POWDER SPRINGS — The Cobb County School District has crowned its new districtwide outstanding educator.

Cindy Wadsworth, a third grade teacher at Kemp Elementary School in Powder Springs, said Superintendent Chris Ragsdale’s cover was blown just before the surprise announcement Friday morning when she and other staff noticed it was a little chilly in the school’s cafeteria.

Ragsdale visited the school when Wadsworth was named the elementary school Teacher of the Year in July. It was then that Kemp Principal Shea Thomas told Wadsworth, rumor had it, the superintendent has the temperature of the assembly room turned down when he’ll be visiting, Wadsworth said.

“So when I walked into the cafeteria, one of my team members looked at me and said, ‘Did you win the whole thing? It’s really cold in here,’” Wadsworth laughed. “I said, ‘Don’t say that. Don’t make me nervous.’ And then we saw Mr. Ragsdale. At that point, I knew. And I got nervous and started crying.”

Wadsworth, who has taught for more than 20 years, nine years at Kemp, held back tears as her mother, father, husband and daughters joined her at the front of the cafeteria, flanked by Hillgrove High School cheerleaders and band members.

She said she was humbled to be chosen for such an honor just for doing what she loves.

“I can honestly say that I have gotten more than I’ve ever given,” Wadsworth said, choking up as she clutched a microphone at the front of the room packed with students and teachers. “One thing that I really try to teach my girls is if you follow your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life. ... I don’t feel like I’ve ever worked a day in my life, because I love what I do. I love coming to school every day.”

Wadsworth’s parents, Al and Ellen Tryba, rose early and drove more than an hour from their Forsyth County home to see their daughter awarded for her teaching prowess. The Trybas said they’d always known she’d make an excellent teacher and their only question was “why it took so long” for her to be recognized at this level.

“This shows her passion and her dedication. That comes out when something like this happens. It’s unbelievable,” Ellen Tryba said, tearing up. “When she was younger, she was real easy-going. Nothing bothered her. And I thought, ‘She’d be great with young kids.’”

Al Tryba said he thought his daughter would want to move up in grades as she progressed through her career. But, he said, she’s stayed with elementary school students because she believes in giving them a solid foundation from which to work forward.

“I think she feels that she can influence them, rather than the kids that are older, because they’re set in their ways,” he said.

Superintendent Ragsdale said Kemp understands the most important part of being a teacher — building relationships — which is why she was chosen by her peers and panels of administrators and staff as the districtwide Teacher of the Year.

“Relationships are what make you successful, so her understanding that and what she talked about today — if you follow your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life — you can just tell that she’s called to be a teacher. She is exactly where she needs to be,” he said.

Building relationships is the first and most critical step in engaging children and making learning fun, Wadsworth said. She said her passion for teaching young children comes from her ability to do just that and to set them up for success.

“I really think that education can change anything. It can take away all barriers. So I feel like if I can get them excited about learning, that sets them up for the rest of their life,” she said.

As part of the recognition, Wadsworth and the middle and high school Teacher of the Year winners — Pine Mountain Middle School teacher Casey Taylor and Lassiter High School teacher Hilary Minich — will receive a $1,000 bonus in the fall and in October will be able to choose a car from one of four Ed Voyles dealerships to drive for free for a year, according to Amanda Shaw, supervisor for teacher recruitment.

Wadsworth will also move on to compete for the title of Georgia Teacher of the Year. If she wins that title, she will also be allowed to keep the car she chooses for good.

Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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