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‘It feels like home’
School system welcomes newest teachers
WEB new teachers 3
South Forsyth High teacher Russell Bayer, below, listens as an administrator talks about the district.
At only 23 years old, Amy Mohr is exactly where she always wanted to be in her career — back home.

The Forsyth Central High School graduate was one of 88 teachers who took part in the county’s new educator orientation Friday.

After earning an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s degree in science education, Mohr is returning to the county to teach ninth grade biology and eleventh grade chemistry at South Forsyth High School.

Mohr said it was her own education in the county that “helped to shape who I am as a person and an educator.”

“I really look forward to the opportunity to impact students in fostering curiosity and propelling them toward lifelong learning, community involvement and stewardship,” she said. “Those are the reasons I became a teacher and I really look forward to the opportunity to give back in the place that helped shape me in those ways.”

Friday’s orientation offered training on technology, procedures and specific requirements, as well as the culture of the school system, its academics and accountability. Teachers worked in groups to share their previous experience and heard from local leaders, including Superintendent Buster Evans.

Nearly 30 of the new educators previously worked for the school system as substitute teachers. About 17 are from other systems in the state, and 13, including Mohr, are straight out of college.

Last year, when the system didn’t open any new schools, about 300 teachers attended the orientation. But even with five new schools opening this year, there were only 88 teachers at the event.

A combination of state budgets cuts, a decline in sales tax revenue and a slower-than-expected growth rate has led the system to cut back its budget.

Instead of hiring new teachers to fill the five new schools, Candy Norton, chief human resources officer, said teachers were shifted from already constructed schools.

“We moved almost 500 employees this year ... that’s just from school to school,” she said. “We did not have a place for all of our part-time people to return to, but where we could, we did hire some of our part-time teachers back as either part time, full time or [paraprofessionals].”

The majority of new hires are to replace previous staff members who moved or retired. Fewer than 30 teachers are filling new positions.

Jeremy Howard is among the few teachers hired to fill a void. The new advanced placement and international baccalaureate physics teacher at South Forsyth High School is not only new to the county, but also to the country.

“I was in Egypt,” he said. “We had made our decision to move back to the states and my wife’s from the Atlanta area, so we were looking north of Atlanta.”

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in education, Howard began as a math teacher in the Peace Corps. He taught in Cambodia, Ghana and Chad, among other locations.

Howard interviewed for the local job from Egypt, using an online video conferencing service.

“There is a seven hour time difference,” he said. “I had my pajama bottoms on. They only showed me from the top up.”

Though his interview and international experience set him apart, Norton said Howard is a valuable asset who will fit well with the system’s high-quality staff. 

Howard says the most difficult part will be the transition.

“It’s been a while since I’ve taught in the U.S., so all the acronyms and procedures are new to me,” he said.

Fresh out of Kennesaw State University, Tina Smith is well versed in the state’s educational lingo. Her challenge will be transitioning from the basketball court to the classroom.

For the past seven years, Smith has been a lay coach for the eighth grade girls’ basketball team at Vickery Creek Middle School.

Her career spans from the building industry to being a stay-at-home mom, but coaching basketball has remained a constant in her life since she moved to the county in 1983.

Though Smith will continue to coach, she will now also be teaching math to seventh and eighth graders at the school.

“I just love kids and was going to see if I could take the same successes I’ve had on the court and move it to the classroom,” she said. “I was very fortunate to get the job I wanted. It’s where I wanted to be. It feels like home.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at jennifersami@forsythnews.com.