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System crowns top teacher
Also honors Partners in Education
Natalie Kitchen of Lambert High School has been named the Forsyth County school system's Teacher of the Year. - photo by Jennifer Sami


An English instructor from Lambert High School was named the Forsyth County Schools' Teacher of the Year during a luncheon Monday.

Natalie Kitchen said she was grateful for the school system honor, which she received during the annual Celebration of Excellence event.

“I feel so humbled that I even get to have a job in Forsyth County, let alone be recognized for it," she said after the luncheon, which was organized by the system, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and Northside Hospital-Forsyth.

Kitchen was one 34 teachers of the year in the school district, including fellow systemwide finalists Lesa Barnett, a special education teacher at Matt Elementary and Aly Brown, who teaches math at Piney Grove Middle.

"I’m so proud to represent Lambert, especially because I love our school so much,” Kitchen said.

In addition to the teachers, the celebration also recognized the contributions of the school district's Partners in Education, including the local hospital.

Lynn Jackson, hospital administrator, hailed the program.

“If you examine successful partnerships, the benefits radiate from one partner to another, resulting in rewards for all the constituents — business, education, parents and the community,” she said.

“At Northside Hospital, we believe that education is a shared responsibility among all community stakeholders -- the family unit, the education provider and future employers -- and we’re proud of our collaborative commitment. It assists the schools in providing and improving student achievement.”

School Superintendent Buster Evans said this year has been outstanding, with more than 600 partners working with local schools, providing more than $1.5 million in funding, volunteer hours and in-kind services.

“We could not be successful without our partners, especially during these challenging financial times,” Evans said.

Several partners were recognized for their efforts.

The 2011 Mentor of the Year Award went to Gaynetta McClain, who spends two days a week working with 11 at-risk students, most of whom have shown improvements in attendance and self-discipline.

Todd Jones and Steve Csuka, co-chairs of the Shiloh Point Elementary Dad’s Club, received the Volunteer of the Year Award for building a lasting legacy for future generations.

The two led the construction of a courtyard with gazebo and picnic area at the school.

The Friend of the Year honor went to Lanierland Florist.

The company recognizes teachers, retirees and administrators and also works with staff on school and community celebrations.

Automation Direct earned the Gold Program of the Year award for its commitment.

“Their team of employees not only supports West Forsyth High directly, but provides financial support for the implementation of robotics education at the elementary, middle and high school levels,” Jackson said.

“Forsyth County schools would not be competing on the world stage in robotics without the support of this phenomenal company.”

Three businesses -- LensCrafters, Costco and Shane’s Rib Shack -- tied for the Silver Program of the Year honor.

LensCrafters at The Avenue Forsyth offered free eye exams and glasses for children in need, while Costco provided 500 students with backpacks of school supplies.

Charlie Feehan of Shane’s Rib Shack gives 500 gift certificates a year to honor mentors.

The Don Hendricks Partnership Award is the highest honor that a local education partner can receive. Suzanne Hendricks, daughter of the late school board member, presented the award to the Place of Forsyth County.

The Place was recognized for addressing basic survival needs, providing nearly $284,000 in financial assistance to prevent families from being homeless, keep them warm in the winter and help them pay water and electric bills.

“From very humble beginnings 36 years ago, the Place continues to grow in order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and hurting among us,” Hendricks said.

“We are truly fortunate to have this giant helping hand lifting the hopes, answering the prayers and alleviating suffering of so many families.”

The event culminated with the announcement of Kitchen as Teacher of the Year. While it was a surprise to her, Kitchen’s husband had little doubt.

“I definitely think she’s the best teacher in the county, but I am biased,” Britt Kitchen said. “She works incredibly hard and is always thinking about ways to engage her students about how to improve their experience in the classroom.

"She is just really passionate about teaching and I couldn’t be more proud of her.”