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Elizabeth Wright, who teaches science at North Augusta High School, is the 2019-2020 Aiken County Public Schools' Teacher of the Year. With from, from left, are Aiken County School Board members Barry Moulton; Rosemary English; and Keith Liner, the board chairman.

Aiken County Public Schools celebrated its Stars of Public Education on Tuesday, naming the 2019-20 principal, teacher and Giving Even More administrative employees of the year.

Dr. Salvatore Minolfo of Belvedere Elementary School is the principal of the year. Elizabeth Wright, who teaches science at North Augusta High School, is the teacher of the year. And Sarah Padgett, the school nurse at Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta, is the Giving Even More, or GEM, employee of the year.

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Dr. Salvatore Minolfo, the principal at Belvedere Elementary School, is the Aiken County Public Schools' 2019-20 Principal of the Year.

Minolfo said being named the principal of the year is affirmation that the things he and his faculty and staff have been doing for the last three years at Belvedere Elementary are working.

“We're moving kids forward. We're helping teachers grow as leaders and as professionals,” he said after the ceremony in the Convocation Center at USC Aiken.

Minolfo attributed his and his school's success to the colleagues.

“It really is not because of what I've done. It really is because of what these other folks have done with me to achieve where we are,” he said. “It's a great honor and affirmation, but I feel these other people should get awards for what they've done to get me to this point. It's not about me.”

Wright said teaching is “definitely where I was made to be.”

“I love working with kids and helping students every day,” she said.

Wright said being named teacher of the year will allow her to grow more as a teacher leader.

“I have a passion for developing a positive culture within the school with staff and students and other teachers. That's my No. 1 thing. That's the basis of our schools, so just building relationships from the ground up, that's where I want to go,” she said.

The 2019-20 school year will be Wright's seventh year teaching science at North Augusta High.

Before teaching, she worked in health care and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Augusta State University and her teaching certification through South Carolina's PACE program, which allows non-education majors to earn certification.

Wright recently graduated from the University of South Carolina with an M.Ed. in teaching.

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Sarah Padgett, the school nurse at Paul Knox Middle School in North Augusta, is the Aiken County Public Schools' 2019-20 Giving Even More, or GEM, Employee of the Year.

Padgett has been a nurse 20 years and a school nurse for five years with Aiken County Public Schools and Paul Knox Middle.

“I love school nursing,” she said. “I love developing relationships with students, the parents and the faculty," she said. "I feel like my nursing office is a safe place where students are valued. I can form good relationships with them and boost morale throughout the school. We love to have a good time in my office, but we get business done as well.”

Padgett said receiving the GEM award means “that people care and value your job.”

“It's sometimes a thankless job throwing a Band-Aid on somebody or giving somebody an ice pack, but it all makes it worthwhile that you're making a difference,” she said.

The winners received a new name badge, a trophy, a ring and and $500 check.

Other members of the principal's honor court were Garen Cofer, the principal of Aiken High School, and Dr. Jason Holt, the principal of Paul Knox Middle School.

Other members of the teacher of the year honor court were Kimberly Gracey, who teaches middle-level science, at the Center of Innovative Learning; Sally Jenkins, who teaches English at Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School; Michelle King, the media specialist at Kennedy Middle School; Jennifer McMillan, who teachers science at Leavelle McCampbell Middle School; and Tabatha Younts, who teaches third-grade gifted and talented students at Belvedere Elementary School.

Other members of the GEM honor court were Deloris Brown, the human resources benefits clerk in the Division of Administration; Phyllis Maclay, the school food service operator at Oakwood-Windsor Elementary School; Randi Mitchell, the school nurse at Mossy Creek Elementary School; Deborah Simmons, an instructional aide at Gloverville Elementary School; and Frances Spradley, the secretary/bookkeeper at Aiken Scholars Academy.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.