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Gwinnett's Teacher of the Year list narrows to six

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools is a step closer to naming this year's top teacher.

Julie Bailey-Wegner, a fifth-grade teacher at Mulberry Elementary; Debbie Trevino, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Bay Creek Middle; Sergio Parra, a Spanish teacher at Osborne Middle; Jennifer Helfrich, a media specialist at Radloff Middle; Katie Saldarriaga, an ESOL teacher at North Gwinnett High; and Steve Kuninsky, a science teacher at Parkview High, have been named finalists for the 2011 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year title.

As the final element of the judging process, a selection committee will complete an observation of the six teachers in their classrooms. During the visit, committee members will look for original teaching methods, how the teachers demonstrate their philosophy of teaching, and special class projects, according to a news release. The finalists also will share more about themselves through an interview process with the selection committee.

Three of the six finalists will be designated as the Elementary, Middle and High School Teachers of the Year. As the only elementary school finalist, Bailey-Wegner automatically becomes the winner at that level. The middle and high school level winners will be named from the remaining finalists.

The county winner will be selected from among the three level winners and will go on to represent the school district in the Georgia TOTY competition. The district's top teacher will be announced at a banquet Nov. 4.

Here's a brief look at each finalist:

* Bailey-Wegner began her 11th year of service in education this year. A product of Gwinnett County Public Schools, she made the decision to return to the community that provided her with an education. She joined the inaugural staff of Mulberry Elementary School in 2007, bringing with her years of experience she gained in neighboring metro Atlanta schools.

* Trevino has taught language arts and social studies to middle school students for 14 years. Previously an educator in North Carolina, she joined Gwinnett County Public Schools in 2003 at Summerour Middle School as an eighth-grade language arts teacher. In 2009, she moved across the county to help open Bay Creek. Trevino is a graduate of South Gwinnett.

* Parra became a part of the Osborne faculty in 2008 as a Spanish teacher, but his career as an educator began nearly two decades ago in his native Colombia where he taught computer applications. His career in the United States began in Massachusetts. He joined the school system in 2005 as a teacher at Central Gwinnett High and later accepted his current position.

* Helfrich's journey toward becoming a media specialist first took her through a career as an analytical chemist. She discovered her passion as an educator while volunteering at her children's school. She joined the school system in 2003 and worked as a media specialist at Berkeley Lake Elementary before joining Radloff in 2008.

* Saldarriaga began her career in education in 1997 in Rockdale County as a special needs paraprofessional. The following year, she moved to a substitute teacher position at Duluth High, her alma mater. She became a full-time employee of Gwinnett County Public Schools in 1999 as an ESOL teacher at Norcross High. In 2003, she joined the staff of North Gwinnett.

* Kuninsky has made Gwinnett County Public Schools his teaching home since he entered the profession. In fact, since jointing the staff of Parkview in 2002, he has only taught at the Lilburn school. A science educator, Kuninsky has taught different levels of biology, physical science and physics.