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CLINE: Father, son enjoy STAR moment at GAC

From left, Greater Atlanta Christian's Matt Fincher receives his STAR Teacher award and Andrew Kim gets his STAR Student award from David Fincher, president of GAC.

From left, Greater Atlanta Christian's Matt Fincher receives his STAR Teacher award and Andrew Kim gets his STAR Student award from David Fincher, president of GAC.

On one hand, last week’s luncheon honoring the county’s STAR students and teachers was old hat for David Fincher. The president of Greater Atlanta Christian School, he has participated in the ceremony for more than 30 years in his different roles with the school. But this time was different. Even more special than usual.

Family will do that.

The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition program honors the highest-scoring student on the SAT from each school. In turn, that student gets to select a teacher who most impacted his or her achievements. For GAC, this year's STAR student is Andrew Kim, and the teacher he chose is Matt Fincher.

Which made for a nice moment this past Thursday, when David Fincher handed out the awards to Kim and to his son.

"No doubt it was special," Fincher said of the opportunity to present the award to his son. "Of course it's a blessing every year to see a deserving teacher and a top student honored. It's thrilling to see your son honored and recognized.

"It's special to see him (get this honor). He is an outstanding teacher. He has far surpassed me."

Matt Fincher is the chair of GAC's social studies department and is also the school's debate coach, an endeavor in which he bonded strongly with Kim. He teaches AP government and US history, continuing a family tradition at GAC in that department. His grandfather, H.A. Fincher, also taught history at GAC as did his father. David Fincher also coached the debate team at the Norcross school, and it's obvious the influence his career has had on his son.

"My dad is one of those people who got me into this profession," said Matt, who lives in Lilburn with his wife, Jessica. "I was glad for him to be there (at the ceremony) and it was an honor to receive (the award) from him.

"I would say it's the best professional honor I've ever had."

Matt Fincher, who graduated from GAC in 1995, has taught at the school for eight years total. But his love of history goes back to his childhood, when family vacations would include side trips to Civil War sites or historically significant places like the Alamo. "Seems like we had a lot of big vacations like that growing up," Matt said. "He was always telling me stories (about history)."

Said his father: "Sometimes the family gave me a hard time, but we made a point to visit Civil War sites and places like that. My kids were young then, but it's neat to see some of it rubbed off."

Matt jokes that the family connection paid off in the form of him being able to use his guest ticket for the banquet for his wife instead of his dad. But he's serious about his bond with Andrew Kim. He first met Kim when the student joined the debate team in eighth grade. And though he has taught Kim in AP government, the main context of their relationship comes from the debate team.

"He's a really hard-working kid; one of the hardest-working kids I've ever taught," Matt said of Kim, who has been accepted to Dartmouth and is also a finalist for a Foundation Fellowship to the University of Georgia.

David Fincher said it's not hard to see how his son and Kim work so well together.

"(Matt) always expects much," the elder Fincher said. "And when you expect a lot from people, they step up."

Fincher has been GAC's president since 1998. He's earned and presided over numerous honors during that time, but it would be hard to top the special moment he shared with his son last week.

"I've handed out (STAR awards) since 1980 or '81. For it to come full circle (with Matt) is pretty special," he said.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.