CUMMING, Ga. - South Forsyth Middle School band director Andrew Poor was having a pretty good day Friday, March 11. He was at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, leading his students at the Disney Music Festival, but the day soon got better.
Around 1:30 p.m. he learned live from an Internet feed that he had been selected as the 2016 Forsyth Teacher of the Year. It was the culmination of a huge awards extravaganza and luncheon at Lanier Technical College honoring dozens of teachers, mentors and volunteers who had distinguished themselves in service to Forsyth County students.
Forsyth School Superintendent Jeff Beardon said the luncheon, in addition to recognizing so many deserving partners of the county's schools, was an opportunity to thank the community for unstinting support.
It is a school system that is not only among the best in the country, but a system in which parents can be sure all schools operate at an equal level of service and capability.
To further extend Forsyth's quest for educational excellence, Beardon announced a new adjunct to its Partners in Education program - The Forsyth Education Foundation.
"This is a new opportunity for the community to partner with our school district to support innovative new teaching and increased student achievement," Beardon said.
But the day belonged to the teachers, beginning with South Forsyth Middle School's band leader.
Poor was one of three finalists, the other two being Chestatee Elementary School teacher Sharon Nizialek and North Forsyth High School history teacher Jay Glymph.
Poor, a career teacher for 28 years, said in his Teacher of the Year essay that the greatest influences on him to become a teacher were his parents. His mother had been a pre-K teacher for 25 years and his father was a retired Air Force colonel who went on to a 20-year management career with Walt Disney World.
"From my mother, I learned her phrase, 'Your students will not care how much you know until they know how much you care.'
"From my father, I learned the phrase, 'People who are following you will only work as hard as you do.' The melding of my father's sense of leadership skills and my mother's sense of devotion to serve others were the greatest influences on me choosing education as a career," Poor said.
Since becoming the middle school's band director, he has seen the program grow from 137 students to 367, an increase of 267 percent in two years. In that time the band has been asked to perform across the country, been awarded superior ratings at every state evaluation attended and some of Poor's students have been selected for both District Honor Band and All-State Band.
Poor, who received his doctorate in music education from the University of Cincinnati, has taught band and instrumental music in middle and high school since 1988.
In addition to the honors bestowed him, Poor also found out that Andean Chevrolet was presenting him with a year's lease for 2016 Malibu.
Nizialek has been a teacher since 1989 and has both a master's degree from Connecticut College and a specialist degree from the University of Georgia. This is her 10th year at Chestatee.
Glymph has taught social studies in Forsyth County since 2000. He holds a master's degree and specialist degree. Since 2001 he has taught world history, psychology and U.S. history at North Forsyth High School
More than 500 teachers, school administrators, businesspeople and other guests attended the luncheon sponsored by Northside Hospital Forsyth and the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce.
The most cherished volunteer award is the Don Hendricks Partnership Award established by the Hendricks family in 2002 to honor the long service of former Forsyth School Board member Don Hendricks.
The award, presented by his daughters Stephanie Austin and Suzanne Saunders, is given to the partner who best exemplifies the mission of the Partners in Education Program and demonstrates loyalty to the school system and community.
This year's Partnership Award was presented to Browns Bridge Church, which was hailed as a pillar of the community and, since 2011, has dedicated large portion of its annual Be Rich campaign to schools and students all over Forsyth County. Through the campaign the church has touched hundreds of students and their families in a number of ways including providing classroom supplies, health care supplies, medical assistance, scholarships and much more.
The church has helped fund a new media center and donated science and computer equipment to meet the needs of students everywhere. When needed, the church has provided food, shelter, clothing and other basic needs for families in crisis.
Individual church members have given of their time in service at schools by providing meals, child care for parent involvement nights as well as reading to and mentoring students.
Browns Bridge Church has been generous with its money, its time and its people, said Coal Mountain Principal Kimberly Davis.
The church "made possible additional educational support and many other items we would not have been able have had without their support," Davis said.