It’s been quite a journey for Debbie Darling, fourth-grade teacher at Gum Springs Elementary School, who was named Teacher of the Year for the Jackson County School System Sept. 29.
She and her students were surprised shortly after 9 o’clock Friday morning with a balloon bouquet and a visit from JCSS Superintendent Dr. April Howard; Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Todd Nickelsen; Human Resources Director Dr. Selena Blankenship; and GSES Principal Alisa Hanley.
Click here to see a video of the announcement.
“We had an amazing group of building-level honorees this year,” Dr. Howard said. “We are extremely proud of every one of them and the work they do every day with our students.”
But Howard noted that Darling’s path to the award was not necessarily predictable from the teacher’s own years as a student.
“When a student’s mother has a seventh-grade education, statistics say the odds of her graduating from high school in the top 5 percent of her class and receiving two degrees from UGA were not in her favor,” the biographical information submitted with Darling’s nomination points out. “With parents who instilled a no-excuses work ethic, Debbie was the first from her family to attend college.”
Darling credits one of her own teachers, Hal David, as an inspiration, noting, “Great teachers inspire children to teach.” David “was the first teacher to share stories about college and life beyond her city limits,” and “his stories were her gateway.”
In college, she focused on science, and she graduated from UGA with honors – summa cum laude for her bachelor’s degree in middle grades education/science and social studies in 1994; and, as a presidential scholar, magna cum laude for her master’s degree in middle grades education/math and science in 1998.
At Gum Springs, where she is in her third year, she teaches math, science and language arts. She taught previously at Jefferson Academy and in Barrow County. She was Teacher of the Year in 2001 for both Bramlett Elementary School and for the Barrow County School System.
In her career, she has coordinated science fairs, coached track at the middle and high school level, and served in a variety of leadership positions in education at the local and district level.
At Gum Springs, she is the grade-level chair on the leadership team, represents math on the vertical alignment team, and is a teacher mentor; she also is system-level representative for the math and science committees.
In addition to Darling, other JCSS school winners are Amoreena Vandiver, fourth-grade teacher, Maysville Elementary School; Tanya Butler, student leadership, West Jackson Elementary School; Jenny Palmer, third-grade teacher, East Jackson Elementary School; Lori Clarke, fifth-grade teacher, North Jackson Elementary School; Kelly Ryan, second-grade teacher, South Jackson Elementary School; Julie Crow, sixth-grade social studies teacher, East Jackson Middle School; Will Dodd, engineering/robotics teacher, West Jackson Middle School; Matt Bolt, language arts teacher, Jackson County Comprehensive High School; and Johnathan Harris, social studies, East Jackson Comprehensive High School.
The teachers will be formally recognized by the Jackson County Board of Education later this school year. Darling will represent JCSS in the state-wide competition, which is part of the National Teacher of the Year program, with finalists to be announced in the spring.