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Top teacher, business partners honored
Piney Grove Middle School media specialist Kristen Deuschle, center, was chosen Forsyth County Teacher of the Year. She is joined here by Darla Light and Buster Evans with the school system. - photo by Jennifer Sami

Friday was an exciting day for Max Deuschle, who beamed as his mother was recognized during the 2014 Celebration of Excellence for something he had always seen in her.

“She’s funny, she’s kooky and she isn’t afraid to be who she is,” he said.

Those traits were just part of the many reasons Piney Grove Middle School media specialist Kristen Deuschle was chosen Forsyth County Teacher of the Year.

“I’m weird ... some may say weirder than most,” she told the crowd of fellow teachers, school administrators and business partners in education. “I sing all the time, I talk to myself ... being weird is wonderful.

“Acknowledging the weirdness in myself has finally allowed me to accept myself the way that I am. It’s given me self-confidence and a zest for life.”

She added that she’s also “passionate about giving students the opportunity to be their own special kind of weird. Weirdness allows students to play with the information, rather than just memorizing it,” she said.

Deuschle, who was also the county’s Middle School Teacher of the Year, was selected for the countywide honor over Julie Auten and Lisa Robinson, the elementary and high school representatives.

Getting to meet the semifinalists was one of 2013 Teacher of the Year Nick Crowder’s favorite parts about being on this year’s selection committee.

“We sat and listened to the semifinalists come and tell their stories , and [realized] what a treasure our community has in the school system of Forsyth County,” he said.

The annual celebration, held at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center, is organized by the school system and Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. In addition to honoring Deuschle, it also recognized non-school staff who contribute to schools.

The Mentor of the Year award went to Gretchen Evans, nominated by Kelly Mill Elementary School.

The nominating parent said Evans had helped her son improve his communication and social skills, as well as academic achievement.

She “encourages him to be the best student he can be and when there are special days at school, she is always there to cheer him on,” the nomination said. “[She] always comes to school with a game and lots of encouraging words.”

The Second Brigade Living Historians earned the 2014 Friend of the School award, nominated by Whitlow Elementary.

The award is given to a school partner that is involved in a specific event or activity, such as the historians’ program for fifth-graders.

The group brings artifacts, flags, uniforms and other items from both the Confederate and Union forces to share for a hands-on Civil War program.

PTA Board member Jennie Hartzler was named 2014 Volunteer of the Year after being nominated by Mashburn Elementary.

Hartzler was a catalyst for the school’s garden, Innovation Studio and STEAM initiative, working as many as 40 hours a week and many weekends with fellow parents and teachers.

She is currently designing a Seussical garden, beautifying the campus and planting seasonal crops.

Kathy Johnson from North Georgia Lending was given the Silver Program of the Year award.

As a community partner on the district’s Title I Advisory Committee, Johnson has donated money for parent workshops, materials to recognize parent volunteers and provided support to the STEM program at Little Mill Middle School.

For the Gold Program of the Year, the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9143 was selected for its partnership supplying all new schools with flags for every classroom, as well as a large external flag.

The group also supports schools through its Veterans in the Classroom program and sponsors the Teacher of the Year Award, the Voice of Democracy contest, Patriots Pen program and the Edward L. Woods Scholarship.

Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Buster Evans described the Don Hendricks Partnership Award is the “highest honor that a partner in education can receive.”

This year’s honor, presented by Hendricks’ daughter Stephanie, went to Automation Direct.

“They have donated thousands of dollars to the schools’ national award-winning robotics programs and have provided countless man hours to assist the school teams and at local competitions,” she said.

Automation Direct has also donated hundreds of iPads to special needs students, worked closely to support Special Olympics and been an integral part of establishing and growing Forsyth Central High School’s STEM Academy and have “worked tirelessly on the county’s work force development curriculum, particularly in the area of engineering,” she said.