Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY, Ga.-- The mystery of who would be the Dougherty County School System's 2010-11 Teacher of the Year winner soon was solved as Superintendent Sally Whatley mentioned that the recipient came from a family of educators.

Both of Lamar Reese Magnet School of the Arts fifth-grade math teacher Stephen Davis' parents are educators, and two of his brothers work for the school system.

Davis, 34, couldn't stop beaming and fidgeted with excitement Tuesday night as Whatley described the winning teacher, making it more apparent with each sentence that Davis would be named. He was the third male teacher to win in the award's 25-year history and may be the least experienced teacher to win the title, as he began teaching in Dougherty County in January 2008 after teaching online college courses for four years.

"That was a shocking announcement. That was downright amazing. I'm still shaking," said Davis, a former stock trader who engages his students through hand movements, gestures and songs to help math make sense. "(It's) so surprising because it came so quick.

"It's like winning a championship as a rookie."

Even though he said he was honored to receive the award, Davis said he will use it as a motivational tool to help him reach even more students who struggle with math. Davis' teaching paid off quickly for Lamar Reese. After taking Principal Valerie Thomas' vision of having Davis teach his fourth-grade class fifth-grade-level math as well, the school's math scores improved 65 percentage points on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in 2009. More than 43 percent of those students exceeded the standard. His hybrid Making Math Make Sense program may be added throughout the system.

"I look at the tenure of all the retiring educators and you just see that after three years, there's still so much to do and so many children to help," he said. "I can't wait to do it. To this point even with all the success we've had, it hasn't been hard.

"You think to accomplish something it's all this blood, sweat and tears, but when you love what you do, the impossible becomes easily realistic."

Davis was chosen over seven other educators who averaged 18.6 years of teaching experience. The finalists were Westover Comprehensive Choral Director Selina Bentley, Sherwood Acres second-grade teacher Tammy Gregors, Northside reading intervention teacher Angelyn Brooks Hammack, Martin Luther King Jr. second-grade teacher Nichelle Hightower, Live Oak fourth-grade teacher Linda Sowell Johnson, Magnolia kindergarten teacher Chanda Lea Phillips and Alice Coachman second-grade teacher Stephanie Wilkerson.

The eight finalists were selected by an in-house school system committee and the teacher of the year was selected from that eight-teacher field by a group of nine community leaders independent of the school system who observed each of the teachers in action.

During his acceptance speech, Davis thanked his parents, John and Iris Davis; Whatley; Deputy Superintendent Carlos Keith; Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Dianne Daniels; Lamar Reese Principal Thomas, and all the other educators in the school system.

"I'm extremely proud of him," Whatley said of Davis. "He will represent us all extraordinarily well."

John I. Davis, the principal at South Georgia Regional Achievement Center, said he was pleased with his son's accomplishment. The honor came with a $1,000 check contributed by the event's 21 sponsors.

"My wife and I are Ph.Ds and we challenged all the boys (Stephen Davis is the second youngest of their five sons) to make a greater investment in humanity than we did, and the only way to do that is to put yourself in a position to make that difference" said John Davis, a 42-year educator. "When I see these guys accomplish the things they have, I have to reflect on all the hours these boys spent in church during their formative years."

Iris Davis, who was a 31-year educator herself, remembered her son Stephen being interested in math when he was a child.

"He's always been involved in creative learning," she said. "As a child, he always found ways to do math. I'm very excited and proud of him and his accomplishment. I look forward to him accomplishing more."

Stephen Davis' win means he will represent Dougherty County in the 2012 Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.

At 7 p.m. Friday at the Georgia Aquarium, Lee County High School journalism, English and composition teacher Coni Grebel will be competing for the 2011 Georgia Teacher of the Year Award. One of 10 finalists, Grebel is believed to be the first Lee County teacher to be named a state finalist.

Sumter County Elementary Math, Science & Technology Academy third-grade teacher Laura Gerlach also was named a finalist for the state Teacher of the Year award.

Colquitt County High School social studies teacher Gwen Desselle currently holds the 2010 Georgia Teacher of the Year honor.