Satilla Marsh educator named county's Teacher of the Year

Tenacious. Attentive. Consistent.

All were words used Tuesday to describe this year’s Teacher of the Year for Glynn County who was named during the annual ceremony celebrating local educators.

Taylor Priest, a fifth-grade teacher at Satilla Marsh Elementary, will represent the county as Teacher of the Year for 2023-2024.

She was lauded during the event for her talents as an educator, as were a group of about 25 others named “Teacher of the Year” by their local public and private schools.

The county’s Teacher of the Year ceremony comes together through the support of numerous sponsors, including Georgia Power and the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce.

“I can’t tell you how proud the business community is of all the teachers in this room,” said Ralph Staffins, chamber president. “We fully realize that the future of our community and our workforce sits in your classroom every single day, and we really want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

During the event’s invocation, Paul McKenzie described educators as those who propel forward their students’ dreams.

“Tonight we’re here to celebrate you because you are our dream makers,” he said. “You are the ones that challenge us. You are the ones that tell us to go and study a little bit harder. You’re the ones that test us. You’re the ones that tell us to go and research. You’re the ones that help us to understand the importance of learning.”

Every success story has in its earliest pages a teacher who cultivated a spark.

“Those who can were taught,” McKenzie said. “Someone took the time to teach them. Someone took the time to listen to them. Someone took the time to encourage them. Someone took the time to make sure that their dreams did not die.”

The teaching profession has changed dramatically in recent decades, said Scott Spence, superintendent of Glynn County Schools. Few fully understand just how hard the job is, he said.

“When I started teaching many, many years ago, the profession was nothing like it is today,” Spence said. “… We didn’t have television access in our rooms. There were no emails. And none of us had a cellphone. There was no internet, wifi, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok or Twitter. There was no Infinite Campus where everyone could see everything you put down on a student.”

Technological advancements may help a teacher be more efficient, he said, but rarely do these changes impact the core qualities of a great educator.

“No employee is more important than a classroom teacher in the classroom with their students,” Spence said.

Paige Browning, a Glynn Academy teacher who won the county Teacher of the Year distinction last year, basked in the joy of being surrounded by fellow educators at the ceremony.

“You and I are people who answer more questions in the first 10 minutes of our day than most people answer all day long,” she said. “We are people who know how to finish our lunch in 15 minutes flat. We are people who know how to make marathon sprints to the bathroom, the copier, the supply closet, wherever we’re needed.”

Five teachers were named semi-finalists for the county Teacher of the Year honor: Pries; Staci Bennett at St. Simons Elementary; Natasha Donley at Risley Middle School; Chas Bumgardner at Glynn Academy; and Rachel Yeargan at the Golden Isles College and Career Academy.

A panel of three judges made the final decision on the winner, who will now go on to represent the county in a statewide Teacher of the Year competition.

“The love this person has for students and the passion for teaching is what makes this candidate stand out,” said Michele Seals, executive director of human resources for Glynn County Schools, before revealing this year’s winner. “This candidate stands out as a leader in the school where he or she works and has received numerous awards for going above and beyond.”

Priest believes in teaching the whole child and puts relationships above all else in her classroom, Seals said.

“The candidate holds high exceptions for all students and does whatever it takes to help them soar,” she said. “In this candidate’s classroom, students take ownership of their learning and thrive in a hands-on learning environment that promotes academic growth and success.”

During her seven years teaching, Priest has refined her skills as an educator, said Charlie Frazier, principal at Satilla Marsh Elementary. She is one of the finest educators in Glynn County and in the profession as a whole, he said.

“This educator is tenacious about improving the lives of others,” Frazier said. “She is attentive to detail and is thoroughly consistent in her teaching practices and strategies. She consistently has a yearning for learning and improvement to increase the depth of knowledge and to enhance opportunities for others still growing.

“She is a loving individual who prides herself on building strong and concrete relationships because she understands that she’s not just making an impact for today but for tomorrow as well.”