On Monday, a science teacher at Douglas Byrd Middle School was named the 2023 Teacher of the Year for Cumberland County Schools.
Talicia Smith was chosen from among 10 finalists who were introduced to an audience of educators, fellow nominees, school board members and education supporters gathered at the Wiggins Conference Center at the Embassy Suites Fayetteville-Fort Bragg.
Tonya McGill — a second-year, fourth-grade teacher at Morganton Road Elementary School — was named the 2023 Beginning Teacher of the Year.
It was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that Cumberland County Schools hosted the event in person. Jeff “Goldy” Goldberg from radio station WFNC 640 AM served as emcee. He said Smith will be on his 7:40 a.m. show.
Smith has taught in the Cumberland County school system since 2012 and has more than 16 years of teaching experience. Smith recalled her difficulty in getting certified to become a teacher because of her family’s constant moves. When her husband retired from the military, Smith said she was able to finally get her teaching certificate and pursue her passion for teaching. She earned her master’s in educational leadership in 2019 from Queens University of Charlotte.
Smith said the biggest constant during her years of teaching has been the ever-present challenges to get the job done.
“Challenges, challenges, it never stops,” she said.
But to Smith, the reward is “seeing them get it” — seeing students realize they can do something they previously thought they could not.
Smith said being named 2023 Teacher of the Year is an amazing honor, especially since she was chosen by her peers. Her next priority is to “call mama” in Tallahassee, Florida.
She will advance to compete for the regional title.
Beginning Teacher of the Year
McGill is a Terry Sanford High School graduate. She started her career at Cumberland County Schools as a bus driver, then a cafeteria worker.
“I felt I wasn’t doing enough, so I went to get my degree to start teaching,” she said. McGill received her degree in elementary education from Fayetteville State University.
During her two years, she said she learned that establishing relationships with fellow teachers and students is essential for success.
“You can’t do it by yourself,’’ she said. “It takes a village. I truly believe that.’’
McGill will go on to compete in the statewide North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching 2022-23 Beginning Teacher of the Year Award.
As Teacher of the Year, Smith received a trophy and flowers from Cumberland County Schools; $300 from the Cumberland County Board of Education; $500 from Olde Fayetteville Insurance and Financial Services Inc.; $3,000 from Lafayette Ford-Lincoln ($1,000 for personal use and $2,000 for classroom use); a custom-designed CCS Teacher of the Year ring from Jostons; two season passes to the Fayetteville Marksmen Hockey Games; and a night’s stay at the Embassy Suites Fayetteville-Fort Bragg.
Patsy Beth Whittington from Hope Mills Middle School was the first runner-up, and Shawna Kay Lawes from Ponderosa Elementary School was the second runner-up. Each received a trophy and flowers. The first runner-up also received $200 from the Board of Education and $300 from Olde Fayetteville Insurance. The second runner-up also received $100 from the Board of Education and $200 from Olde Fayetteville Insurance.
All 10 finalists for Teacher of the Year received an iPad from the school system and $100 from the Board of Education.
As Beginning Teacher of the Year, McGill received a trophy from the Board of Education, flowers, an iPad from the school system, $200 from Olde Fayetteville Insurance, a $100 gift card from School Tools, and a $50 gift card from Luigi’s Italian Chophouse & Bar.
All 11 finalists for Beginning Teacher of the Year also received a plaque-certificate from the Board of Education, one CEU credit, dinner at Texas Roadhouse, and $100 from Olde Fayetteville Insurance.
Teacher of the Year nominees are chosen by their peers at their respective schools. From there, they are interviewed by school administration to determine if they will represent their attendance area, according to Lindsey Whitely, associate superintendent for communications and community engagement.
Ten Teacher of the Year nominees, one from each attendance area, are selected as finalists. They must submit a portfolio and go through another round of interviews, according to Whitley. Cumberland County Schools has held the Teacher of the Year event for at least 30 to 40 years, Whitley said.
The Beginning Teacher of the Year was added about three years ago. Schools nominate a two-year beginning teacher. A district-level committee reviews the nomination forms and selects a Beginning Teacher of the Year finalist for elementary, middle school and high school. They also undergo interviews from which a winner is selected, Whitley said.