Barnett named Teacher of the Year

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent

It has already been a very interesting school year so far for Sarah Barnett.

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She missed the first seven weeks while on maternity leave, and on her first day back in the classroom at Woodland High School she received a visit from Superintendent Rodney Bowler, who informed her that she was one of six semifinalists for the Henry County School System’s Teacher of the Year award.

The district selected two elementary, two middle school and two high school teachers as semifinalists. Barnett was named a finalist, along with Bonita Adams of Cotton Indian Elementary and Lisa Hash of Eagle’s Landing Middle, at the Oct. 22 Harvest of Heroes event at the Performing Arts Center.

At that same ceremony she was later named Teacher of the Year.

"I was truly surprised. The ladies I was on stage with are so accomplished,” she said in an interview last week. “Everyone was so high-caliber and you could tell they really cared about their students. Just being a part of that group was a big honor."

Barnett is a homegrown product of the school system, a 2003 graduate of Stockbridge High School, making her one of the youngest - if not the youngest - to win this award. She will now represent Henry County at the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition.

Here is what Woodland High principal Bret Cook said upon Barnett’s nomination as a semifinalist:

“Ms. Barnett is truly a joy to have on my faculty. She has an amazing rapport with her students and has a unique way of making literature come alive and become relevant for her students. She is on the cutting edge regarding the use of technology as a tool for instruction, and willingly shares her knowledge with her colleagues.”

She has the opportunity to do that every day while working with a truly diverse cross-section of students at Woodland.

Four of her five classes are advanced placement (AP) English literature and composition, with high school seniors in what is really a college-level class whose aim is to better prepare them for the next level of education.

“It helps them experience the kind of rigor that gets them self-motivated and self-paced so that college is a little bit easier,” she said, adding that the ultimate goal of the class is for students to pass the AP exam and exempt a college English course.

Barnett’s other class each day is at the opposite end of the academic spectrum - with ninth-graders who have been categorized as “at-risk” students.

“They have just transitioned into high school and are struggling readers or at risk of not making the transition well,” as she described them. "I work with them on reading skills, writing skills and the overall transition into high school so their future years at our school will be more successful."

The contrast provides a unique perspective.

"I think I'm very blessed to come to work every day and see both ends of the spectrum,” she said. "It reminds me that I have to be on my game to reach those high-end students, but it's a really different world at the lower end. You've got to try different strategies and teaching styles to reach those kids. It keeps me on my toes."

The ninth-grade class is part of Woodland High’s foray into personalized learning, which has become a priority for every school in the district. She helped pilot the program last year with a class of seniors, and those students made great strides just to graduate on time. Having put the framework in place, she handed off that class to another teacher this year and took on the ninth-grade class.

"I've only been at school about a month and I can already see the light bulb turning on for some of them. It's finally clicking and we've had some great successes."

Speaking of success, her award didn’t just come with a plaque. Barnett received cash and prizes, including funds for professional development conferences, totaling almost $8,000.

“There was a lot of cash and gift cards,” she said. "We [she, her husband and two children] are set. I don't think I have to cook dinner for a month or so."