Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue's office recently released the list of 2007 Georgia Master Teachers, and three names on the list are from McDuffie County: Seymone Terrelonge, who teaches second grade at Thomson Elementary School, Toni Kitchens, who teaches fifth grade and Tonya Kendrick-Powell, who teaches fourth grade at Norris Elementary.
"There were only 93 teachers chosen across the state," said Beth Newton, the federal programs director for McDuffie County Schools. "And we had three, so we're excited."
According to the press release, the Master Teacher program was created during the 2005 legislative session to recognize teachers who are impacting student achievement and to keep Georgia's best teachers in the classrooms, rather than moving to administrative positions.
The program is a collaborative effort of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, the Georgia Department of Education and the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. Teachers are chosen based on applications and data from their class rosters which provide evidence of student achievement and gains on test scores. They must have at least three years of teaching experience in Georgia.
"It's just an honor to have it," Ms. Kitchens said. "I wouldn't say I did anything special. I just came in and did my job every day and did what I was supposed to do."
And she has been doing what she was supposed to for the past 15 years, although this is her first year in McDuffie County. Ms. Kitchens previously taught eighth grade in Richmond County.
The application process involved documentation of the strict criteria. In addition to standardized test scores, Ms. Kendrick-Powell said she had to provide proof that she communicated regularly with the parents of her students, that she is taking professional courses to stay established in her field, that her lesson plans are based on data and that she had good classroom management.
"You have 23 kids in a classroom and all of them need to be taught all of the standards," she said. "So you have to find a way, whether it be through technology, collaboration or hands-on activities."
Ms. Terrelong also attributes her success to variety. She said she plays spelling games in which the students clap and stomp, "anything to keep them moving around and keep learning fun." Even when they are sitting, Ms. Terrelong uses a strategic teaching method. Rather than seat her students in rows, she arranges their desks in "pods so they work collaboratively." "Everything I do is researched based," she said. "I have to be flexible- I have to do their learning style, which means sometimes I have to go outside my comfort zone."
Ms. Terrelong said she has been teaching for five years. She received her master's degree from Walton University last year and is currently working on her specialist's degree from Augusta State University.
According to the GPSC website, teachers who meet the criteria will create the pool from which state-funded Academic Coaches will be selected. State Superintendent Kathy Cox said in an earlier press release that by sharing what they know with others, these Master Teachers will help "Georgia continue to have some of the best teachers in the nation."
When she first started teaching 18 years ago, Ms. Kendrick-Powell said she looked to her experienced fellow teachers for guidance and inspiration.
"The things that I use now came from those people at Thomson Elementary who helped me," she said. "Because they took me in like I was their daughter- some of those ladies can't believe I'm still teaching because they remember when I walked in the door as a 21-year-old."
The only other surrounding county to have a Master Teacher for 2007 is Lincoln County with one teacher - Rebecca Willis. In 2006, Columbia County had two, Jefferson County had three and Wilkes County had one teacher to make the list. No other state has developed a certification program to recognize Master Teachers.
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