Photo by Corinne Nicholson
DULUTH -- A high school biology teacher who once thought about becoming a doctor was named the Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year on Thursday evening.
Steve Kuninsky, a Duluth High School graduate who teaches at Parkview High School, said he would not have been able to achieve success without the support of his teachers when he was a student.
"So many teachers have motivated and inspired me," he said. "Those are the ones I try to be like. I'm here because of those people who took the time to care about me ... (and) to teach me."
Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks made the announcement during the final moments of the school system's annual celebration of educators. At the banquet at the Gwinnett Center, the district recognized 123 teachers of the year who were selected for the honor by their peers at their respective schools.
"Tonight we have recognized and celebrated what we're all about in this school district: Great teaching that makes a difference in the lives of students," Wilbanks said.
Louise Radloff, a school board member whose district includes Parkview, shared a story of the impact a teacher can have in the life of a student.
"Teachers change lives," Radloff said. "Teachers motivate. Teachers touch the lives of every student they come in contact with. You well deserve the recognition you are getting tonight."
Kuninsky has spent his entire career as a teacher at Parkview High. He even student-taught at the Lilburn school.
"I am teaching because I care about young people," he said. "I want to have a positive impact on their lives, make them feel good about themselves, and guide them as they begin their journey through life."
As a result of the active role he takes as a teacher, he often receives notes from students thanking him not only for helping them learn the subject, but for going above and beyond to help them be successful in life.
"I really desire to be the teacher that students remember," he said, "... the one who cared, the one who motivated, and the one who made them want to come to school every day."
In addition to earning the school system's top honor, Kuninsky was recognized as the Gwinnett County High School Teacher of the Year. He was selected from a group of six districtwide finalists.
As the only finalist at her level, Julie Bailey-Wegner of Mulberry Elementary was automatically designated as the district's Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
From the three middle school finalists, Jennifer Helfrich of Radloff Middle was named the Middle School Teacher of the Year.
The other finalists were Debbie Trevino of Bay Creek Middle, Sergio Parra of Osborne Middle and Katie Saldarriaga of North Gwinnett High.
As Gwinnett's Teacher of the Year, Kuninsky will receive an additional $1,000 in his annual contract for as long as he teaches in Gwinnett County Public Schools. He will also represent Gwinnett County in the Georgia TOTY competition.
The two winners for elementary and middle school each will have $750 added to their annual contracts as long as they remain Gwinnett teachers. The other three finalists receive a one-time award of $500, and each local school winner received a one-time award of $200.
This year's corporate sponsors of the Teacher of the Year competition and banquet were Balfour, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Georgia Power, Gwinnett Federal Credit Union, Hayes Chrysler Dodge Jeep, Herff Jones, IBM, Lifetouch Photography, Mellon Global Security Services, and VALIC.