They say they didn't get into their jobs for money or recognition, but several Hamilton County public school teachers, administrators and support staffers enjoyed the spotlight Monday.
They were honored at the inaugural Excellence in Public Education Awards, sponsored by the Hamilton County Department of Education, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chattanooga Times Free Press. The awards highlighted the work of 21 people who work in or support local public schools.
Times Free Press President Jason Taylor said the selection committee was overwhelmed by the community's response to the new program, with more than 500 people nominated by fellow teachers, principals, parents and students.
More than 300 people attended Monday's award ceremony, held at The Chattanoogan hotel.
"I believe today really shows those of us who work every day in our schools the support we have from this community," Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said.
Brainerd High School band teacher Tracey Frazier, who was awarded the Excellence in High School Teaching Award, also was given the Teacher of the Year award. Students, parents and fellow educators credit Frazier for using music to show students a future, while students said Frazier's care goes above and beyond and many view her as a mother figure.
"People that know me know that I love those kids," Frazier said. "I didn't do this to get recognized."
Awards were given in seven categories, including elementary, middle and high school teachers, administration, alumni and community support, but the category for support staff members received the most nominations this year.
Nolan Elementary School bus driver John Champagne received the honor for going above and beyond his job description. He purchased a larger, better-equipped bus after the Signal Mountain school added another special-needs classroom. Champagne spent his own time and money getting special training to operate the bus' wheelchair lift and he also drives special-needs students on field trips for free.
Champagne said he's honored to work with special-needs students and enjoys having an impact with all students as they come and go to school.
"I'm the first one they see in the morning. And I'm the last one they see in the afternoon," he said. "Whatever impression I make, that's what they're going to take with them."
East Lake Academy Principal LeAndrea Ware, who received an award in the administration category, said teachers, parents and business and community members all should receive credit for the success of a school.
"So often we get so busy we don't take the time to say 'thank you' to those who are in the trenches," she said. "This is not an easy job. But it's the best job in the world."