Georgia Ports, WTOC honor this year’s Top Teachers


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Many of the WTOC Top Teachers gathered for a luncheon and tour of Garden City Terminal on Thursday, May 19, 2022. Georgia Ports has partnered with WTOC for nearly 20 years to recognize the difference local educators make in their communities.

Educators recognized throughout the school year were celebrated at luncheon

WATCH: WTOC coverage of the 2022 Top Teachers luncheon 

On Thursday, nearly three dozen teachers in the region gathered at the Port of Savannah for the WTOC Top Teachers luncheon. Georgia Ports has partnered with WTOC to recognize local educators for more than 20 years.

GPA Chief Communications Officer Loretta Lepore said the Authority and WTOC are equally committed to celebrating success stories in our communities.

“You are providing the foundation for jobs here at Georgia Ports,” Lepore told the teachers.

GPA Manager of Learning and Development Tanya Chisholm said those foundations start at a young age and it’s important to make students and teachers aware of workforce development programs like YES+. The YES+ program is GPA’s mentor-based program aimed at career-ready high school seniors.

Groves High School teacher Angela Stewart said the school had a student enter the YES+ program in its inaugural year that has now become a full-time GPA employee.

“Thank you for starting this [program],” Stewart said. “We want our students to become vital parts of society.”

WTOC General Manager Larry Silbermann said the Top Teacher program is a special one and the longest continuous partnership in the station’s history. Silbermann said news anchor Mike Cihla counts the segments with Top Teachers among his greatest pleasures.

During the event, many of the teachers spoke about the difficulties they faced during the school year.

“We’ve all held onto the rope this year,” said Myers Middle School teacher Mike Bell. “We had to push and pull these kids to the finish line, but we made it!”

Hesse School teacher Nicole Knoblach said she found doing the little things as students, teachers, and parents navigated COVID-19 made the biggest difference.

Like others in the group, Effingham Middle School teacher Krystin Kicklighter grew up watching Top Teacher segments on WTOC. “These were the people I looked up to,” Kicklighter said.

Stewart, who is planning to retire soon after 30 years in education, said she always loved seeing Cihla walk into classrooms to surprise Top Teacher winners. She hoped to join their ranks someday.

“I wish somebody would say I was great,” Stewart remembers thinking while watching the segments. Stewart, who prefers to say she’s being repurposed instead of retiring, reminded the group to remember why they chose teaching.

“Do it because it’s in your heart,” Stewart said.

Although some teachers caught on to their Top Teacher award upon seeing Cihla, school principals and loved ones in the hallway, others were caught by surprise. West Chatham Elementary School’s Matt Range said he was summoned to the front of the school to remove a snake. He was much relieved to find a news crew waiting instead.

“We don’t do it to be recognized,” Range said. “But, it’s nice once in a while.”

Top Teacher was established to recognize those who clearly demonstrate a commitment to teaching excellence. Nominees are rated on three criteria: Sharing a love of learning, civic and/or volunteer activities and providing a positive role model. This year’s Top Teachers were nominated by students, parents, and colleagues.

Sean Farrell said the student who nominated him gave him the “greatest gift.” Farrell, who recently joined South Effingham High School’s staff, said the nomination confirmed he made the right choice in the transition. The nomination was also a surprise because of the student’s normally reserved demeanor.

“You never really know who you’re affecting,” Farrell said.