Polk School District recently honored some of the county’s best and brightest with the Teacher of the Year award.

Including an overall, county-wide teacher of the year, a single winner was selected from each of Rockmart and Cedartown’s schools for a total of 11 teachers who received plaques and $100 prizes.

Laura Cox — as the winner of the overall teacher of the year — received a lofty $500 prize.

Cox was selected to reprise her role as the overall teacher of the year for 2017. Cox teaches at Cedartown Middle School where she puts her Bachelor of Science degree in Middle-Grade Education from the State University of West Georgia and a Master of Science degree in Library Media and Technology from Jacksonville State University to good use. With upwards of 18 years of experience in education, Cox ensures any student who enters her classroom leaves a little bit more knowledgeable.

“I don’t even know where to begin,” Cedartown Middle School staff Shannon Hulsey said before awarding Cox with her plaque. “I don’t know that there’s an educator with a bigger heart than Laura Cox. Those who know her are shaking your heads in agreement. She really likes the media center, but she really misses that connection with her students, so she’s looking forward to the time she can go back into the classroom. She goes over and above and beyond that connection with her students.”

Cedartown High School’s Teacher of the Year was Jennifer Cupp.

A teacher with vast experience, Cupp received a Masters in English Literature from Berry College and has been teaching youth about reading and writing for 17 years. She believes every student has the potential to learn, and each child will learn in different ways at different times.

“I could tell you about how great Mrs. Cupp is,” Principal Scott Hendrix said. “But I think it would mean more to her if she heard what her students had to say, so I stopped two of her students in the hallway and asked them to write something about her. They wrote that Mrs. Cupp ‘doesn’t limit herself to the 55 minutes the schedule provides her. She has inspired me to take AP (advanced placement) and not to limit myself to what I think I can accomplish.’”

Kristin Miller was named Teacher of the Year from Cherokee Elementary School.

Miller has been teaching at Cherokee for her entire nine-year career, and with a BA in education with a focus on early education, the teacher makes sure Cherokee students become more adept at writing and history every year. Miller believes education should spark an interest one’s mind.

“She comes every day and she loves our kids,” Cherokee principal Johnathan Kirsch said before presenting Miller the plaque. “That’s the main thing towards being a great teacher. She’s taught two of mine and I’m excited for the third to get to her. She’s a great teacher, great leader, and a great friend.”

Eastside Elementary School selected Kent Mathis as Teacher of the Year. A massive 30 years of teaching has led Mathis to become one of Polk’s most beloved teachers, and with 29 years of teaching physical education, Eastside students have been improving their health for almost 3 decades. Mathis served as assistant principal at Rockmart High for one year before returning to Eastside.

“Coach Kent Mathis is an extraordinary man,” Eastside Principal Wesley Cupp said. “He’s been doing this for 30 years. He’s dedicated his whole life to education, it’s not just about the four walls that are around him. He really teaches boys and girls how to be young men and women. He makes that difference.”

Amy Thompson took home Teacher of the Year from Northside Elementary. Thompson has been teaching at Northside for 20 years, and the University of West Georgia graduate is currently teaching third-grade math. Thompson believes children learn best when they feel safe and nurtured, and that all children have the ability to learn.

“She helps her students always, always feel safe,” Northside Principal Kenneth Wallace said. “She has a true passion for teaching, and she’s very patient. She believes in her students; she loves her students. If you come to Northside and walk down the halls, you might see her dancing or singing, and she has the scores to back up what she does.”

Matt Hayden secured his spot as the Polk County College and Career Academy (PCCCA) Teacher of the Year. Hayden is a Certified Welding Instructor and Certified Welding Inspector through the American Welding Society, and via his instruction, numerous state and national welding competitions have been won by Cedartown students.“He is a leader that I’m so proud to stand by each and every day at our school,” PCCCA Chief Executive Officer Katie Thomas said. “In case you’re not familiar with how much welders make, you can get a lot more than they can make teaching welding. That goes to show his passion and dedication to his students. Currently, he’s had over 20 state and national champions, and right now we’re eight years running at the state welding champions.”

Greg Moss is Rockmart High School’s choice for Teacher of the Year.

A Rockmart native and RHS alumni, Moss uses his various degrees in accounting, mathematics, and chemistry to ensure his students learn as much as possible. Moss served as a public safety instructor for over 13 years prior to working at RHS.

“Working with him for about 13 weeks now, it’s amazing how quick you learn about Greg Moss,” Rockmart Middle School Co-principal Robyn Teems said. “No matter what happens at the school, people will tell you that Greg Moss will help you. Go get Greg. Whatever it is, go get Greg. He is the go-to guy. He helps both faculty and kids- he’s all about serving and helping other people.”

Latoiya Waller took home Teacher of the Year from Rockmart Middle School. Since she began teaching in 2007, Waller has been a fan favorite among staff and students for her high energy and creative outlook.

Waller holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Information Systems and a Masters in education. Waller is also responsible for the school’s dance team, The RocTown Steppers.

“Everyday when you see her, there’s a smile on her face,” Rockmart Middle School Co-principal Chris Loveless said. “Anyone who knows her, you will not a see day that she’s not smiling. She’s an incredible teacher. She goes above and beyond. She stays after school to help kids at no charge. She’s an incredible teacher, but even more so, she’s an incredible person.”

Nikki Smith is Van Wert Elementary School’s Teacher of the Year. Smith holds a Bachelor’s Degree in early childhood education from Berry College and a Master’s Degree in Elementary Reading Instruction from Nova Southeastern University. With 22 years of teaching experience, Smith puts her education to good use by making sure her students are reading and writing to the best of their ability.

“When we make our morning rounds, we always see the students crowded around her,” Van Wert Principal Tamra Walker said. “They can’t wait to speak to her, and they’re always looking to get even just a little attention from her. Luckily, she’s always prepared for that because she’s one of the last persons to leave and one of the first to arrive. Whatever it takes, she’s there.”

Beth Branch was named the Westside Elementary’s Teacher of the Year.

Branch graduated from the State University of West GA and now teaches adult education classes at Georgia Northwestern Technical College when not at Westside. Branch’s philosophy on education is based on getting the student prepared for life, not the next grade.

“I’ve got the best teacher here. I know that without a doubt!” Westside Principal Laura Little joked. “One of her sayings is, ‘you’re a branch kid until I die,’ and that is true. A couple of weeks ago, she went to see one of her former students play. She loves her kids, she loves teaching, and if you ask the kids who’s the boss at Westside, Mrs. Branch is.”

Sharon Carter is the Young’s Grove Teacher of the Year. Carter has dedicated the last 28 years of her life to teaching youth, and a Bachelor of Science and Master’s Degree from JSU and an Educational Specialist from Lincoln Memorial University ensure she is providing the best possible education to her students.

“I’m sure we’ve all noticed a theme,” Young’s Grove principal Wesley Styles said. “All of the teachers here love their students, and they all care about them. I don’t think Mrs. Carter, my second-grade math teacher, is an exception to that. No matter what, she always has a smile on her face. The thing about Mrs. Carter is that she brainwashes her students- in a good way. Most kids don’t like doing math. They don’t think they’re good at math, but Mrs. Carter has convinced all of her student’s that they are good at math and that they can do math. She even bought them wristbands that say, ‘I am a mathematician.’ She’s an all-around great teacher.”

All the teachers who win for 2017 get a reserved parking spot and are given cash awards for the year, and a plaque to commemorate the award.

Special thanks are owed to employee benefits broker ShawHankins for treating the teachers of the year to a special luncheon.