This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

Caldwell County Schools honored seven employees last night during its annual 2013 Excellence in Education Awards – known more casually as the “of the year” awards.

Terry Reid, the band director at William Lenoir Middle School, was named Teacher of the Year.

“I have the best job in the world. I get to work with kids and play with instruments all day – and I get to work with the prettiest chorus teacher in the world,” said Reid, whose wife is the chorus director at William Lenoir.

Stefanie Keller, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Granite Falls Middle School, was honored as Rookie Teacher of the Year. The award goes to a teacher in his or her first three years of teaching – Keller is in her third.

Keller was praised by the selection committee for getting outside and bringing her science students face-to-face with wildlife – even the kind that might make some people jump.

“I have such a passion for my students, and I have such a passion for my wildlife and my spiders and just being able to bring it all together and teach,” Keller said.

Julia Knight, the principal of Davenport A+ School, was named Principal of the Year.

Adrienne Dula, the assistant principal at Gamewell Elementary School, was named Assistant Principal of the Year.

Bus driver Barry Lipford, who started driving a bus 30 years ago as a high-school student, was named Bus Driver of the Year.

Estella Cuellar, parent involvement coordinator for the English as a Second Language program, was named Associate of the Year.

School nurse Kim Roberts was named Instructional Support Employee of the Year.

“Of the year” nominees in each category are interviewed by separate selection committees – each of which includes the previous year’s honoree.

Winners of some categories, including Teacher of the Year and Rookie Teacher of the Year, are eligible to continue through an awards process that ends with a national “of-the-year” honor.

Each county-level winner receives a cash prize courtesy of the Education Foundation of Caldwell County – and they’re encouraged to spend it on themselves and their families, not on classroom supplies.

That helps mitigate some tough statistics, superintendent Steve Stone said: North Carolina’s status as 48th in teacher pay and 49th in school spending.

“When you look at this community and you look at our unemployment and you look at all these ugly things that could be holding our children back – they’re not being held back,” Stone said. “And they’re not being held back because of you.”