There was silence as everyone waited for School Superintendent Dr. Joseph Barrow to open the sealed envelope, and then a roar of applause came from the crowd as he announced Alexandra Vlachakis as the 2014 Fayette County Teacher of the Year.
Vlachakis, a technology and business teacher at Sandy Creek High, was one of three finalists chosen from 26 school-level teachers of the year who were vying for the honor. The two runners-up are David Spearman, a drama teacher at Starr’s Mill High, and Dr. Kelly Jackson, a music teacher at Crabapple Lane Elementary.
“I am humbled and incredibly honored to be here representing all of the teachers who have dedicated countless hours to their students,” said Vlachakis as she took the podium to deliver her acceptance speech.
She graciously acknowledged her fellow finalists and commented how pleased she was that the judging panel recognized the importance of fine arts in the daily lives of students.
“They represent all the brilliant and talented fine arts teachers that help develop creativity and expression through music, drama and art,” she commented.
Vlachakis reflected back to 20 years ago when she first started teaching technology at an elementary school in Miami, Florida. With 26 bright-eyed students looking at her and waiting for her to teach them how to use a computer, she realized the impact she as a teacher could have on their lives.
While working at the elementary school, Vlachakis taught herself computer science. Computers and the Internet were just beginning to be introduced into schools in Miami in the early 90s, so there were no classes for her to attend. Instead, she made use of a closet full of manuals to learn what she needed to know.
“Yes, I said manuals. You see I took to reading them like novels. Since there were no Internet classes, I picked up any resource I could to learn about computers,” she explained.
A few years later she started teaching at the high school level and soon discovered that she could hook her students into learning through technology.
“It didn’t take me long to captivate them and direct their attention to learning through computers. We didn’t have Internet in the classroom yet at Western High School, but as soon as I taught them how to create their first web page I knew I had them. Since that moment, I’ve strived to always captivate my students with new technology.”
Vlachakis concluded with thanking her parents who immigrated to the United States in 1978 to escape the 12-year war in El Salvador.
“My father and mother struggled to make it in the United States as immigrants. It is they whom I have to thank for giving me the confidence to go follow my dreams and not let anyone stop me. Without them, their prayers and God’s guidance, I wouldn’t be here.”
Vlachakis will represent Fayette County next year in the Georgia Teacher of the Year competition. The 10 finalists for the state will be announced sometime between late March and early April 2015.
The Fayette County Teacher of the Year celebration is fully funded by private donations from businesses and organizations. The donations pay for the cost of the celebration, as well as fund gifts for the honored teachers.
Each school-level teacher of the year received $100 check from the Fayette County Education Foundation, and a commemorative plaque from Coca-Cola.
Vlachakis, and the two runners-up, Dr. Kelly Jackson and David Spearman, received checks from Allan Vigil Ford. Mike Vigil presented Vlachakis with a $1,000 check as the county’s winner; Jackson and Spearman each received a $500 check. Also, Chris Boehm, representing the Rotary Club of Peachtree City, gave Vlachakis a $1,000 check, and each runner-up a $250 check.
Additionally, Vlachakis received a special Fayette County Teacher of the Year ring from Balfour, and a commemorative plaque from Alpha Delta Kappa, an international honorary organization for women educators.