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Grebel up for top teacher

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

LEESBURG -- Coni Grebel says she realizes her chances of winning the state 2011 Teacher of the Year Award may not be that good, but in her opinion that's just fine.

The journalism, English and composition teacher has enjoyed all the publicity and compliments -- along with the great school parking spot she has received for winning Lee County's Teacher of the Year honor in the fall -- and said she was floored the be named one of 10 finalists for the state honor out of the 148 applicants in February.

"In all honestly, I think I've gone as far as I think I'm going to go," Grebel said Thursday. "I mean, there are 10 finalists and every one of them are phenomenal and are very different. I think it all depends on who's time it is to be in the classroom because you're out of the classroom for a year (if you win). It would be a great opportunity, but at the same time, I wouldn't be a teacher if I didn't like being in the classroom.

"I haven't second guessed anything I've done. All the interviews and observations have been very real. I just think it'll come to someone else. I'm just more impressed with the other candidates than me. It's fine. My Plan A is to be back in the classroom."

Grebel, a 17-year educator who recently achieved certified journalism educator status from the Journalism Education Association, said that seven people came down to observe her teaching. Grebel said she will be accompanied at the event tonight at the Georgia Aquarium by her husband, Rick Grebel Jr., and one of their daughters, Mallory Addison. Her other two couldn't make it since they are in Colorado and Florida. Lee County High Principal Kevin Dowling, Superintendent Lawrence Walters and his wife, and School Board Chair Sylvia Vann planned to make the trip as well.

Among the finalists Grebel will also be competing against is one a half-hour up the road from her -- Sumter County Elementary Math, Science & Technology Academy third-grade teacher Laura Gerlach.

Unfortunately, reigning Georgia Teacher of the Year Gwen Desselle won't be in attendance at the event. The Colquitt County High School social studies teacher said with "deep regret" that she won't be able to attend because her father is critically ill and "not expected to live much longer, and I must devote my time to him." However, Desselle said that someone will read a speech she wrote at the event.

Desselle spent the 2009-10 school year traveling around the state, talking about the teaching profession and conducting workshops and programs for educators.

"I visited the classrooms of Sumter and Lee County educators who are finalists for the title and both are absolutely phenomenal teachers," Desselle said. "Their home counties, our Southwest region and the entire state are blessed to have teachers of their quality working with our young people."

Desselle also noted that winning the state Teacher of the Year title means demands for a lot of effort and sacrifice.

"The State School Teacher (of the Year) title is not a sinecure," said Desselle, the first Southwest Georgia teacher in 20 years to win the Georgia Teacher of the Year title in 2009. "Hard work, long hours and countless days away from one's family are grueling, but the opportunity to represent the teaching profession, provide encouragement in these unsettling times, and to attend forums and workshops that allow one to improve one's craft is unquestionably a memorable experience.

"Naturally visiting the White House and speaking with President Obama in the White House is the event one always recalls first when reflecting on the events of the past year, but meeting other teachers and learning the strategies they use to improve student achievement will have an impact that lasts for years."