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September 27, 2016


Ten educators from Newton County School System have been nominated for the 2016-17 national LifeChanger of the Year Award:

  • Gwen Goins of Rocky Plains Elementary School,
  • Michael Poor of Eastside High School,
  • Laura McNulty and Sharon Darley of Flint Hill Elementary School,
  • Francene Breakfield of Newton High School,
  • Tyrell Johnson of Veterans Memorial Middle School,
  • Geri Hawkins of East Newton Elementary School,
  • Patrick Carter, Principal of Livingston Elementary School,
  • Joy Warren, Principal of Clements Middle School and
  • Samantha Fuhrey, Newton County School Superintendent.

Sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, the national LifeChanger of the Year program recognizes and rewards the very best K-12 public and private school educators and employees across the United States who are making a difference in the lives of students by exemplifying excellence, positive influence and leadership.

Goins, a kindergarten teacher, was nominated by a colleague, Jacqueline McMullen. She exercises great classroom management and is able to discipline her students while also exuding a very loving and positive energy. Goins is known for not allowing anyone to warn her about a potentially problematic student, as she is completely devoted to operating in an unbiased way. She maintains this position with staff members, which is why she is the consummate professional, according to McMullen.

“I taught in the classroom next to Mrs. Goins,” said McMullen. “On several occasions throughout the day, I could hear her voice echoing through the walls as she taught her students with passion and enthusiasm. She reminds me of my favorite teachers from elementary school, people who showed great love in their quest to help me be the best student and citizen I could be. I’ve truly been fortunate to work with and learn from her.”

Poor, a calculus teacher, was nominated by a member of the community. He teaches his students about taking responsibility for their education and reminds them that it is a privilege. Mr. Poor leads by example and demonstrates a level of class to his students each day. In addition to helping his pupils improve their math skills, he educates them on having superior character as well.

McNulty, a media specialist, was nominated by a colleague, Destiny Rumley. She works with each child in her school, teaching them about finding and picking out, as well as how to respect the school's books and take care of them. She also helps each teacher find the book(s) they are looking for to expand their classroom libraries based on a specific unit of study or time of the year.  

“I was able to work very closely with Ms. McNulty as a result of my son participating in Reading Bowl,” said Rumley. “She has a passion for reading and encourages each student to do their very best. I’m excited to work with her again this year.”

Darley, a special needs teacher, was nominated by a colleague and the parent of a student, Ginger Boyter. Darley helped Boyter's daughter, who has autism, go from level one of a speech program to level four by the end of the first year they worked together. She helped Boyter’s daughter learn how to communicate and do basic tasks such as eat with a spoon and fork.

“Dr. Darley opened up a whole new world, not only for my daughter, but for my entire family,” said Boyter. “I began to see my daughter give signs of what she wanted when she wanted it, and I saw the development of social skills and cognitive development occur daily. I am so glad my daughter started her education with Dr. Darley.”

Breakfield, a school counselor, was nominated by a colleague, Kia James. Since 2012, she has had 13 GATES scholars and four POSSE winners, and her students receive an average of $9 million in scholarship offers each year. Additionally, she teaches art classes in Newton High School’s after-school program each week.

“Dr. Breakfield has made it her goal to help seniors get into college and help parents and students find scholarship money,” said James. “She has gone above and beyond for the students of Newton County.”

Johnson, a sixth grade math teacher, was nominated by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous. His day-to-day teaching procedures confirm his talent, technical expertise, and dedication and people skills. The combination of his high standards and vast experience enables him to be an excellent mentor to other employees.

“Mr. Johnson carries out ideals outlined in his craft by keeping his math lessons creative and interactive,” said the colleague. “He never loses sight of the students' needs, and he creates a warm, active and challenging learning atmosphere. He is someone whose skill and dedication motivates those around him, raising the quality of teaching and learning in everyone he touches.”

Hawkins, an assistant principal and Carter, a principal were both nominated by the parent of a student who wishes to remain anonymous. The parent praised both administrators for going out of their way to make sure students felt loved and protected.

“I have a child with a developmental delay, speech problem and severe ADHD,” said the nominator. “Dr. Hawkins always went out of her way to make sure my child had all of the resources at school and at home they needed to help them succeed. She is an amazing person all the way around, and is the most loving and caring person one could meet.”

“Dr. Carter makes sure his students are learning as much as they can and makes sure they have the resources to do so,” said the nominator. “He makes learning fun for them, and he also makes parents feel welcome. If a parent has any issues or concerns, he addresses them right away. Parents feel completely safe sending their children to school because they know their children will be protected.”

Warren, principal of Clements Middle School and Fuhrey, superintendent of Newton County Schools, were nominated by a colleague, Jacqueline Pennington.

Clements was nominated for her positive impact on the school’s culture and her influence on increased standardized test scores.  CMS students not only achieved great scores, but they surpassed the state average.

“Never, in my 22 years in the Newton County School System, have I seen such scores of excellence at Clements Middle School,” said Pennington.

Fuhrey was noted for her establishment of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, a committee that allows student members to serve as advisors and act as liaisons between Newton County School System's administration and students. The committee discusses how decisions made at the district level are affecting students throughout the county.

“In the early years of my 20+ year career as a veteran Newton County educator, Mrs. Fuhrey was my assistant principal, then my principal,” said Pennington. “I’ve witnessed her innate ability to lead a plethora of diverse, multicultural educators and students. I’ve also witnessed positive changes in the forms of student achievement, improved test scores, refocused attitudes, team building and professional growth due to her efforts. She is truly an awesome educator and LifeChanger who leads by example.”

Each school year, the LifeChanger of the Year program receives hundreds of nominations from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For 2016-2017, there will be a total of 15 individual LifeChanger of the Year awards. In addition, a 16th prize, the “National Spirit Award,” is given to the school and nominee whose community demonstrates the most support for their nomination. Each winner will receive a cash award that is split between the individual winner and their school. The national Grand Prize award is $10,000. Winners are announced via surprise award ceremonies held at their schools. The top five winners will also be honored at a national awards ceremony in Naples, Florida. Winners will be announced in Spring 2017.

Winners will be chosen by a selection committee comprised of former winners and education professionals. Nominees must be school district employees. Award winners are selected based on the following criteria:

  • A proven ability to make a beneficial difference in the lives of students
  • An ability to positively add to the development of the school's atmosphere
  • Is involved in leadership activities at the school and/or community level
  • A demonstrative record of excellent performance at the professional level
  • A commitment to producing a nurturing atmosphere
  • Adherence to high moral and ethical standards

A resource page with ideas for how to celebrate nominees can be found at

To view the LifeChanger of the Year profiles for nominees from Newton County School System, or to nominate someone from your school community, visit