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Finalists for Forsyth County’s top teacher announced
Glymph - photo by Micah Green

FORSYTH COUNTY — The three finalists for 2016 Forsyth County Teacher of the Year each teach a different subject in a different grade with a different strategy, but they all have two things in common — they love what they do and are humbled to be recognized.

Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden and an array of guests surprised Sharon Nizialek at Chestatee Elementary, Andy Poor at South Forsyth Middle and Jay Glymph at North Forsyth High schools Wednesday morning with balloons, gifts, kind words and the news that they are this year’s most highly recognized teacher at their school level.

“You can have all the content knowledge in the world, but if you cannot establish an effective report with your students, you cannot be an effective teacher,” Bearden said.

“It’s really the thing we focus on more than anything else when we go through the hiring process … because we know they have the best opportunity of reaching [students], teaching them and developing that relationship that will last a lifetime.”

Sharon Nizialek is a first-grade teacher at Chestatee in northeast Forsyth. She said she focuses on building relationships with students that go beyond classwork.

“I live in this community. My children go to school in this community. They went to Chestatee all the way up and are in high school now,” said Nizialek, who has been there for 10 years. “I love being in the grocery store and seeing a kid of mine, even if it was five years ago or 10 years ago. I love continuing to see them at the ballpark.

“It just continues year after year when you walk down the hallway and see previous students, and they still come to see you in the mornings and want to read you a book and want to show off what a great reader they are now.”

She said being recognized at the system level is humbling because there are “so many incredible and amazing teachers in this county and just within our school.”

Andy Poor, a band teacher at South Middle, echoed those thoughts about a department full of quality teachers. Poor is a relative newcomer to the school district, with this his third year at South, but has 28 years of teaching experience.

He said the fact that a fine arts educator was named middle school teacher of the year proves to him how the district values arts in public education.

“I think the arts are what make us human … there’s brain research that says it helps them grow cognitively. There’s a tremendous amount of social benefit. It’s a place for students to belong,” Poor said.

He said the band program has grown from about 135 students to more than 370 during his time at South.

“I talked [in my interview] about having an arts advocate at the county level to help be a part of the conversation when we talked about things like expansion and budgeting and staffing, and having somebody what that expertise would really help our programs,” he said.

James McCoy, president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, joined Bearden as they surprised the teachers in their classrooms.

He said each school submitted their teacher of the year through staff nominations. Those were narrowed to a group of semifinalists. They were then interviewed before each school-level teacher of the year was chosen.

In March, the district’s teacher of the year will be announced at the annual Celebration of Excellence.

“It’s been proven over time in our school system that the quality of the school system is driven by the quality of its teachers,” McCoy said.

That quality often means realizing not every student is the same and should not be taught the same.

“I focused not necessarily on classroom stuff but when kids who graduated and have gone on come back, those are the success stories when they come back and let you know how they’re doing,” said Jay Glymph, a social studies teacher at North. “It’s humbling that they remember you and they take the time to come back and visit.”

Glymph, who taught for one year at an alternative school in northeast Georgia before coming to North nearly 16 years ago, is the first social studies instructor in about a decade to be named the top high school teacher of the year.

He said he is only as good as his students and co-workers.

“Social studies is all discussion. It has to be. It’s the who, what, when, where, why, how. The effects,” he said. “… They have to take it and apply it. And if it’s not interactive, and they don’t answer, it’s boring and it’s just me talking.

“You have to have a solid group of kids that can interact and are brave enough to ask questions and want to hear an answer not just to waste class time. That’s how a class works.”