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Posted: November 1, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Top 3 Teacher of the Year finalists announced

By Amber PIttman/

Gail Bemis

Newton County School System officials announced the top three finalists for the NCSS 2010 Teacher of the Year Friday morning, surprising the three elementary school teachers in their classrooms with flowers and family members.

Laurie Carpenter
Fairview Theme School second grade teacher Laurie Carpenter was sitting in a darkened classroom reading to her students - all of which were dressed in costume, including Carpenter.

"She's a fabulous teacher," said Principal Dr. Ruth Anne Smith. "She is a teacher that every parent would want for their child."

As NCSS Super-intendent Dr. Steve Whatley presented Carpenter with flowers her students cheered and yelled and many of them hugged Carpenter, laughing.

"There is no way I could have done this without the support of my family, friends and especially my students. I am just so overwhelmed," she said, hugging her family close.
Carpenter has been employed with the NCSS since 2007. Prior to joining Newton County Schools she taught at Highlands Elementary School, St. Elizabeth's Catholic School, and First Presbyterian ELC. Carpenter began her teaching career in 1992 after earning her
Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education from Kansas State University. In 1995 she earned her Master's Degree in Elementary Education from Mid?America Nazarene University.

Melanie Sheets
Fourth grade teacher Melanie Sheets covered her face with her hands when a convoy of family and co-workers converged on her classroom at Heard-Mixon Elementary while her students looked on.

"She is very deserving," said Principal Lee Peck. "She is one of the hardest working teachers I have ever had the pleasure of working with."

Sheets began her teaching career with the NCSS in 1992. She earned her Bachelor's in
Music in Piano Performance from Birmingham?Southern in 1979 and attended graduate school in Princeton where she studied and earned her Master's in Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College in 1983. She taught music at Princeton and became the director for The New School for Music Study. Although she enjoyed her time at Princeton she yearned to come home to Georgia. At the encouragement of her husband, she went back to school to become a public school teacher and in 1992 she earned her Master's in Education in Early Childhood from Georgia State University.

""I am surprised and thrilled and humbled," said Sheets who likened being named a finalist with "winning a ball tournament and moving to the finals. "What an honor!"

Gail Bemis
Students in Gail Bemis' third grade class squealed in delight and requested a group hug after hearing the news that their beloved teacher had made it as a finalist for TOTY.
"If I were to describe her she is like a breath of fresh air," said Livingston Elementary Principal Wendy Hughes. "She is always looking for innovative ways to teach her students."

Bemis has been employed with the NCSS since 1980. Prior to joining Newton
County Schools, she taught third grade at Fitzgerald Elementary School. Bemis earned her Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Georgia in 1979 and her Master's in Early Childhood Education from Georgia State in 1983. She holds additional certification as a Teacher Support Specialist.

"I thought I was too old for this!" she exclaimed. "I am so shocked. I just never thought it would be me. It's hard to believe that I've been teaching for 30 years," said Bemis, "but I can honestly say that I love it as much today as the day I started."

After reading essays submitted by each of the school system's 23 Teachers of the Year, a panel of seven judges spent both Monday and Tuesday morning interviewing each of the teachers. On Tuesday, Nov. 3, the Teacher of the Year selection committee will observe each of the three finalists their classroom and the teacher with the highest combined score on the essay, interview, and observation will be announced as the 2010 Teacher of the Year during a special ceremony at Newton High School on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 4:45 p.m.

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