Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
McGarrah Elementary School fifth-grader, Kelly Phan, said she was sure her teacher, Fareedah Wright Lockhart, was going to be named Clayton County Public Schools' Teacher of the Year, but she added, that did not prepare her for what happened on Thursday.
While Lockhart's students were getting a lesson about the Post-Civil War Reconstruction period, their principal, Tammy Burroughs, School Superintendent Edmond Heatley, and several other high-level district administrators, walked into the classroom. They were there to announce that Lockhart, 32, was, indeed, this year's county-wide teacher of the year.
After the announcement, Lockhart's students got overly giddy, as they cheered and sang for her, jumped up and down, and then ran up to hug her. Even after the district officials left, many of the students were still sporting big smiles.
"It's exciting," said Phan, 10. "I did think she would win, but I'm just speechless."
As the county's top teacher, Lockhart will be the highlighted attendee at the school system's Teacher of the Year Recognition Ceremony, in which the district's 63 school-level teachers of the year will be recognized, on Nov. 18, at the Clayton County Performing Arts Center.
"You and I are going to have to go shopping together, because we've got to have dresses to wear," Principal Burroughs told Lockhart, after she encouraged all of the teacher's students to attend the ceremony. Burroughs then turned to the students, and explained to them that she and Lockhart "have to coordinate our dresses, so the colors don't clash with each other."
Lockhart was one of six finalists vying for the honor. "It's exciting," she said, minutes after the entourage of district officials left. "I'm still surprised, and very humbled to be [the] one, out [of] that many teachers ... I felt like, if I was one of the final six, then I had a good shot at being the Teacher of the Year. I was definitely hoping for it, [but] I was happy with where I was as a finalist.
"All of the finalists are very good teachers," she added.
Lockhart, a native of Atlanta, said this is the first time, in her 10-year career as an educator, that she has been a school-level teacher of the year, let alone a district-level one. She said she has been teaching in Clayton County Public Schools, at McGarrah, for four years. Before coming to this county, she said she spent six years teaching in Fulton County schools.
The district-level Teacher of the Year said she earned a bachelor's degree from Alabama A&M University, a master's from Central Michigan University, and a specialist's degree from Mercer University.
She also said working with children has been a lifelong dream of hers. When she was young, she said, she wanted to be a pediatrician, but decided to pursue a career in education after doing some teaching at Alabama A&M.
She added that she could not pick just one teacher, who served as a role model for her, when she was growing up. "I had so many great teachers, that I couldn't possibly narrow it down to one person," she said. "I always had teachers, growing up, who pushed me to do well."
Burroughs, and some of Lockhart's students, said Lockhart is now the one pushing students to excel. "She's really a great teacher," Phan said. "She always goes over our materials with us before tests."
Another student, Zachary Roberson, 10, then quickly added, "She reviews everything with us ... She just really works hard in our class every day to be a great teacher."
Burroughs, who called the district's top teacher "marvelous," said Lockhart's work, and the fact that she pushes her students to learn, paid off during last spring's administration of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs). "Last year, all of her students met, or exceeded, the standards on the CRCT, which is unreal, especially on the fifth-grade test," the principal said. "Her expectations are above the heavens."
Judges, who interviewed the six finalists, and observed them in their classrooms, said Lockhart stood out because of her dedication to her students, and their education. "She has a positive attitude; she focuses on all of her students, and she is [an] eager learner," said School System Leadership Performance Coach Carol Wesley, one of the judges.