The Cartersville City School District's chance of having the next state Teacher of the Year is very Bright.
Sara Bright, a special education teacher at Cartersville Middle School, won the system's 2019 Teacher of the Year title at the annual luncheon to honor all four Teachers of the Year Tuesday afternoon at Stonewall Manor.
"I'm not even sure what to say," a choked-up Bright, 36, said after accepting her plaque from Superintendent Dr. Howard Hinesley. "Wow. It's an amazing honor."
The 15-year teaching veteran, who is finishing her third year at CMS, was stunned when her name was called as the system winner.
"Wonderful teachers are here today, and I did not think that it could be me," she said.
Bright, who, with her husband, Dusty, has a 7-year-old daughter finishing first grade at the primary school, said she is "honored" that the people she works with think she's doing "a good job."
"I come to school every day, and I'm there for the kids," she said. "I'm not there for anybody else. And I want to make a difference in their lives."
The Cartersville resident said it feels "amazing" to move on to the 2020 Georgia Teacher of the Year competition next spring.
"I'm very honored to be able to represent Cartersville City Schools," she said. "It's an amazing school system, and I'm just proud to represent it."
CMS Principal Ken MacKenzie said he is "very proud" to have the system winner from his school.
"She's very deserving," he said. "I know all the other Teachers of the Year, and they're fabulous, too, but Sara is very special. She's loved by the kids, loved by the parents and loved by the staff, perfect Teacher of the Year."
Hinesley, who noted the system winner was chosen by a committee outside of Bartow County, said Bright is "going to be an excellent representative for us" at the state level.
"Of course, we had four outstanding representatives," he said. "She's going to be fantastic. I'm really proud of Sara and all our representatives."
Bright graduated from Shorter University with a Bachelor of Education in middle grades education in 2002 and from Jacksonville State University with a Master of Education in special education in 2005.
Before the system winner was announced, Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said he "can't say enough about how proud we are" of the four school representatives.
"We could literally put all of your names in a hat and draw one out and get a great representative for the state Teacher of the Year [competition]," he said. "You are highly thought of. We appreciate and value you."
Paraphrasing one of his favorite authors, Jesse Stuart, who also was a teacher, Clouse said teaching is "the greatest profession in the world because you influence all the other professions."
"You can't substitute that so what you do, what you say, the way you act every day in your classroom has an impact on somebody that's there," he said.
School board President Kelley Dial said board members are "so proud of our school system, and our system is the product of you guys."
"In my other job as a public defender, I get to see people who perhaps didn't always have the best teacher role models that you guys are, and I know we all tell you what an impact you have on students, but I want to stress that," he said. "Y'all are heroes, and you're patriots."
Hinesley called each teacher an "excellent representative of our school system."
"I want to congratulate you and tell you how proud I am to be your colleague," he said.
Introduced by Principal Gina Bishop, Leighanne Young is the primary school's Teacher of the Year and is finishing her 19th year as a teacher.
After previously teaching first and second grades, she currently serves the English to Speakers of Other Languages students.
"I'm honored to be a part of the Cartersville City School System," she said after accepting her plaque. "I love my job, and I love what I do, and I'm just grateful to be a teacher in the Cartersville City Schools. I appreciate the honor."
Principal Melissa Bates introduced Shannon Suarez as the elementary school's Teacher of the Year.
Suarez has taught physical education and health for 10 years, with the past four years being in Cartersville.
"It's just a pleasure to wake up every morning and go to school," she said. "I love my job. I love it here in this district. I moved down about four years ago, and it was the best decision I ever made."
The high school's Teacher of the Year, Dr. Kim Foster, was introduced by Principal Dr. Marc Feuerbach. Foster, who teaches English, is in her 10th year of teaching, with the last four being at CHS.
"I think it's an interesting honor to be recognized for doing something you love," she said. "In my naive mind, I thought everybody had a job that they loved, and so I think it's interesting that you get honored for that, but I genuinely wake up every morning excited to do what I do."
The four teachers were presented a plaque from Renasant Bank, who sponsored the luncheon; $500 for professional learning next year from the school system; and a $500 check from the Cartersville Schools Foundation to spend any way they want.
As the system winner, Bright also was awarded another plaque, $1,200 for professional development instead of $500 and an additional $250 from the foundation.