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Gwinnett County Public Schools holds orientation for new teachers

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett County Public Schools officials welcomed nearly 1,500 new teachers Friday during the district's annual New Teacher Orientation.

The district had hired 1,481 teachers as of Aug. 1, but positions are still being filled on a daily basis, school district spokesman Jorge Quintana said. Fewer than 10 positions in special education were still vacant as of Friday, he said.

The new hires are joining a school district that employs more than 23,000 people, 11,000 of whom are teachers. During his welcome speech, Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the educators they now work for a district that builds more than a million square feet every year and serves more than 130,000 lunches daily.

"We have about 160,000 students that will darken the door Aug. 13," Wilbanks said. "They're really why we're here. ... It's not our size that's important. What's important is how well we educate the 160,000 students that will attend our schools."

Dale Jones, who came to Gwinnett from Chicago Public Schools, said she's "looking forward to a new change and success for my students as well as success for myself." Jones, who has taught for six years, will join the staff of South Gwinnett High School this year.

Eric Coker, a former college professor who will be teaching special education at Meadowcreek, said he's looking forward to meeting his students and conquering the challenges he'll encounter at his new school.

"I expect to learn a lot from the students," he said. "If they feel they're valued, they'll be willing to learn from me."

Although special education is a "critical" field in which school systems nationwide struggle to find qualified teachers, several teachers at orientation will be teaching special-needs students.

Lindsay Arnold, who recently graduated from Auburn University, will be teaching autistic students in prekindergarten at Fort Daniel Elementary. She said she decided to pursue that field because she has a family member who is mentally retarded. She said she has also worked in the past with special-education classes.

Derrick Hutchens has worked as a paraprofessional in Gwinnett County for five years, and he said he has enjoyed working with special-education students. He also works with the INSPIRE group at Peachtree Ridge.

Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairwoman Louise Radloff told the teachers the district has a "world-class vision for every child.

"No matter what school you teach in, there are challenges and there are rewards," she said. "What you do in this classroom this year will leave an impression on every student. So make a difference because you're very important."