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In the summer of 2020, there was a waxing hope in the hearts and minds of educators: is the threat of COVID beginning to subside? Is the balancing of a virtual and face-to-face classroom a thing of the past? Is last year’s burnout beginning to heal? But by the fall of 2020, the reality was that the effects of COVID were still very much present and that hope of a return to a sense of “normalcy” began to wane once again. Nonetheless educators continued to show up and persevere through every new challenge and truly shined as bright lights for their students, schools, and communities. These are three stories of bright lights from our partners in Jefferson County, Richmond County, and across Georgia–who, during an incredibly turbulent year, blazed a path of resilience, fortitude, and hope.

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Hidden Heroes Graphics-06

We launched our inaugural Hidden Heroes campaign in October 2020. Our aspiration was to generate a tidal wave of gratitude for educators and shine a light for the public on the work they do every day.  We leaned on the community to nominate and vote for educators in their circles and the results from our first Hidden Heroes contest were overwhelming, with 28 nominees and over 9,000 votes.

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Q&A with our FY21 Hidden Heroes Winner

Dr. Salethia James

Q: You were named the winner of our 2020 Hidden Hero contest. Your story, and the stories of all your other fellow nominees, truly inspired us. What do you think it means to be a Hidden Hero in the current culture and climate?

A: A Hidden Hero is one that is able to persevere. We—my team and I—did a lot of persevering. Navigating through the unknown can be scary, but a Hidden Hero has confidence in knowing that we can and will get through whatever challenges come our way. And knowing that not only are we going to get through it, but we are going to come out on the other side with some additional knowledge and tools that we gained through the process.


Q: Speaking of culture and climate, what are your aspirations for the kind of culture your students and families experience when they walk through the door of your school?

A: When anyone walks into this building, I want them to feel safe, loved, and welcome. And, just as important, I want my staff to feel and know that they are appreciated. In the education profession in general, I know they often don't hear that enough.

Q: What has it felt like to lead a school through this past year? What are you most proud of?

A: It’s been a challenge. But I am so proud of the level of resiliency that my team, and essentially all educators across the nation, displayed during a very unprecedented time. Last year, we coined the term “stronger together” because we knew that it would take us all coming together as one team to overcome the challenges that we were facing. I just can’t even put into words how proud I am of our team because, even when they couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, they still showed up and worked extremely hard for the families, community, and students that we serve.

More FY21 Hidden Hero Stories

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Seth Rogers

Principal in
Carroll County

In 2020, a student nominated for Homecoming court was identified in a contact tracing of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19. As a result, she was required by the Department of Public Health to quarantine—missing her chance to walk with her dad in the traditional Homecoming Court presentation on the football field that Friday night. So Seth personally arranged to keep the stadium lights on after the game, so that the student and her father could have a private walk and picture on the football field to celebrate her Homecoming Court nomination. As the Hidden Hero he is, Seth made sure she didn't miss her shining moment!

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Lindsey Davis

Teacher in
Paulding County

When the pandemic hit, the world went virtual. Lindsey Davis was determined to support the students with waning responsiveness or failing grades to ensure they got the resources needed to succeed. She called over one hundred people—including parents and friends—to locate and support the students in need. After a few calls, Lindsey discovered a student that was battling homelessness, living in a tent in the woods. She helped the student graduate by connecting him to necessary resources to be safe and to learn. Lindsey is a true Hidden Hero!

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Erin Carlton

Media Specialist in
Gwinnett County

Hidden Heroes are everywhere—in classrooms, central office, cafeterias, and, of course, libraries! Just like classroom teachers, Erin's entire role pivoted during the pandemic from face-to-face instruction to an entirely virtual literary experience. Determined to make sure that students enjoyed reading while at home, she coordinated virtual book fairs and book checkouts for digital learners. Even her story time for students was a hit! Transforming the magic of reading into a relevant, enjoyable, and accessible virtual experience is truly the work of a Hidden Hero. 

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The virtual nature of the 2020-2021 school year sparked a need for deeper connection within the leadership core of Richmond County Public Schools. Most of the system’s leaders were new to the district or new to their roles and, due the pandemic, had spent most of their time distanced from colleagues behind a computer screen. As a result, Superintendent Dr. Ken Bradshaw reached out to GLISI in March of 2021 to plan a summer leadership retreat in Savannah, Georgia. The retreat not only created bright moments of connection in the moment, but it also yielded continual sparks of impact when leaders returned home to Richmond County for the 2022-2023 school year.

Connecting as a team

The connections made in Savannah built the foundation for more collaborative and trusting relationships once the leaders returned home to Richmond County. As one participant shared, "The experience not only set the tone, but it allowed us to gain momentum. We made connections that mattered for the success of our departments and our students."

Hear from the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Ken Bradshaw, about some of the differences he's noticed within his team.

Connecting to their goals

Beyond fostering connections with each other, Richmond County was also able connect to their mission and goals as a system. By uniting on key performance indicators and processes for monitoring improvement, they were able align on a plan of action for the 2022-2023 school year.

Listen to this reflection from Dr. Andrea Roberts, Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, on how the tools and strategies learned at the retreat are still being utilized today.

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Jefferson County Schools asked GLISI to design custom support to recover, restore, and build resilience among their principals and central office leaders so they could continue to serve as bright lights for their students, teachers, and communities.

“Teaching and learning is our core business; but behind every leader, teacher, and learner is a person. We are dealing with real people and their real humanness,” said Stacy Arnold, Director of Teacher and Learning. “We know that you can’t lead people well if you aren’t well yourself.”

Resilience Circles focused on three factors necessary for growing and fostering resilience: strengthening leaders' social-emotional competencies; nurturing meaningful connection with peers for sustainable sources of support; and building a toolbox of self-care practices. Hear from our Executive Director, Dr. Leslie Hazle Bussey, as she reflects on the intentional design of Resilience Circles....

After a year-long series of facilitated sessions, leaders in Jefferson reported feeling less isolated in their roles and increased levels of confidence in their ability to trek forward against inevitable challenges.

Hear what our partners have to say about the experience: