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Teacher of the Year: Debbie Cox

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Dames Ferry educator earns top honor

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    DFES Princpal Wes Cavendar (left) and Superintendent Chuck Gibson (right) with 2021 Teacher of Year Debbie Cox. WENDY VAUGHN/Contributed
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    The March 30 winners were not only teachers. Belinda Chaney (center) received the Regional Library Media Specialist of the Year award. WENDY VAUGHN/Contributed
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    Teacher of the Year Debbie Cox (seated) with her family that includes her daughter, who is also a teacher and was inspired by her mother. WENDY VAUGHN/Contributed
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    Jones County Teacher of the Year nominees (l-r) are, seated: CRMS Martha Williams, pre-K Kristi Harley, DFES Debbie Cox, and WES Rachel West; top: JCHS Jolynn Aubrey, GSMS Jordan Adicks, TWES Jeffery Shaw and GES Victoria Bivins. WENDY VAUGHN/Contributed

The Jones County School System announced its 2021 teacher of the year last week in a ceremony that was in person for the families of the nominees and administrators but also virtual so all could attend.

Superintendent Chuck Gibson made the announcement of the winner in the form of a proclamation he read at the conclusion of the March 30 program. Dames Ferry Elementary School secondgrade teacher Debbie Cox received the title of Teacher of the Year for 2021 out of a field of eight nominees.

Each nominee had been selected Teacher of the Year for their individual school and were introduced at the event by their principals.

After receiving her award, Cox expressed her surprise and stated that all the nominees were winners.

“I work in the best county, and I’m proud to be a teacher here,” she said.

The recipient said she has worked 20 of her 29 years as a teacher in Jones County.

“I would not be here without my second-grade team. It’s an honor to come to work,” Cox said. “I’m thankful for my students and my family.

Immediately prior to the announcement of the winner, a video presentation was played featuring each nominee. In her video, Cox said her students drove her to never stop learning and growing.

“We have hands-on learning and make sure our kids have those experiences. I do all I can for their success and look for new ways to be innovative,” she said.

DFES Principal Wes Cavendar said Cox leads the school’s STEM programs and is very popular with students and parents.

2021 Teachers of the Year

Jordan Adicks, Teacher of the Year for Gray Station Middle School, stated in her video that she felt especially honored to be selected since she had been a student teacher at the school.

“I enjoy seeing my students every day,” the teacher said. Principal Leigh Ann Knowles said it was amazing how Adicks works for her students and their families.

Jones County High School Teacher of the Year Jolynn Aubrey said she was honored to be selected because it let her know that her coworkers see her as someone to represent the school.

“I’ve always been committed to education, even as a child,” Aubrey said. “I enjoy helping students early in their careers and want to see them be the best they can be,” she said.

Principal Lance Rackley said Aubrey is integral in leading future teachers.

“I’m proud she is 19 X 5 representing JCHS,” he said.

Victoria Bivins represented Gray Elementary as its Teacher of the Year. She stated that she was humbled by her selection.

“I enjoy working every day. Mediocre is not OK. You need to be the best at whatever you do,” she said.

Principal Chip Lundy said Bivins is effective managing the learning environment for students.

“She serves our gifted students and makes sure each is served equally,” he said.

Jones County pre-K selected Kristi Harley as its Teacher of the Year. Pre-K site director Dena Smith said Hartley knows every child.

“Pre-K is her home, her passion,” she said.

Hartley described pre-K as controlled chaos.

“We reach out and find out what each child needs for the day. They know I love them and that this is a safe and secure place,” she said.

Harley said she felt honored and blessed to be selected pre-K Teacher of the Year.

“And that my colleagues think that much of me.”

Jeffery Shaw was selected as Turner Woods Elementary Teacher of the Year. He stated that he was very humbled to be selected because the school has so many wonderful teachers.

“I take this as a responsibility to represent every teacher here. This is a positive school that takes learning outside of the school,” Shaw said.

Principal Jeffrey Tharpe said Shaw forms relationships with students and parents. He said he and Shaw had a lot in common.

“We came on board here at the same time and had an instant connection,” he said. “He has the personality that loves and cares for his students. Mr. Shaw is able to go beyond and connects students to his love for music.”

Shaw said he enjoys seeing kids grow and learn.

“That motivates me to give all the more,” the teacher added.

Wells Elementary School Teacher of the Year Rachel West said others were more deserving of the honor.

“That inspires me to do better,” she said.

Principal Gwinette Hudson said West looks at student data to make sure they are getting what they need.

“She won’t settle. She’s looking for their best,” Hudson said.

West said her love of kids is what drives her.

“Once they enter my room, they are mine and they always will be,” she said.

Martha Williams is Clifton Ridge Middle School Teacher of the Year. The teacher said she was ecstatic to have been chosen.

“I love my job. I’ve been here 25 years, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon,” Williams said.

Principal Leslie Poythress said Williams’s first love was God and then family.

“She is a fantastic eighthgrade teacher, but she has taught at all levels. She loves language arts, mentors students and helps us analyze data,” the principal said. “We are proud to have her as our Teacher of the Year.”


Gibson served as the master of ceremonies and opened the event by thanking all teachers. Music was provided by the Jones County High School Chorus under the direction of Mystee Wilcox.

The superintendent explained that the nominees participated in an in-depth interview in front of a fourjudge panel. He said this year’s judges were Anthony Pack with Middle Georgia RESA, Dr. Nicole Declourette with Georgia College and State University and retired educators Donald Black and Dr. Gloria Wicker.

He said the Teacher of the Year event is supported by the generous donations of schools, local businesses and donors.

The Teacher of the Year even was hosted by Jones County High School, and refreshments were prepared by members of the Jones County High School Family and Consumer Science Class. At the end of the program, Gibson closed the evening appropriately.

“Class dismissed,” he said.