In the packed auditorium of Denmark High School, hundreds of new Forsyth County educators gathered on Tuesday morning, ready to kick off the school year on Aug. 1.
With each new school year, the Forsyth County school system welcomes its incoming teachers at a new educator orientation event with food, introductions to school officials and presentations on system culture.
This year, the event involved more than 360 new educators, including former students, recent graduates and experienced teachers from across the country, school officials say.
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Tuesday’s event was kicked off by Board of Education Chair Kristin Morrissey, who walked the new educators through a brief history of Forsyth County and the school system, highlighting what the system has become, compared to its humble beginnings.
"In 1874, Forsyth County had 1,456 students in 32 schools,” Morrissey said. “To put that into perspective, the entire district back then would now fit into Riverwatch Middle School."
School officials say that since 2009, student enrollment has grown by more than 50% and by 2020 the system is expected to hold more than 50,000 students, requiring new school facilities, teachers and support.
In his presentation to the new cohort of educators, Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden congratulated the new teachers on their acceptance into the system, stating that it was encouraging to see so many former Forsyth County students, several dozen, returning to the county to teach.
Bearden said that of the 360 new educators, 33 were former Forsyth County substitutes or paraprofessionals, while 102 are recent graduates coming to Forsyth County as brand new teachers.
"Forsyth County Schools is proud to be one of the top districts in Georgia and the United States,” he said. "Our success did not happen overnight; it started with the hard work and commitment of a few around solid beliefs, which led to many more joining our district to further our mission."
But according to Bearden, a large majority of the new educators, more than 190, came to Forsyth County from other school districts in Georgia and 18 other states.
One of those 190 teachers, Lakeya Johnson, who will be
teaching seventh-grade language arts at North Forsyth Middle School during the
coming school year, said that she came to Forsyth County after teaching in
Florida and Gwinnett County.
Johnson said that as non-local, she didn’t know much about Forsyth County, but what she has since learned has gotten her excited for the upcoming year.
"From what I've heard, the kids are going to be amazing, and I can't wait to meet them," Johnson said. "The goal is always to get through the year … but I'm just excited to see what's coming, and I'll go from there.”
Another new educator, Kevin Turco, who will be a paraprofessional at West Forsyth High School this year, said that the new position is a total career change for him, but one he is looking forward to.
Turco said that after coaching college football for 21 years and traveling around the country, he and his wife recently had a baby and decided to move to Forsyth County to settle down near family.
"I'm excited to grow,” he said. “This is a different career for me, so going in as a parapro and becoming a teacher — to me those are my goals, that's what's most exciting to me."
In addition to presentations by Bearden, Morrissey and other school administrators, the new educators also heard from a small panel of current teachers, including Teacher of the Year Kim Schreier and other finalists for the award.
During the panel session, Schreier and the other teachers were asked a series of questions from audience members and others concerning their experiences in the school system, like what their daily teaching secret is or what is the hardest lesson they have learned as a teacher.
"Even on your worst day of teaching, you are still making an impact on those kids," teacher Rhonda Slaughter told the crowd."Ask yourself, ‘Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?’” Schreier said. “Make it fun, make it exciting, and make sure that you build those relationships with your students because students will move mountains for you if they know that you care about them."