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Forsyth County Schools welcomes in more than 300 new educators at annual orientation
Superintendent addresses debate over DEI plan, veteran teachers offer advice ahead of new school year
NEO 2021
The district displayed a huge saying saying, "We love our teachers!" outside of Denmark High School ahead of this year's New Educator Orientation. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

Hundreds of new Forsyth County educators crowded the Denmark High School auditorium on Tuesday, July 27, for the district’s annual New Educator Orientation.

Forsyth County Schools welcomed in each of its 326 new teachers with a continental breakfast, an opportunity to meet with vendors and business leaders in the community and a presentation on what FCS is all about.

These new educators who attended the orientation included recent graduates, former FCS students and experienced educators coming from different places from throughout the nation.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden said that of the more than 300 new educators, 62 are former FCS substitutes or paraprofessionals;

32 are returning to FCS after having taught in the district previously;

34 are joining Forsyth from 18 different states outside of Georgia, with most coming from Tennessee;

80 are recent college graduates from 22 different universities, with most graduating from the University of North Georgia;

And the other 182 came from other districts and private schools in Georgia.

Sharing Forsyth County

With a new teacher pouring into the auditorium, Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey kicked off the event. After the North Forsyth High School JROTC presented the colors, she gave a presentation on the history of FCS and Forsyth County for all those new to the area.

From Lake Lanier to Ga. 400, she spoke to the crowd about all the aspects of Forsyth County that make it the community it is today.

Following Morrissey’s speech, Bearden had the opportunity to give his own welcome to the new teachers. He shared not only what FCS is all about, but what expectations are in place for every member of the “FCS family.”

A focus on relationships

“Forsyth County Schools is proud to be one of the top districts in Georgia and the entire country,” Bearden said. “This success has been accomplished through the dedication to our mission and a commitment to continuous improvement through the cooperative efforts of all stakeholders.”

To continue with their success, Bearden said everyone in the district has to share their mission and beliefs. He also stressed the importance of the learner profile, which outlines goals that leaders and teachers should encourage for their students.

Alongside shared goals, Bearden said FCS is a relationship-focused business. The importance of these relationships — with parents, students, community members, business leaders and more — was made even more apparent during the past year as the district had to “pivot” and make changes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

NEO 2021
Hundreds of teachers gathered in the Denmark High School auditorium for the 2021 New Educator Orientation. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

DEI and its impact in FCS

Part of the reason why the school district also recently began implementing its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan is because of that focus on relationships. Bearden explained that it is important for teachers and school leaders to understand each and every one of their students, many of whom come from different cultures, experiences and backgrounds.

While speaking on the DEI plan, Bearden addressed the current debate within the Forsyth County community and across the nation about Critical Race Theory in education.

Residents and community members have attended Board of Education meetings in the county over the last three months to either voice their support or opposition to the district's DEI plan.

Many of those who oppose the plan, however, have likened it to Critical Race Theory, which is based on a scholarly body of work which says different systems in American life are based in racism. Educational leaders and experts have explained in recent months that no such curriculum is taught in K-12 schools.

Both Bearden and the Board of Education have also said FCS does not and will not teach CRT in its schools.

“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is not synonymous with Critical Race Theory,” Bearden told the new educators Tuesday.

Instead, he said DEI is all about being intentional in encouraging underrepresented students, learning more about the different cultures represented in the county, offering voluntary training to staff members to give them the opportunity to learn more about their students, and creating a more diverse pool of job candidates in FCS.

About 52% of FCS students are white, and the student population becomes more and more diverse each year. In just the next couple of years, Bearden said FCS will become a majority minority school system.

At the same time, 90% of the district’s professional staff is white.

“The research is evident,” Bearden said. “It shows that all students perform at a higher level when taught by a diverse professional staff. We’ve done better in this area, but we must be intentional in our efforts to continue to improve, and I ask for your assistance. If you have a great experience here in Forsyth County Schools, and I think you will, please encourage your friends and colleagues to give Forsyth County a look.”

While debates surrounding DEI and CRT continue, Bearden stressed that educators have a responsibility in their community to shine bright and create a better future not only by teaching kindness and respect, but by modeling the behaviors of a good citizen to their students.

“Let’s not sugar-coat the fact there is tension in our country,” Bearden said. “There is political tension, and there is racial tension. But I believe this: there are more good people than bad people. There are more people who want us to work in unity than there are those who are seeking to divide us. There is hope for a better tomorrow. As educators, we have to be part of the solution. We can build that bridge for a brighter future. In fact, I believe it’s our moral responsibility to be that bridge.”

Bearden said that part of building that bridge is also working to understand students, families and community members who may look, think and act differently.

NEO 2021
This year's Teacher of the Year finalists offer advice to the educators entering into Forsyth County Schools for the first time this school year. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

The best of FCS

After hearing from Bearden, the incoming educators listened to a panel of the 2021 Teacher of the Year finalists speak on their own experience in FCS and offer some advice coming into the new school year beginning on Thursday, Aug. 5.

These finalists included Allison Jones, Kristie Snape, Sandy Forman, Katie James, Laura Adams and Rachel Van Dyke.

The largest piece of advice they each had to offer the new teachers was simply for them to take time for themselves so that they could be their best while in the classroom.

“You can only be the best teacher possible if you’re on your game, so come to school, take a deep breath,” Jones said. “Every day is a new day, but make sure that you create that balance of work and life.”

The 2021 Teacher of the Year, Kim Sarfaty, gave similar advice to the teachers, but mostly, she reminded them all to cherish the relationships they form within their schools.

As a special education Pre-K teacher at Chestatee Elementary School, Sarfaty said she loves every single moment she gets to spend not only with her students, but with their families and her colleagues at the school.

She referred to Chestatee as a treasure chest, with each person inside being their own piece of shiny, bright treasure. That is how she aims to treat each person, and she reminded the crowd to do the same.

“Shine so bright that others have no choice but to light up with you,” Sarfaty said.

‘Being great’

To close out the event, Caroline Reilly, a recent FCS graduate and a contestant on season 17 of “The Voice,” performed two songs for the crowd, and current FCS students took the stage to share what they love about learning in FCS.

Heading back out of Denmark’s auditorium, some of the new teachers shared how excited they were to start on their new journey in FCS.

Mike Hedrick just moved to Forsyth County with his wife from Virginia to begin his new career as a Health and P.E. teacher and girls basketball coach at East Forsyth High School. He said adjusting to the county and school system so far has been easier than expected.

“What stands out is everybody has a mindset of being great in everything that we do, and when you set that standard so high, then it trickles down to everything you do,” Hedrick said. “There is no mediocrity in anything, and I think, at least for us, that sets a high bar that’s going to help us in athletics. Honestly, if you’re a coach, you want to be in an environment like that.”

Hedricks said his wife also just became a new teacher in the county, starting out the new school year as a fifth-grade teacher at Johns Creek Elementary School.

The new girls basketball coach at Forsyth Central High School, Antonio Wade, also just moved to the county from his previous school in Roswell. He will be teaching special education world and U.S. history at the school.

As he has already begun to meet his students and the girls he will be coaching on Central’s team, he said he is incredibly excited to begin the year.

“They are not okay with the status quo, so they’re always trying to find ways to go from good to great and being better every day,” Wade said. “That’s one of my mantras is get better every day. And I see that here and I feel that here.”