With his outgoing personality, bright bow ties and caring heart, students say the George P. Butler High School chorus teacher has left a lasting impression on young people.
“He’s like a father to me and a lot of others, too,” said former student Demichael Givens, 22. “It’s never a dull moment in his class. He’s creative, he has all these different ideas and he makes learning fun.”
That touch is what set Fortune apart from 56 other top educators in the district as he was named Monday the 2012 Richmond County Teacher of the Year.
The banquet was also a chance for district employees to thank all educators for what they do for students. The 57 individual school teachers of the year received plaques and recognition and a personal thanks from Superintendent Frank Roberson, who has been on medical leave since February.
Roberson made his first school-related appearance since falling ill to thank the teachers for their work.
He reminded the crowd there is no job more important than that of a teacher and said the talent in Richmond County has the ability to improve student achievement.
“I envision this school system to be one of the best in this region,” Roberson said. “I envision that happening in a very short period of time. ... I know that the (adequate yearly progress) results may have been a bit discouraging, but that’s temporary. Say that to the person next to you. That’s temporary.”
As Acting Superintendent James Whitson read Fortune’s name to the packed banquet hall at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, Fortune sprang from his chair, jumped around the room and held his hands over his head in disbelief.
“This honor is not a dream come true, it’s something bigger than that,” Fortune told the crowd. “This honor is confirmation that I have been called to this profession to make a difference.”
Fortune, 31, has been the choral director at Butler since 2004 and has led choirs to first-place finishes in competitions and top ratings. He is a product of Richmond County, as he attended school in Augusta and graduated from Butler in 1998.
Along with a litany of prizes that come with being the district’s Teacher of the Year, Fortune received a 2012 C250 Mercedes Benz from the Augusta dealership to be used for up to one year.
Despite all the honors, Fortune said the best part will be sharing the news with his students on Tuesday.
“I cannot wait to get to my kids tomorrow and tell them,” he said.
If there’s anything that can inspire teachers to do more for students, it is striving for the title of Teacher of the Year, according to the 2011 recipient Traci Cooper.
Cooper said everything will change now for Fortune. The honor brings recognition but also a push to do more.
“It increased my passion, and it was like new energy to the profession,” Cooper said. “My students felt like they were superstars, and my colleagues felt inspired, too.”
Fortune said he will continue working to touch students’ lives and inspire them to pass encouragement along to others.
“I get to play a vital role in these kids lives, and that’s amazing,” Fortune said. “I’m a product of Richmond County, and now this is just coming full circle.”