The applause from the stands of Harmon Field was loud as Trisha Bethel and Cathy Rauschenberg, daughters of the late Tom Jones, presented the 33rd annual Tom Jones Educator of the Year Award to Kit Carpenter, Dalton Alternative Education Program (DAEP) and D3 Virtual Academy teacher, during halftime of the first Dalton High School football game Friday night.

Carpenter received a crystal apple and a check for $3,000. DAEP will also receive $1,000 as part of the grant.

The Tom Jones Educator of the Year Award recognizes educators in Dalton Public Schools who have made significant contributions in the education of children in Dalton and who symbolize excellence in teaching. Candidates are chosen based on their relationship with students, accomplishments, relationship with parents and their relationship with the community.

Deputy Superintendent Don Amonett has had the opportunity to work with Carpenter since the creation of DAEP. Amonett said the success of the program can be largely attributed to the hard work and dedication of Carpenter.

"I have seen few people who care as much for kids and who is as willing to be flexible with his program in an effort to meet their needs," Amonett said. "He really exemplifies the Dalton Difference and is making a difference for many of our students."

Carpenter's list of accomplishments is extraordinary. He began teaching math at Dalton Middle School in 2005 where he remained for seven years. During his time at DMS, Carpenter coached football, obtained his alternative teaching license and completed his master's degree and doctorate degree. Additionally, he created the math lab at DMS and received a promotion to coaching defensive line for Dalton High School.

In 2015, a new opportunity arose in the district to develop an alternative education program. Carpenter assisted with the creation of DAEP in 2016 and has been teaching there since then.

To say Carpenter's life is dedicated to education would be an understatement. He makes himself constantly available to both students and parents in DAEP.

"I have a cellphone that is dedicated to school," Carpenter said. "All of the families have my number and I am available 24/7. Parents and students use this phone to communicate with me after school hours, to talk about work their student is completing at home to try to get ahead, to discuss concerns the parents are having with their child's behavior at home, and, sadly, to tell me of situations occurring in their child's life that may negatively impact their focus and drive at school. Because of our commitment to building relationships with our students, we become more like an extended family."

The students that Carpenter teaches in DAEP have usually either been removed from their traditional school for behavioral issues or are in need of an alternative educational experience. Carpenter said he believes no matter what brings a student to DAEP, it is never an accident.

"My students come to us not trusting teachers and not believing that they are successful students," Carpenter said. "I am committed to changing that mindset, regardless of how long they are in my classroom. The key to making that happen is the relationship I build with each of them."

For Carpenter, teaching is more than just a career choice. It is truly his passion, and that passion is what motivates him to excel every day.

"I feel blessed to have been able to work, for the last 15 years, at a job that makes a difference in the lives of children every day, and I consider it an even greater blessing that all 15 years of my career have been with Dalton Public Schools," Carpenter said. "I believe in our school system. I believe in the people I work with, and I believe in the people who are teaching my own children."

Carpenter exemplifies the Dalton Difference not only by being an excellent teacher, but also by being an active part of the Dalton community.

"I am blessed to be in Dalton, and to be a Catamount," Carpenter said. "I am blessed to be a part of the Dalton Alternative Education Program. I am blessed to lead from where I am and contribute everything I can to change the lives of the children around me for the better."

Like his students, Carpenter does not believe it was an accident that led him to teach for DAEP at Dalton Public Schools. He said it is an honor just to be nominated for this award.

"Tom Jones exemplified the servant heart of a leader," Carpenter said. "To be thought of in the same respect as a man like Tom Jones has not been lost on me. I was a Tom Jones finalist last year, and I continue to strive to live up to the honor of being a Tom Jones Educator of the Year nominee every day. I am committed to learning, growing and being the best so that I can give back to the community that gives so much to us."

The Tom Jones Educator of the Year Award is named in memory of Tom Jones, a prominent Dalton businessman who served on the Dalton Board of Education for 26 years and was chairman from 1967 to 1986. The award was started in 1987. Jones, who was the co-founder of J+J Flooring Group, was a native of Dalton and a product of Dalton Public Schools. Trisha Bethel, daughter of Tom Jones, and her two sons, Bob and Charlie Bethel, were there to make the presentation on behalf of the Bethel family.

The other finalists for the 2019 Tom Jones Award were:

• Shannon Britton -- Dalton Middle School

• Dee Bonds Curtis -- Dalton High School

• Carmen Flammini -- Brookwood Elementary School

• Abby Fowler -- Westwood Elementary School

• Robin Hardie -- Morris Innovative High School

• Amber Lebron -- Park Creek Elementary School

• Fabiola Miranda -- Blue Ridge Elementary School

• Coulter Redding -- Dalton High School

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