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Local educator among state's Teacher of the Year finalists

A local educator is a finalist for the state's Teacher of the Year award.

Kim Lester, who teaches writing and language arts in grades 4 and 5 at the St. Elmo Center for the Gifted, is among the 10 finalists to be the 2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year, state superintendent Richard Woods announced Monday.

“I can’t get over it,” Lester told the Ledger-Enquirer. “I really can’t. It’s such an honor. I work with so many amazing teaching in Muscogee County, and the fact that I was chosen in the state’s top 10, it’s just amazing to me.”

Lester was named Teacher of the Year for the Muscogee County School District in 2013, when she taught fifth grade at Britt David Magnet Academy. She also has taught at Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy and South Columbus Elementary School during her 18 years as a professional educator.

The Georgia Department of Education's Teacher of the Year judges include past winners and finalists, administrators and community leaders. They selected the finalists among 151 applicants who were the Teacher of the Year in their school districts. The finalists were chosen based on their answers to essay questions, according to a news release.

"I congratulate these 10 finalists for 2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year," Woods said in the release. "I'm looking forward to working with this extraordinary group of teachers to ensure our policies are child-focused and classroom-centered."

Wednesday in Atlanta, the judges will interview the finalists and listen to them give a 3-minute speech during a luncheon sponsored by Georgia Power.

“I hope to talk about my platform as a representative of teachers and the need to focus on children and the need for a positive outlook from teachers,” Lester said. “We should express our concerns but in a positive way. Whether it’s at the grocery store or with colleagues and parents, we need to use a positive tone always.”

That positive tone should extend to the state’s new standardized tests, called the Georgia Milestone Assessment System, Lester said.

“These tests we’re taking, we can use them to help our kids see their strengths and improve what they’re weak in,” she said. “ All kids have gifts, and we need to find them and help them improve them.”

Later, the judges will watch videos of the finalists instructing students in their classrooms.

The state winner will be announced at the Georgia Teacher of the Year conference, May 8 in the Floyd Room of the James H. "Sloppy" Floyd Veterans Memorial Building in Atlanta. The conference, which is paid for through donations from sponsors, according to the release, will honor each local district Teacher of the Year.

“I’m so excited to meet other people in this group,” Lester said. “I can share ideas with people who had the same experience I had, going around their community and talking about teaching.”

The 2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year will travel around the state and the nation, serving as an ambassador for the teaching profession. The winner also will be entered in the National Teacher of the Year competition.

The 2015 Georgia Teacher of the Year is Amanda Miliner, a fourth-grade teacher, from Miller Elementary in Warner Robins.

And if you ask Lester’s boss, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be the next one.

St. Elmo director Angel Cash said, “What doesn’t stand out about her? She is enthusiastic about what she does. She definitely loves teaching.”

When a student is harder to teach than usual, Cash said, Lester researches methods until successful.

“She is so creative in her own right,” Cash said, “and she finds ways to touch each child.”

The last Muscogee County educator to be a Georgia Teacher of the Year finalist was Christine Powell in 2011, when she taught journalism, art history and literature at Northside High School. Now, she is named Christine Hull and an assistant principal at Northside. Janice Hudson, now retired, was a science teacher at Columbus High when she was a state finalist in 2002. No Muscogee County teacher has won the state award.

2016 GEORGIA TEACHER OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

Brian David Butler, Science

Bibb County, Rutland High

Patrick Logan, First Grade

Buford City, Buford Elementary

Alexandra Vlachakis, Information Technology

Fayette County, Sandy Creek High

John Wood, Art

Henry County, Luella High

Holly Canup, Media Resource Specialist/Online Instructor

Jackson County, East Jackson Comprehensive High

Brian Patrick, English/Literature

Jasper County, Jasper County High

Kim Lester, Writing/Language Arts

Muscogee County, St. Elmo Center for the Gifted

Gary Allen Jones, II, Gifted

Rome City, East Central Elementary

Ernest William Lee II, IB History, US Government and Civics

Savannah-Chatham County, Winsor Forest High

Blair Inabinet, Georgia Studies

Walton County, Youth Middle

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