Horizon Elementary School teacher Dr. Gay Barnes is named Alabama Teacher of the Year
By Yvonne Betowt, The Huntsville Times
MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Horizon Elementary School teacher Dr. Gay Barnes of Madison was named the 2011-12 Teacher of the Year at the annual Alabama Stars in Education dinner and awards ceremony in Montgomery Wednesday night.
Barnes was presented the award by State Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton near the end of a live televised broadcast on Alabama Public Television.
"I really thought it would be another person," said Barnes in a telephone interview with The Huntsville Times. "I was just stunned."
A first-grade teacher at Horizon, Barnes made it through the ranks of 16 candidates from the eight districts throughout the state. She will now represent Alabama for National Teacher of the Year honors.
The parent of five biological children and three stepchildren, Barnes credits her mother, Barbara Lucas of St. Clair County, for inspiring her to get an education. She also thanked her husband and children for their support in listening to her classroom stories every day.
Having the State Teacher of the Year in his school system is "a humbling experience" said Dr. Dee Fowler, superintendent of the Madison City Schools, where Barnes is employed.
"We are very excited," he said. "We have known Dr. Barnes is special. Now the rest of the state knows."
Her principal, Rodney Richardson, was thrilled when he heard Barnes' name called as a loud cheer went up from the District 8 representatives and family members.
"We are super excited," Richardson said. "There were a lot of great candidates. This was definitely surreal. Personally, I thought she would win it. If I had to put my finger on one thing that sets Dr. Barnes apart is her passion and love for kids and education. She brings real world experiences to the classroom. We are going to celebrate when we get back home."
Richardson and Fowler both emphasized Barnes represents many dedicated teachers in the Madison School system.
"I represent every teacher out there," she said. "I want to be a positive representative for all the extraordinary teachers out there. I just happened to get lucky to be in the position to move forward with this process."
Barnes said the award is "a huge honor and a lovely compliment."
She was especially excited to see her colleagues who surprised her by attending the dinner. They brought a banner with pictures her students had drawn of themselves and waved it following the announcement.
A native of St. Clair County, Barnes earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a master's degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a doctorate from Alabama A&M University.
In addition to teaching at Horizon, she has taught at Heritage and Columbia in the Madison school system and at public and private schools in Huntsville.
Barnes said this will definitely push her to "rock star status" with her students, but not necessarily because she won the award.
"They will be excited because of being on TV," she said.
A segment shown during the ceremony, which was filmed last month in her classroom, aired on statewide public television during the program.
Barnes will have the use of an automobile for a year for winning the award. She will use it to travel throughout the state promoting education.
In addition to Barnes, the other finalists were Marla Hines of Vestavia Hills, who was named the alternate if Barnes isn't able to continue in her role at any time during the year, Katherine Pitts of Thomasville High School and Pam Yau of Edgewood Elementary School.
Horizon Elementary's Dr. Gay Barnes was named State Teacher of the Year in Alabama. Joining her at the awards ceremony is Horizon Principal Rodney Richardson and Madison Superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler. (Special to The Huntsville Times).