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Top 3 named in Teacher of the Year
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Three teachers were named finalists Friday for the 2014 Newton County School System Teacher of the Year award.

Maria Hargrove, a third-grade math teacher at Heard-Mixon Elementary; Ashley Rickard, an Advanced Placement English teacher at Eastside High School; and Dolores Williams, an advanced placement pre-calculus teacher at the Newton College and Career Academy were all named finalists.

NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey, a few Board of Education members, and school system officials hopped onto a school bus Friday morning and traveled to the three schools to surprise the teachers with their families and friends.

Hargrove, Rickard and Williams were named finalists after a panel of judges read essays submitted by each of the school system’s 23 Teachers of the Year, and then spent two days interviewing each of the teachers.

The three candidates now enter the final round of judging, which includes the teacher of the year selection committee observing them in their classrooms on Tuesday.

The teacher with the highest overall combined score in the essay, interview and observation portions of

the competition will be announced as 2014 Teacher of the Year in a ceremony at 4:45 p.m. Sept. 26 at Newton High School.

The 2014 Teacher of the Year will receive a dozen roses, a three-month free car rental from Covington Ford and a check for $1,000 from the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce. The winner will represent the school system in the Georgia Teacher of the Year program.

 Heard-Mixon Elementary: Maria Hargrove

Maria Hargrove began her teaching career at Heard-Mixon Elementary School in 2005 as a kindergarten teacher, but now teaches third grade.

Hargrove earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Georgia in 2004 and a master’s in early childhood education from Piedmont College in 2005.

She earned an education specialist degree from George College in 2008, and is currently studying for a doctorate in curriculum studies at Georgia Southern University.

Hargrove is a member of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the Georgia Association of Educators, and according to Newton County School System officials, is in fact the kindergarten through fifth-grade math specialist for Newton County Schools. 

On Friday, she said being named one of three Teacher of the Year finalists was "overwhelming."

"I’m so excited and honored and I just feel so blessed in so many ways. Everything that I do in my classroom isn’t about me.  It’s all for my kids,  and I think that’s what has gotten me here," Hargrove said. "It’s not about what Ms. Hargrove can do, but it’s about what I can do for my kids every day."

"I just want to do my best, and I want to represent Newton County well."

Hargrove’s family made their way into her classroom with NCSS officials to congratulate her on the honor. Her husband, Craig Hargrove, said he was "ecstatic" for his wife.

"It shows that her hard work has really paid off," Hargrove said. "She’s the best without a doubt. It’s her passion and I’m just excited for her."

 Eastside High School: Ashley Rickard

Ashley Rickard began her career with the school system at Eastside High School in 2009. Rickard teaches Advanced Placement English Language and Composition.

She earned a bachelor’s in secondary English education from Georgia Southern in 2008 and is currently studying for a master’s degree in instructional technology from the University of West Georgia.

Rickard created the "Random Acts of Kindness" initiative at Eastside, which encouraged students to photograph themselves or others practicing random acts of kindness in their school or community.

She also has completed a "gifted endorsement," which certifies her to teach gifted students and has led to her role as the Gifted Coordinator at Eastside.

"It’s completely surreal. I didn’t see this coming. I’ve only been in the classroom for five years, so this is just unbelievable for me," Rickard said of her selection as a Teacher of the Year finalist.

"I think that my job as a teacher is to help them learn how to learn. I’m not the deliverer of information; I want them to find the information, and I am going to be supportive of them in that process. And I think that’s maybe what makes me different or unique in the classroom. I just want to make sure that they learn whatever that works best for them, and I’m going to be on the side, cheering them on."

Rickard’s parents, David and Kim Stanley, and her sister, Stephanie Conner, all said they were proud of Rickard’s accomplishment.

"It’s a huge achievement, and she’s only been teaching for a couple of years," Conner said. "For her to be teacher of the year for her school is a huge accomplishment, but for her to be one of three to potentially win in the county is huge."

 Newton College and Career Academy: Dolores Williams

Dolores Williams began educating students in Newton County in 1998 as a paraprofessional at Newton High School. The following year, Williams taught Pre-Algebra and Algebra at the school.

Williams transferred to Alcovy High School in 2006, before moving to the Newton College and Career Academy in 2010, where she now teaches Pre-Calculus, Advanced Placement Statistics, and Advanced Placement Calculus.

Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Mercer University in 1997, and a master’s degree in teaching secondary math from Piedmont College in 2000. She has an education specialist degree in instructional technology from Valdosta State University.

Williams is a member of the Georgia Teachers of Mathematics and the National Teachers of Mathematics organizations, and has certifications as a teacher support specialist, ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages), and Gifted.

When named a finalist Friday, Williams said she was humbled by the unexpected honor.

"I love my kids. I like what I do," Williams said. "I’ve only been teaching 15 years. This is my second career. I worked as a supervisor (at FiberVisions, a polyolefin staple fibers manufacturing plant) for 20 years before I came into teaching, and I just found my niche. I found what I loved to do and in here, I feel like it’s a calling," she said.

"The kids invigorate me; they inspire me. They have so much to offer. Our kids in Newton County are awesome, and I feel like I can help them reach places that they don’t think they can reach. Math scares so many students. My goal is to make sure that they know that anything is possible for them if they believe in themselves."

Williams’ husband, Gene, said he’s "proud to death" of his wife for being named a finalist.

"I think it’s great because she puts a lot of her heart and soul in this," Williams said. "She really likes the kids, cares about the kids and wants them to learn and make a better life for themselves."