Tuesday brought a long-awaited night for six of the best and brightest educators Baldwin County has to offer.
Due to the pandemic, the Baldwin County School District (BCSD) did not hold its Teacher of the Year banquet during the 2020-21 school term. Six school-level winners were selected last year to compete for the district-wide honor, but the ceremony announcing the district winner was held off until Tuesday evening inside the Oak Hill Middle School auditorium.
After many deserved rounds of applause for the six district finalists, Oak Hill seventh-grade math teacher Seticia Smith was selected as the 2021-22 Baldwin County Teacher of the Year as she won the award on her home turf in front of friends, family and colleagues. She will go on to represent Baldwin County at the state level later this year.
The other school-level winners/district finalists along with Smith were Deanna Blount from Midway Hills Primary, Erica Jackson from Baldwin High School, Wichelle Norton from Lakeview Primary, Schlonda Spikes from Lakeview Academy and Yvonne Thompson from Midway Hills Academy.
Each finalist received $300 from the Baldwin County Charter System Foundation of Excellence as well as prizes from other sponsors. The district winner Smith was given an additional $500 from the foundation for earning the top honor.
“It’s exciting, emotional and overwhelming,” Smith said on being named BCSD Teacher of the Year.
A graduate of Appling County High School and Georgia College, Smith is in her eighth year as an educator. Her career began as an in-school suspension teacher at Oak Hill before she was elevated to seventh-grade math teacher. In addition to her classroom duties, Smith is an assistant on the Baldwin High School girls basketball coaching staff, an assistant track and field coach at Oak Hill, and a great hype person whenever she has a microphone in her hands.
“It’s a job you have to love to do,” Smith said about being a teacher. “I love the kids. They teach me more than I teach them, so I take what they like and try to run with it from there.”
The 2021-22 Baldwin County Teacher of the Year was almost unable to attend Tuesday’s ceremony. She went into the hospital with high blood pressure Saturday. After running tests, her doctor told her she had suffered a mild heart attack sometime in the days prior. Smith said she was back to about 75% Tuesday, and was cleared by her doctor to come to the banquet. Needless to say, she was grateful to both be alive and to be in attendance. Jesus Christ was among those she thanked once she was handed the Teacher of the Year plaque. Smith also thanked her family, some of which were in attendance, and her Oak Hill colleagues who erupted in cheers and applause once her name was called.
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 be nominated by their colleagues. Each school’s top three candidates must fill out an application, as well as be observed and interviewed by the BCSD 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.
“This event tonight is not merely to bestow honors on these professionals sitting right before me, but to truly celebrate the excellence of our teachers and the excellence they instill in our students and our community each and every day,” Baldwin County School Superintendent Dr. Noris Price said in the early portion of Tuesday’s ceremony.
In years past, the Teacher of the Year banquet was held at the Magnolia Ballroom on the Georgia College campus and included a sit-down dinner. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused a shift in plans for this year’s ceremony. Recently-renovated Oak Hill played host, and attendees were seated according to the school where they work. To-go plates were given out to everyone as they left the event.