A high school teacher who never runs out of smiles or tires of offering a friendly "hello" has been named the 2019 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year (TOTY). At the Nov. 8 Gwinnett CountyTOTY banquet, Heidi Campbell was named GCPS’ top teacher as well as the High School Teacher of the Year. Mrs. Campbell teaches journalism and British literature classes at Parkview HS. Kelly Specht, a Reading Recovery and Early Intervention Program teacher at Riverside ES, is this year’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Lindsey Saa, who teaches 8th grade social studies at Couch MS, is the system’s TOTY at the middle school level.
The annual event is an opportunity to honor all of the county's local TOTYs who were chosen as representatives by their peers. This year, 137 local TOTYs were recognized during the festivities. The other three Teacher of the Year finalists were Juah Nyemadé Baker-Marsh of Lovin ES, Chandra Brandel of Coleman MS, and Meredith White of Peachtree Ridge HS. The six finalists were chosen from among 25 semifinalists.
Mrs. Campbell began her GCPS teaching career in 2000 as a journalism and language arts teacher at Brookwood HS. In 2015, she moved to Parkview to teach in those same areas. Mrs. Campbell has a bachelor’s degree in English from Oglethorpe University and a master’s degree in Administration and Policy from the University of Georgia.
She will tell you she doesn't allow fear to prevent her from teaching students. "The idea that I might create an assignment that lies beyond my core proficiency is terrifying, yet it is my duty to adapt lessons for students who are far more technologically savvy than I am," Campbell said in her TOTY application. "I forge ahead into the unknown and allow my students to learn skills through experiential learning activities."
Her practice of not always being the "expert" in the room has benefited her students. For example, she found a project idea that called on students to create podcasts to share their knowledge about literature. She explains, "While creating podcasts was a foreign concept to me, my students absolutely ran with this project... I allowed them to explore a story I knew well using a medium-- podcasting-- which I did not know well. The result was a lesson that incorporated background knowledge, collaboration, modeling and practice, questioning, and problem-solving for my students."
Check out a special TOTY edition of GCPS TV’s In5ive news show, filmed on location during the banquet.
Riverside's Specht selected elementary-level winner
Kelly Specht says she’s fortunate to have taught at the same school for 17 years. She says “Loving the environment where you work makes it easy to stay committed to your school.” Mrs. Specht is proud to be defined by her role as a Reading Recovery teacher. She explains, “Bringing the joy of reading and writing to striving students is definitely the most fulfilling and significant part of my job as a teacher. Every time I meet with students, I ask myself, ‘What can I do to help this child, on this day, at this moment, to be a better learner?’”
Finding ways to engage students in the act of reading always has been a part of Specht's agenda as a teacher. She explains, "I constantly search for opportunities to connect students with good books, increase reading engagement, and make reading a significant part of the school culture."
Mrs. Specht started her GCPS teaching career in 1996 when she served as a Special Education teacher for students in grades 2-4 at Walnut Grove ES and Suwanee ES. From 1997 to 1999, she taught Special Education students at Walnut Grove. In 1999 she left the school to teach in California, returning to Walnut Grove in 2000 to become a student support team coordinator. In 2001, she transferred to Riverside ES to serve as a special education teacher until moving to her current role in 2015.
Mrs. Specht has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood K-8/Special Education and a master’s degree in Special Education, both from Michigan State University. She also holds a specialist’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Piedmont College.
Couch MS’ Saa honored as MS TOTY
Lindsey Saa attended Parkview HS and she credits her teachers and coaches there with encouraging her to go after her dreams with passion. She says the teachers she had in school instilled in her the passion, hard work, and dedication that helped fuel her success, and that these are the same qualities she now instills in her students. She adds, "As a teacher, I choose to lead my students by showing them my passion for history and learning, my hard work in the lessons I create and implement, and my dedication to making sure that each of them is successful."
The 8th grade social studies teacher at Couch MS says her passion and love of teaching still fuels her today. She adds, “The biggest piece of the puzzle for building lifelong success stories with students is not being passionate just about a subject that you teach, but being passionate about every student.” Ms. Saa believes her greatest contribution to education was developing the new 8th grade Social Studies Curriculum Guide for the school district’s 8th grade Social Studies team.
Ms. Saa started her GCPS career in 2007 as an 8th grade social studies and language arts teacher at Snellville MS. In 2012, she moved to Couch where she has taught social studies and language arts to both 6th and 8th grade students.
Ms. Saa has a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from Valdosta State University and a master’s degree in Integration of Technology from Walden University. She also has a specialist’s degree in Curriculum Instruction from Capella University.