Originally created 05/14/98

Area teacher tops in state



Andrew Baumgartner's kindergartners were a little more excited than usual Wednesday.

So was their teacher.

Mr. Baumgartner got a Tuesday night phone call from state school Superintendent Linda Schrenko telling him he had been named Georgia's teacher of the year.

"She asked me if I thought I could keep it a secret, and I said `I don't think so!"' he said. "I'm overwhelmed. It's incredibly exciting, and extremely affirming. I wish every teacher would have a chance to feel this way."

Mr. Baumgartner, a 22-year teaching veteran most often known as Mr. B, has taught kindergarten at A. Brian Merry Elementary School three years. His selection as teacher of the year marks the first time a teacher from Richmond County has won the honor.

"We have so many excellent teachers here, and he symbolizes all of them," said Principal Beverly Arnold. "Mr. B's a little bit of every good teacher I've ever seen. He's a good example of what the majority of our teachers are like."

She paused for a second, then added:

"He's a little hyper. There's an energy force -- you see it, you feel it in that classroom."

The energy force was present all over the school Wednesday. A sign in front congratulated him: "Yes!" it read. "Mr. B Georgia Teacher of the Year 1998-99."

Pupils and faculty held a surprise pep rally in his honor Wednesday morning to congratulate him.

"This is just fantastic. Everybody's excited about it," Richmond County Superintendent Charles Larke said Wednesday. "I went by to see him when he made the final five. ... (T)here's no doubt he's talented. We're lucky to have him."

Parents share Dr. Larke's assessment of Mr. Baumgartner's effectiveness. Though it has been six years since her daughter was in his class, Donna King remembers him vividly.

"He always had time for every child, no matter how major or minor their problem was," said Mrs. King, whose daughter Katie was in Mr. Baumgartner's third-grade class at C.T. Walker Elementary School. "He was interested in every child as an individual."

Katie, now a freshman at Westside High, said she was thrilled when she heard Mr. Baumgartner had been named teacher of the year.

"He always made everything interesting, and did a lot of fun stuff that really made us want to learn and made us pay attention more," Katie said.

She especially remembered the method he used to teach pupils their multiplication tables -- setting them to a rap beat and dancing around the room, getting the kids to sing along with him.

"He'd put that tape in and they'd rap the times tables," Mrs. King said. "And they learned them!"

Mr. Baumgartner and the other finalists will be honored at a banquet in Atlanta on Friday, and he expects his life next year will change drastically.

"I won't be in a classroom," he said. The teacher of the year serves as an ambassador for education, traveling the state to conduct workshops and lecture.

"It'll be different to be with adults for the most part, but hopefully I'll still have some contact with kids; that's what teaching is about."

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching young children, he said, is the love they share with their teacher.

"At this age, they're very generous with the hugs and the smiles," he said.

Mr. Baumgartner is generous with the smiles, too. As he walked into the office to check his mail while his pupils were at lunch, a fellow teacher noticed his grin.

"Can't get that smile off your face, can you?" she asked.

"I don't think anything could wipe it off today," he said.