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South grad is top teacher
Otwell’s Ward strives to inspire
5 TOTY rap song jd
Jenna Ward, this year's Teacher of the Year, far right, leads attendees at the Partner in Education luncheon in a rap after receiving her award. - photo by Jim Dean
An emotional crowd rose and threw its hands in the air, keeping rhythm to Jenna Ward’s rap.

It was then, following Ward’s heartfelt speech of gratitude, that Forsyth County’s partners in education got a full understanding of why the Otwell Middle School seventh-grade teacher was named the system’s best.

The 13th annual Forsyth County Schools Partner in Education awards ceremony, held Monday in the Whitlow Elementary School cafeteria, honored Ward as both the middle school and county teacher of the year.

Kim Lochbaum of Mashburn was named the year’s top elementary school teacher and Rebecca Austin, who teaches physics and biology at West Forsyth, was named the top high school teacher.

“It is an honor to be a part of this profession,” Ward said. “As I look around this cafeteria today, it warms my soul to know that ... all of us are sitting here today because we love children, and fully understand that they are the promise of tomorrow.”

It is Ward’s third year of teaching, though the South Forsyth High School graduate showed promise early on.

West Forsyth High School Principal Richard Gill recalled his first encounter with Ward while principal at South.

Ward had been nominated for homecoming queen and served as the editor of the yearbook, Gill said. But what he remembers most was how she helped him, then a first-year principal, learn about his students.

“She was a person I could go to, to try to understand what was on the minds of students,” he said. “She was going to be honest with me about issues, whatever they might be. She was just a delight and involved in the fabric of the school.

“I knew she would be a success.”

In her Teacher of the Year essay, Ward described teaching as a dream she’s had since a child, when she would play school with her sister and brothers.

She’s turned her dream into a reality and strives to provide her students with the same inspiration she received as a student in Forsyth County schools.

“I am not here for fame nor fortune, but to impact each child. Daily I am creating new, innovative ways to engage my students,” she wrote in her essay.

“I use my spare time to create songs and dances, interactive manipulatives and intriguing labs. I want my innovative methods to make a lasting impression and to be remembered for a lifetime.”

While the event was a celebration of the district’s top teachers, Superintendent Buster Evans noted it’s also important to recognize the hundreds of business partners working with the school system.

Evans said the activities provided by the 500 participating businesses have “improved student achievement in all subject areas, enriched students’ life experiences, helped grow career opportunities, and boost educator support and morale.”

“Our appreciation to each of you is even greater than ever due to these challenging times,” he said.

In light of their contributions to education, Siemens Energy & Automation and Vulcan Materials Company were each awarded with the Silver Program of the Year award.

The honor is given to partners who accomplish two of the four areas of success to improve academic performance, provide for educator support and morale, enrich the life experience for students and grow career opportunities.

“Business people bring an awful lot to the table, more than just writing checks,” said James McCoy, president and chief executive officer of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce.

“They’re also good at adding value to strategic decisions and that relationship, I think, is a two-way street. The businesses also benefit by greater schools and greater students coming out of those schools.”

The Gold Program of the Year award, which requires a business meet three of the four goals, was given to Dimitri and Elleni Tzortzis, owners of Giorgio’s Restaurant.

The couple has worked with Relay for Life, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association.

The Don Hendricks Partnership Award, the highest honor that a partner in education can receive, was presented to John Heath of RE/MAX 400 North.

The award is given each year in honor of the late Hendricks, a former board of education member, to a partner that demonstrates loyalty to the school system and community.

The Volunteer of the Year award went to Dennis Allen, while Theresa Chabot was honored with the Mentor of the Year award and Jon Smith received the Friend of the School award.

The annual luncheon is a chance to honor partners in education, but also to let the community see who makes the county’s school system excel, McCoy said.

“This is highlighting the best and brightest and really does make you aware, very quickly, of the true impact that our schools have and what’s going on in our schools,” he said. “We should all be very proud of the quality of what’s coming out of our schools.”

E-mail Jennifer Sami at