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Matt teacher tops in district
Neal honored for making difference
TOTY 6 jd
2010 Teacher of the Year Robin Neal addresses the audience during Friday's Celebration of Excellence luncheon. - photo by Jim Dean
Other awards

The following businesses were honored Friday for their contributions to the Forsyth County school system:

  • Gold Program of the Year: Browns Bridge Community Church and Barnes & Noble at The Avenue Forsyth
  • Silver Program of the Year: Backyard Burger and Atlanta Rehabilitation & Performance Center
  • Friend of the School: In and Out Photo
Robin Neal enjoys teaching because she wants to make a difference, even if it's in the life of just one student.

On Friday, Matt Elementary's Neal was honored as that difference maker when she was crowned Forsyth County's 2010 systemwide teacher of the year.

"I thought I made a difference for you," she said of her third-grade students, "but you made a difference to me. They shape us. We shape them."

The teacher recalled a story the school's principal told of a child throwing sand dollars into the ocean one by one, even though thousands were dying on the shore.

When someone questioned why she would bother, the girl said, "I made a difference for that one," and threw another sand dollar back into the water.

Neal, who's been teaching at Matt since 2005, keeps a sand dollar on her desk as a reminder of what she strives to accomplish each day.

Maintaining her composure in front of the hundreds who attended the district's 14th "Celebration of Excellence" luncheon, Neal expressed her respect for all of her colleagues.

"Teaching for me, as it is for you, it's not a job, it's a way of life for us," she said. "It's not what we do, it's who we are."

Superintendent Buster Evans said he enjoyed visiting the classrooms of all the teacher of the year nominees, which included the two other finalists, Debra Moore of South Forsyth High and Chris Cummo of Liberty Middle.

"These visits have reaffirmed to me that we do have the best teachers in the nation, and that their joy and passion for teaching is what makes Forsyth County one of the leading school systems in our county," Evans said.

Each school honored one educator as its teacher of the year.

The luncheon also recognized the contributions of the district's community partners.

The Mentor of the Year award went to Jackie Staples, who has been mentoring at Sharon Elementary School since 2007.

Staples said she wished she could spend more time as a mentor because "30 minutes a week just isn't enough."

Several business partners, including title sponsor Northside Hospital-Forsyth, were praised for their involvement in the schools.

Evans said this year, the district had more than 600 active partners which provided $1.6 million, an increase of $1 million from the previous year.

Georgia Federal Credit Union received the Don Hendricks Award, the highest honor for a Partner in Education.

The award was founded in 2002 to recognize Hendricks, a longtime school board member who died while in office.

After 90 minutes of food and celebration, Evans thanked everyone for their community effort in supporting education.

"Our school system is stellar because of the direct result of the strong beliefs and firm commitment that each of you have made," he said. "Education is our business."