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‘I will be your child’s voice' — Kim Sarfaty honored as 2021 Teacher of the Year
Teacher of the Year 2021
Kim Sarfaty, aa special education teacher at Chestatee Elementary School, was named Forsyth County Schools' 2021 Teacher of the Year at the annual Celebration of Excellence. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Kim Sarfaty always looked up to her dad growing up. She remembers that she would speak just a little slower when they talked because he was deaf and needed to read her lips, and she noticed as she got older just how hard her dad worked at communicating with others so he could grow closer to those around him.

Her dad served as a role model for her as she grew to learn to see people for “their abilities, not their disabilities” and recognize how much of an impact that small, everyday moments can have. Early on, Sarfaty realized she also wanted to have that impact on those in her life.

“I wanted to help people realize their individual needs are unique and valued,” Sarfaty said. “I wanted to show empathy, kindness, love and patience with all people and develop positive relationships. I wanted to help others learn in the best possible way, using whatever means available. I wanted to be like so many of the wonderful teachers who touched me. Whether it was through a positive word, an engaging lesson, a listening ear, a little extra time taken to explain a new concept, or a caring smile.”

The influence her teachers and father had on her led her to her career today as a special education and preschool teacher at Chestatee Elementary School, and on Friday, she was recognized as the 2021 Forsyth County Schools’ Teacher of the Year for the big impact she has made in the school and the community.

“I’m so very honored,” Sarfaty said. “I’m honored to represent Forsyth County as teacher of the year. There are so many wonderful, amazing teachers in our county, and to be a part of that is such a special experience. To be a part of our Chestatee family here at our school is just very special to me.”

Sarfaty was one of several individuals honored by the school system Friday at its annual Celebration of Excellence, which looked a little different than in years past. While hundreds usually gather at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College for the district-wide event, this year, the district made it available for attendees to watch live from home. 

Kim Sarfaty
Chestatee Principal Polly Tennies hugs Kim Sarfaty as she brings her outside of the school to recieve her 2021 Teacher of the Year award. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

FCS Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden introduced viewers to the event starting at 11:30 Friday morning from the conference center where the school system honored some its Partners in Education and community members.

In a pre-recorded video played during the live-stream, Jessica Younghouse, last year’s FCS Teacher of the Year, read the names of 39 total FCS Teacher of the Years chosen at each school across the county. They also shared a video about each of the seven semi-finalists chosen last month.

After the videos were finished, school leaders went live at Chestatee Elementary where they surprised Sarfaty with the news of her win. Principal Polly Tennies led her outside the school where Board of Education Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey was waiting to present her with the Teacher of the Year award.

As Sarfaty stepped up to the microphone to give her speech to the viewers at home, her Chestatee family — teachers, counselors and other staff members — came running out of the school to cheer her on.

During her speech, she expressed how much the award means to her and how honored she feels to work at Chestatee and with the community’s children. She remembered back to when she first had her own kids. 

Kim Sarfaty
Kim Sarfaty poses with her husband and three kids after recieving her award. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

She said her daughter was born three months prematurely and had to spend nearly two months in the hospital before she could take her home. Her oldest son was born having seizures, and her youngest was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 1 year old. While they each had their own health complications, they each are thriving and making their own positive impacts today.

Sarfaty shared during her speech what she has shared with parents of her preschoolers.

“I know when you saw your child’s name and diagnosis on the first page of her IEP, it made it real that your child has special needs,” Sarfaty said. “I understand. I felt the same way at [my son’s] first IEP meeting. When you shared that one of your greatest fears was that your child’s voice would not yet be heard because she is not yet speaking words, it made me think of my father. He was deaf. For many years, I was his voice, and I will be your child’s voice. Whether through an electronic device, sign language, picture or words, your child’s voice will be heard.”

Sarfaty emphasized that the staff and students at Chestatee and even across the district all feel like family. She thanked her FCS family, all of the staff members and those who support her at Chestatee, her principal, her husband and three kids, Bearden and the Forsyth County community for the award and for a career that she loves.

Kim Sarfaty
Kim Sarfaty celebrates with her Chestatee family immediately after the event. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

The Teacher of the Year was not the only one to receive an award Friday.

Bearden awarded Rosemarie Degaraff as the 2021 Mentor of the Year. He said the mentor from  Sawnee Elementary has served at the school longer than most staff members, partnering “with her mentee year after year to build a long-lasting relationship and build connections with all students and staff.”

Doug Jenkins with Georgia Power also presented the 2021 Friend of the Year award to Beaver Toyota and Rucker Dog Training. Beaver Toyota has supported schools in Forsyth for many years and has been working closely with Mashburn Elementary. They have also provided financial support to provide a touchless water fountain for students during the pandemic.

Jenkins said Rucker Dog Training has helped FCS students and staff at Lambert High School with their overall emotional wellbeing through a donation of therapy dogs to school leaders and teachers. Duck, the first of several dogs donated to the school, also went up on stage during the livestream to receive the award.

Teresa Banker and Bridge the Gap for Kids Inc., from Whitlow Elementary School were honored with the 2021 Volunteer of the Year award. Jenkins said Banker, a volunteer, and the nonprofit have provided more than 300 snacks every two months to students at Whitlow.

Dental Town and Solvay Specialty Polymers also both won 2021 Silver Program of the Year awards. Lynn Jackson, a leader at Northside Hospital Forsyth who presented the award, said Dental Town has supported many schools and provided free dental care to students in need. Solvay Speciality Polymers representatives have served as mentors at Midway Elementary and provide funding for STEM specials.

North Point Community Church was honored as the 2021 Gold Program of the Year for their support at Brandywine Elementary School beginning when the school first opened in 2016.

Lastly, Forte Data Systems was given the 2021 Don Hendricks Partnership award. The business helped to kick off the Forsyth County Education Foundation in 2015 and has provided support schools, scholarships and programs throughout the district.

Bearden closed out the live streamed event Friday, congratulating Sarfaty on her award and expressing his appreciation for FCS, its partners and community members.

“Many of you have heard me say before that the best schools and the best school systems are the ones where homes, school and community work together as partners,” Bearden said. “I can’t think of any other school district that is more blessed than ours. Thank you for providing resources and support. Our school system is successful because of you.”

Kim Sarfaty
Kim Sarfaty reflected on her time growing up and looking to her dad and teachers as her role models during her speech Friday. - photo by Sabrina Kerns