Morale at the Franklin County School District saw a huge learning gain last month, with the selection of its top teacher, and school employee, of the year.

At a banquet Feb. 22 in the high school cafeteria, elementary teacher Laura King and the principal’s secretary Sharon Browning shared the honor of their colleagues’ choice as the best during what has been by all accounts a challenging year.

King was chosen as district Teacher of the Year from a crew that include three other teachers, language arts teacher Lydia Countryman representing the middle school; high school social studies teacher Jaime Duhart; and elementary school teacher turned high school credit recovery instructor, Elinor Mount-Simmons, representing the Learning Center at the former campus of Brown Elementary.

Browning was chosen as district School Related Employee of the Year after sharing in a tie with the Learning Center’s Joy Towns as top secretary. Also in consideration for the district employee of the year honors were pre-k paraprofessional Jeanine Wood, bus driver Maxine Taylor, custodian Bobby Langley, and food service manager April Dalton.

“It was a big honor,” said King, a 1991 Apalachicola High School graduate now in 17thyear of teaching. “I know there are a lot of teachers who work weekends and evenings. I’m not the only one who gives a lot of their personal time.”

Browning, a retired rural mail carrier from Thomasville, Ga., who has worked as a secretary for the last nine years, said her honor came as a result of group effort. “One person can’t do the job,” she said. “It takes all of them. I couldn’t do my job if not for my coworkers.

“It’s an honor they selected me over everyone else,” she said. “I share it with all our co-workers.”

King, who attended Gulf Coast Community College and then Florida State, graduated in 1996 with bachelor’s in elementary education. She’s been married to David King for 20 years, and the couple has two sons, Jordan, who attends Gulf Franklin, and Jared, a Franklin County High School freshman.

She has taught in the district since 1996, in grades two through five, and has a fourth grade classroom this year, the students having just finished taking the Florida Writes exam. King has shared writing instruction techniques with teachers throughout the district, some based on the ideas of Melissa Forney.

“We share ideas and I’ve shared with them what I do,” said King, who said she feels her teaching at this stage of her career is more effective than it ever has been.

“After you’ve done something for as long as I have, it’s not as stressful and you can enjoy it more,” she said. “You kind of find a niche and things seem to fall into place easier and kids enjoy the learning easier.”

Duhart, who earned an economics degree from Marshall University and worked as a paralegal and financial analysis before entering the teaching profession, is on the other end of her career.

After finishing her education at Gulf Coast, she started in 2008 in the county as a business teacher and then moved to social studies. She now teaches American history and government, economics, and global studies, and is married to Michael Duhart, with twin sons, Thomas and Jackson Subbarao-Copley, in the eighth grade.

“I was honored that my fellow teachers nominated me for this,” she said. “I love my students; they’re the reason I keep coming back.”

A native of Normal, Ill., Countryman is in her 23rd year of teaching, 15 of them in the Franklin County Schools. She holds bachelor’s degrees in graphic communications from Illinois State University, and in elementary education from University of West Florida, as well as a master’s degree in varying exceptionalities from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La, and a specialist degree in curriculum instruction from Piedmont College in Athens, Ga.

She started teaching in 1990 in Franklin County, first elementary school and then special education, and stayed until 2002 when she moved to Georgia.

Countryman returned in 2010 to teach middle school ESE, and now teaches eighth grade language arts. “I am honored to represent such a great group of colleagues,” said Countryman, mother of two Franklin County students, daughter Ursula and son Rory.

MountSimmons, who was the district’s teacher of the year in 2009, has taught in the district for 33 years, mainly in elementary school. But this year, she took over coordination of the Franklin County Academy, which together with the pre-kindergarten classes and the alternative school, form the offerings at the Learning Center.

“It’s for kids who have gotten behind. They get to do that here,” she said.

Students can complete two years of work into one, and stay on to receive their diplomas. “We find most of the kids are behind academically because they missed too much school.” said Mount-Simmons. “They’re committed now to getting their education.

“It was social time for them,” she said. “But they’re sharp kids, now they’re back on track and need to do what they chose not to. These kids can do; it’s just life got in their way. ”

Speaking about her own experience, but no doubt voicing the feelings of her colleagues, Mount-Simmons said she sees her role as a teacher as more of a calling than a job.

“I always said I don’t like kids,” she said. “You have to have a calling to be in this profession. I honestly believed I was called here, it was a choice made for me.. And because it’s a calling, the compassion for what I do comes out.”