Some of the best and brightest educators the Baldwin County School District has to offer were honored Thursday night during the annual Teacher of the Year banquet.
Guests were treated to dinner and a program, all in celebration of this year’s Teacher of the Year candidates, who are selected first at the school level and then go on to compete for the district-wide honor. Near the end of the ceremony — following a drumroll requested by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Sharon Simmons — Lakeview Academy fifth-grade teacher Ryan Maraziti, or “Coach Maz” as he’s known to his students and colleagues, was named the Baldwin County 2020 Teacher of the Year. Later this school year he will represent the local public school system at the state level.
The other school winners and district candidates for this year were: Nikki Curtis from Oak Hill Middle School, Anna Dunn from Midway Hills Academy, Dr. Candice Haynes from Baldwin High, Ashley Lee of Lakeview Primary and Katrina Veal of Midway Hills Primary.
“I am so excited to be here tonight with you celebrating our teachers and celebrating their dedication and commitment, not only to our school district, but to our students,” said Baldwin County School Superintendent Dr. Noris Price. “This is a wonderful event, and I believe one of the best events that we have every year… These teachers are all excellent examples of why we all got into this business. They have the ability to impact and change the lives of students forever. Each of them models how students can achieve success. For our district, each of them represents the best of our schools and the best of this community.”
Baldwin County Board of Education Chair Shannon Hill echoed the superintendent’s sentiments.
“I want to say congratulations to all of our Teachers of the Year and to all of our teachers because in order to get to this point I know that you made it all about the children,” Hill said. “I want to say thank you so much and we appreciate all that you do.”
This year marked a first for the Baldwin County School District’s Teacher of the Year program. A couple years ago, the Baldwin County Charter System Foundation of Excellence was established to raise funds for programs such as the Teacher of the Year banquet, REACH scholarship and other efforts where the application of taxpayers’ dollars is not allowed. Foundation chair Col. Floyd Griffin presented each school’s Teacher of the Year a check for $300 and later upon his naming, Maraziti received an additional $500. School winners and district candidates also received other gifts from sponsors and school district Partners in Education.
The process for selecting even just a school’s Teacher of the Year is not easy, and those who earn that honor must go through the procedure twice before the district winner is determined. To be considered, candidates must be a certified classroom teacher with at least three years experience and nominated by their colleagues. Each school’s top three candidates must fill out an application, as well as be observed and interviewed by the Teacher of the Year committee. The process mirrors how the program is handled at the state level to better prepare district candidates for the next step.
Maraziti will be the one taking that next step this year, as he stood out above the rest. He graduated from high school in Newport, Rhode Island before receiving his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Marist College in New York. Maraziti first entered a Baldwin County classroom back in 2004 when he began as a math paraprofessional. It was at that time he met Baldwin High School head football coach Jesse Hicks who was in his first tenure with the Braves. Maraziti helped out with the football team by creating a strength and conditioning program and remembers fondly Baldwin’s trip to the Georgia Dome in 2005 for the state semifinals. Coach Hicks is the one who bestowed the Coach Maz moniker upon Maraziti and it has stuck to this day.
“I have so much respect and appreciation for him as a coach and a man,” Maraziti said. “He taught me how important it is to push our players and love them at the same time.”
Baldwin County’s 2020 Teacher of the Year began teaching fifth grade at Creekside Elementary in 2005 and remained there until the elementary schools were reconfigured a couple years ago. His classroom now resides in Lakeview Academy where he continues to teach fifth-graders. In presenting her school’s candidate for Teacher of the Year, Lakeview Academy Principal Dr. Shawne Holder revealed that it wasn’t just Maraziti’s fellow teachers wanting to nominate him for the honor. Some of his students stepped up and wanted to nominate him as well.
“Coach Maz is passionate about educating his students and strives to incorporate the most innovative practices in his lessons… When you enter Coach Maz’s classroom, you find yourself drawn into the learning environment,” Holder said. “Thank you for your leadership, your teamwork, and most of all thank you for your love and compassion for our students at Lakeview Academy and our students in Baldwin County. It’s an honor to have you represent Lakeview.”
Upon receiving the Baldwin County Teacher of the Year honor, Maraziti had many people he wanted to thank, including God and his family. He also named a few of his former and current co-workers like Dr. Kachari Davis, Jayne Rourke, Charlene Dunn and Andrew Lindsay, equating the group to the infamous 1992 Olympic men’s basketball team known by as the “Dream Team.” He says they taught him much about curriculum, different learning styles and the impact getting to know kids beyond the classroom can make.
“Contrary to its appearance, teaching is not a one-horse rodeo,” Maraziti told The Union-Recorder. “It’s easy to be enamored with the trappings of a pseudo success of ‘my class’ and ‘your class’ in regards to the aggregation or meta-analytics of academic performance. Genuine impact and value, in my opinion, aren’t data-driven nor are they always quantifiable. I think more importantly, true success impacts other people and will engage others along the way. Either way, it requires other people to happen. So many people have backed me up, made sacrifices, given me opportunities or mentored me along the way. So many of my students have had patience, grace and gratitude as I navigated uncharted territories at times. All of these people, big and small, are who have contributed to the values and beliefs that have shaped me as a teacher. I want my students to look out for one another and understand how interdependent we are, and that we should never hesitate to extend a hand to help. That's what I hope to embody as the Teacher of the Year.
“I think another important part of the Teacher of the Year is the desire to leave a legacy. It's what we leave behind in people that will resonate beyond our lifetime. My beliefs about teaching extend beyond the neatly-approximated margins of a wide-ruled 8 1/2-by-11 classroom education. Unfortunately, when we live our whole lives within the margins, we never dare to glance at the potential of what may lie on the other side of that line. I want to make sure that my students all have the same opportunity to redraw the margins for their own lives so they can design a life of which they’re future self would be proud.”