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System taps top three
Teachers honored by grade level
Lesa Barnett, the county's elementary school teacher of the year, reacts after learning the news at Matt Elementary. - photo by Alyssa LaRenzie

What's next
The 2011 system's top teacher will be named at the annual Celebration of Excellence, which is set for 11:30 a.m. April 25 at Lambert High School.

Three Forsyth County teachers were shocked by some unexpected visitors Tuesday morning.

The 2011 teachers of the year were named for elementary, middle and high school levels in surprise celebrations at their campuses.

A group led by Superintendent Buster Evans honored Lesa Barnett, Aly Brown and Natalie Kitchen with flowers, balloons and congratulations.

The annual districtwide contest names a top teacher for each school, then narrows the field to three -- one at each level -- before selecting the systemwide representative.

That person will then compete in the state competition.

The school system makes its selection through a series of essays, interviews and classroom visits.

Candidates for the honor must have at least two years of experience, work full time and have top-notch qualities.

Barnett, a special education teacher at Matt Elementary, said the moment was "unreal."

In an emotional celebration, she hugged her five students during a physical education class in the school's gym.

"I'm honored to represent not only Matt, but also the special education department in Forsyth County," she said. "I love my job. It's been 22 years, and this is a wonderful journey that I've had."

Principal Charlley Stalder said Barnett's dedication to the children is what makes her stand out.

At Lambert High School, Principal Gary Davison said the Longhorns' honoree, Kitchen, is a "rock star teacher."

Kitchen meets the challenge of feeding knowledge to hungry Advanced Placement English students, he said.

"She could be the model for all great teachers," Davison said.

Kitchen said she was "shocked" by the award, but added that her job isn't too difficult considering she has the "best" school, students and administration.

The group's final stop was at Piney Grove Middle School, where a hallway filled with eighth-graders congratulated Brown, a math teacher.

Students shouted "We love you Ms. Brown" as she accepted her flowers.

"I love you guys, and I love this school," Brown said. "I am so honored."

She high-fived and hugged students as they returned to class.

Dawn Souter, an assistant principal, said one of Brown's students may have helped her clinch the middle school recognition.

During the final walk-throughs, Souter said a student told the superintendent that Brown "never gives up on me."