Staff Photo: John Bohn Jennifer Dunn, right, of Pharr Elementary School is hugged by her mother, Debbie Ringer moments after Dunn was named 2012 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year during a ceremony held at Gwinnett Center Thursday.
DULUTH -- A grown woman who overcame learning disabilities as a child stood at a podium, weeping tears of joy.
A packed house of her peers arose from their chairs, applauding for Pharr Elementary's Jennifer Dunn as she accepted the award for 2012 districtwide teacher of the year.
Dunn was selected during Thursday night's banquet that honored the best of the best from Gwinnett County Public Schools.
"I love my students, and I love to teach," said a tearful Dunn as she thanked her loved ones and those that influenced her in her profession. "I'm truly honored to be a part of this group of educators."
In addition to choosing Dunn for districtwide teacher of the year, a selection committee picked her for elementary-level teacher of the year.
The group also chose North Gwinnett Middle's Sarah Black for middle school teacher of the year and Mill Creek High's Aundrea Muth for high school teacher of the year.
With more than 11,000 teachers in the system, making it as a finalist is a point of pride said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.
He spoke to the 129 local teacher of the year educators during the banquet.
"I would put our 129 teachers we have recognized tonight up against any others in the nation," Wilbanks said.
"It is a known fact that Gwinnett County is richly blessed by your work," he said. "Your work has never been more important than it is today. You are preparing tomorrow's adults ... you're impacting the future in unimaginable ways."
Black, the middle school teacher of the year said she learns by watching her students.
"In addition to understanding my subject, it is a critical part of my philosophy that I understand my students," Black said.
Muth, the high school teacher of the year, said it's her goal as a teacher "not only to enrich students' lives with academic knowledge and skills ... but to equip them with the reasoning skills and personal principles that are devoted through those lessons."
Muth, Black and Dunn stood before the group gathered at Gwinnett Center as the final teacher of the year selections.
Over the past several weeks, a selection committee has narrowed the field from 129 local teacher of the year selections. Last month, the committee announced 25 semifinalists from the 129 and later narrowed the list to six.
The six finalists for the 2012 honor were Brittany Palazzo, Mulberry Elementary; Dunn; Keri Beth Tidmore Jones, Dacula Middle; Black; Muth; and Lindsey Cafarella, Peachtree Ridge High.
Dunn said as a teacher she has used her childhood learning disability as a positive. She works with students who need additional support in transitioning from fourth to fifth grade.
"I see myself in every one of them and take joy in building them up all year," Dunn said.
Dunn started at McKendree Elementary in 2004. After some time away from Gwinnett, she returned in 2007 as a fifth grade teacher at Pharr Elementary. She is working on her specialist's degree in curriculum and instruction from Lincoln Memorial University. She also holds a bachelor's degree in early childhood education from Georgia State University and a master's degree in integrating technology in the classroom from Walden University.
Black joined the system as the orchestra teacher at Lanier Middle in 1997 and later helped open North Gwinnett Middle in 2009. She holds a bachelor's degree in music education from Appalachian State University.
Muth has taught at Mill Creek High since 2006. She teaches political systems and AP government to seniors. Muth earned a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Georgia.
As districtwide teacher of the year, Dunn will receive an annual award of $1,000. Black and Muth will receive $750 each year for as long as they are employed with the system.
The other three finalists will get a one-time award of $500, and each local school winner gets a one-time award of $200.