An educator who made it her job to ensure that her students had a fully engaging experience when learning went from in the classroom to online this year was named Polk County Schools’ top teacher Tuesday evening.

Youngs Grove Elementary School’s Rachael Truitt was announced as the Polk School District 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year during a special meeting of the Polk County Board of Education held in the HON Room at the Polk County College and Career Academy at Cedartown High School.

Truitt, who is in her 10th year of teaching, became Youngs Grove’s distance learning teacher this school year after serving in the past as a special education teacher, a fourth-grade math teacher and a directive studies teacher.

She was selected as Youngs Grove’s Teacher of the Year by her co-workers at the Cedartown school and was one of 11 teachers selected as 2020-2021 Teachers of the Year at their respective school.

“Shocked is an understatement,” Truitt said when asked about her district win. “I’m very proud that I can represent Youngs Grove.”

During the sudden shutdown of in-person teaching in the spring at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Truitt began to make math topic videos to ensure that students could continue to be exposed to the subject even though they were at home.

“A lot of the resources I was seeing a lot of people produce were reading. So I had Math Mondays and Fraction Fridays that I made at my house with different things,” Truitt said.

That included one time making pizza with her children and showing how a pizza could be cut to represent equivalent fractions.

“I felt like that was a contribution to the time that we were all in. And now, being the virtual learning teacher, I have talked and communicated with parents more this year than in my entire career. We have weekly conversations, because you want to make sure the kids are getting the education that they need while they’re at home. So that’s been a big thing.”

Leah Redden, principal at Youngs Grove Elementary, spoke about how much Truitt has contributed to the dramatic shift their school and faculty have had to endure as they adjusted to the world of virtual teaching.

“This year, she has gone above and beyond to answer that call of duty. As has been mentioned, we are in some uncharted waters that we’ve never traveled before, and she’s done a great job with meeting with students and talking with parents and doing everything she can to make this year a good year for them and for us,” Redden said.

“Rachael is someone who goes out of her way to be involved with the students. If she sees a need, she jumps right in and offers her assistance. And she’ll never know ho much I appreciate that.”

Each school’s teacher of the year was recognized and presented with a framed certificate and $100 gift card sponsored by NFP prior to the reveal of the district winner. Truitt was presented with a second $100 gift card for being named the district winner and will move on to the state Teacher of the Year competition, which is conducted by the Georgia Department of Education.

The teachers of the year for the other Polk School District schools are Cedartown High School’s Benjie Frasier, Cedartown Middle School’s Gay Popham, Cherokee Elementary School’s Michael Chandler, Eastside Elementary School’s Natoshia Rowell, Northside Elementary School’s Audra Broome, Polk County College and Career Academy’s Mike Lester, Rockmart High School’s Jason Purser, Rockmart Middle School’s Kris Maynard, Van Wert Elementary School’s Daphne McClendon and Westside Elementary School’s Cassie Bennett.

Also, the school board unanimously approved Superintendent Laurie Atkins’ recommendation that the school system continue to follow a four-day school week for the spring semester.

Polk County Schools have been operating on the schedule since late August, which allows teachers to use each Monday to update and create digital lesson plans for both in-person and distance learning instruction while students take classes Tuesday through Friday.

The move to extend the adjusted schedule comes as COVID-19 cases continue to be reported in Polk County as part of the current pandemic. Polk County Schools have not had reported a large outbreak of the virus since August.

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