Learning he was one of the 10 finalists for Georgia Teacher of the Year put East Central Elementary gifted teacher Gary Jones II in a state of awe, he said.

“I was called up to the office, my principal was there and (Superintendent Michael) Buck was there and they told me I had a phone call and I’m thinking ‘Whoa,’” said Jones.

The call was from a Georgia Department of Education official telling him he was one of the 10 finalists picked out of a pool of 151 teachers. Then he promptly went back to work.

“I went down the hall, very excited and thinking I have to tell my family, I have to tell my kids,” he said. “I got in the room, I started teaching and I got so into the lesson, I forgot all about it. Then the kids left and I realized, wow, I’m Top 10. What does that mean?”

Jones began thinking about what inspired him to be a teacher and what has kept him going in his career. He credited Rome City Schools, along with his parents’ support and his time at Berry College that helped him find his path.

“I almost didn’t go to college,” he said. “I received some bad advice from a counselor who told me what I wanted to do was silly. Then a substitute teacher told me about Berry. When I started, I was pre-law.”

Jones began taking and teaching a dance class at the college, which was what led him to his moment.

“I remember I went to Mary Niedrach’s kindergarten class, and I was showing 20 kids how to do all these crazy dance moves,” he said. “I saw their expressions and how they were soaking it all in. I knew then I had to teach.”

Since that moment, Jones has dedicated his career to being a “change agent” in his students’ lives.

“Every student that crosses my path, I make sure I give them a positive message,” he said. “Never tell a child that they can’t do something. Tell them ‘This is how you can get there.’”

The finalists now have to submit videos, which the judges will review. The winner will be announced May 8.

Jones said there’s a quote from his daughter Natalia that he plans to use in his submission.

“I asked her what is the most important thing about teaching,”  he said. “She told me ‘helping the weak so they can become strong.’”

Principal Parke Wilkinson said he is proud of Jones, but not surprised.

“I don’t know anyone more deserving,” Wilkinson said. “Just seeing how much he loves teaching and how much that comes across every day, it is inspiring.”

To learn more about the Teacher of the Year program, click here.

2016 Georgia Teacher of the Year Finalists (in alphabetical order by district)

Teacher, Subject, System, School

Brian David Butler, Science

Bibb County, Rutland High

Patrick Logan, First Grade

Buford City, Buford Elementary

Alexandra Vlachakis, Information Technology

Fayette County, Sandy Creek High

John Wood, Art

Henry County, Luella High

Holly Canup, Media Resource Specialist/Online Instructor

Jackson County, East Jackson Comprehensive High

Brian Patrick, English/Literature

Jasper County, Jasper County High

Kimberly Lester, Writing/Language Arts

Muscogee County, St. Elmo Center for the Gifted

Gary Allen Jones, II, Gifted

Rome City, East Central Elementary

Ernest William Lee II, IB History, US Government and Civics

Savannah-Chatham County, Winsor Forest High

Blair Inabinet, Georgia Studies

Walton County, Youth Middle


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