Houston kicks off new school year, names Teacher of the Year

jmink@macon.comJuly 25, 2013 

houston_teachers

Teachers from Quail Run Elementary School, foreground, and other Houston County school system employees filled the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter for their opening session Thursday where the biggest applause might have been for the performance by the county's music teachers.

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PERRY -- Jaquel Johnson knows what the beginning of the school year is like.

“It’s like Christmas. You don’t know what presents you’re going to get until you unwrap them,” said Johnson, a special education transition specialist and former Houston County High School teacher. “That’s like students. ... All students are gifts.”

If the first day of school is like Christmas, Houston County’s opening session Thursday was like a pep rally for educators. Employees danced, cheered, waved signs, clapped their hands and pumped their fists as they kicked off the new school year. The first day of school is Aug. 1 in Houston County.

Thousands of faculty and staff members packed the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building of the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter, and 130 of those teachers were newly hired.

The opening session “is the one time we all gather in one place to celebrate our successes and welcome new co-workers to Houston County,” Board Chairwoman Marianne Melnick said. “Houston County is the best system to be working in, bar none.”

The event was a way to pump up educators and to celebrate the previous school year. Leaders applauded last year’s test scores, state championships, employees of the year and other accomplishments.

Amanda Miliner, a fifth-grade teacher at Miller Elementary School, was named district-wide Teacher of the Year.

It was also a time to reflect on challenges the district has faced, such as new accountability standards and statewide budget cuts. Superintendent Robin Hines applauded school officials for presenting a balanced district budget for fiscal 2014, with a full calendar year and no furloughs.

For years, many school districts have enforced furloughs and adjustments to their school calendars, he said.

“We are beginning our third year with a full school calendar,” Hines said. “This may sound simple, but children learn better when they’re in school.”

The ceremony is just one back-to-school routine for school employees. Tara Elderkin, a special education teacher at Houston County High School, has spent her summer shopping for new classroom decorations.

“Every year is different,” she said. “You see some of the same kids and some new ones.”

As they cheered for their co-workers and danced to songs from the district’s music teachers, educators prepared for a new school year, new students and new challenges.

“It’s very exciting,” said Kimberly Stephens, a fifth-grade teacher at Lindsey Elementary School. “One of the main challenges for us is to be better than we were last year.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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