by students, parents, and staff. This love and respect is mainly due to that calm and friendly nature; something which all families desire in their children’s teachers.”

Teachers must apply to be considered for the state teacher of the year honor. According to Gibson, since she had already completed the application for Baldwin’s Teacher of the Year, she decided to go ahead and send in the paperwork to the state program as well. She never expected to hear anything back from it.

Habersham County Director of Elementary Schools Rhonda Andrews explains that, while it is a self-nominating process, “we at the county office sign off on it. We also encourage outstanding teachers to apply.”

Among other requirements, candidates for Georgia’s Pre-K Teacher of the Year must have been employed as a Georgia Pre-K lead teacher during the 2021-2022 school year, taught as a lead teacher in a state pre-k classroom for a minimum of three years, and must be planning to continue as a lead teacher in the program during the 2022-2023 school year.

Winners will serve as ambassadors for Georgia’s Pre-K Program including public speaking, representing Georgia’s Pre-K at various meetings, and modeling effective classroom practices.

The number of top state and county administrators who attended Monday’s surprise announcement is a reflection of how notable a distinction this is. In addition to Jacobs and Andrews there was Susan Adams, Deputy Commissioner for Pre-K and Institutional Support at DECAL; Faith Duncan, Georgia Pre-K Director of Field Operations; Carrie Ashbee, the Executive Director of the Georgia Foundation of Early Care + Learning; and Donna Marks, the Georgia Pre-K Program Specialist for the Northeast Region.

Representatives from several Georgia education agencies were on site to congratulate Ms. Gibson. (photo provided by DECAL)

Gibson is one of five finalists named so far. The sixth and final finalist will be announced later this week.

DECAL will select two statewide winners in September – one from a public school system and another from a private child care center. In addition to the prestigious title, each will be awarded cash prizes. They will receive a $3,000 check for themselves, $2,000 for a classroom makeover and supplies, and funds to cover substitute teachers while they’re attending teacher of the year-related events.

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