"It recognizes a music educator who exhibited the kinds of things that you'd think of -- dedication to the profession, work with students," GMEA Executive Director Cecil Wilder said. "It's usually somebody who's a veteran educator, somebody who's been teaching 20, 25 years, who through their career has shown those qualities. We [present] this each year. They're picked by nominations from our members, and they are selected by a committee who select from available candidates.
"Generally, it's to recognize excellence in teaching and dedication to the profession. It is [prestigious]. We give it to one person a year, and we have 3,000 members."
Due to the size and scope of the organization's membership, McKee was humbled and surprised to receive the award.
"This organization represents orchestra directors, band directors, chorus directors, elementary music teachers, college professors, community musicians, so it's a huge cross section," she said. "So as an elementary music specialist, it was even more surprising for me, I guess, to get the award. And I think [it recognizes] excellence throughout your career.
"I personally think I was chosen because I've mentored so many other music educators in my career. I've had many, many student teachers, and, since I've retired, I've continued to teach educators at Kennesaw State University. Actually the president said this to me, 'We wanted to recognize someone who's been in the trenches for many, many years working hard for music education and advocating for it.' And I think that's why, apparently, I was picked."
Since 1998, McKee has been instructing the Music for Early and Middle Grades course at KSU, helping future educators incorporate music into the classroom.
"My responsibility is to take a classroom full of early childhood majors who are not music majors. They'll be going into the classroom to teach maybe grades pre-K through five or six, and I have to be able to make them feel confident enough to go into the classroom and incorporate music into their daily activities," McKee said. "That's really important because since the state has cut a lot of educational funding in recent years, many school systems have completely cut those positions out of their budgets.
"In other words, many schools do not have music specialists in their schools any longer. There are performance standards .... [for] music. Those have to be taught. Somebody has to teach those if there is no music teacher. I'm proud to say that Cartersville City and Bartow County schools have not done that. They've found creative ways to use the funding that they have, and they have kept all their specialists in place. I'm very, very proud of them for that. Other school systems have not been so lucky."
Starting her 30-year teaching career with Rome City Schools, McKee taught at Emerson Elementary School prior to serving 20 years at Cartersville Elementary. She garnered numerous accolades through the years, some of which include Teacher of the Year Awards for Emerson Elementary in 1982, Cartersville Elementary in 1992 and Cartersville City Schools in 1992.
"I just think music is crucial for every child's complete balanced education," McKee said. "A child who's introduced to music early in their lives will certainly make it a part of their lifelong learning. It's been proven that it certainly enhances their ability to grow and learn in all areas, and it makes them very creative people.
"I personally would like my future [to] be entrusted to people who can think creatively and problem solve and be able to come up with solutions to problems in group planning and by working together and music encourages that. Whether you're in chorus or band or in your community groups or your church choirs, you have to work together to create beautiful music."