Richmond County Teacher of the Year Ladell Fortune says he's inspired by Superintendent Frank Roberson's recovery from emergency brain surgery. (WRDW-TV / Nov. 8, 2011)
News 12 First at Five / Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Our area's largest school district has been without its superintendent for almost a year now. But for the first time since his emergency brain surgery, Frank Roberson addressed the school system during the Richmond County Teacher of the Year Banquet Tuesday evening.
This past February, Roberson went on medical leave after brain surgery. He was hospitalized for headaches, and then underwent emergency brain surgery. Since then, he's been having treatment and therapy. But for the first time last night, he publicly addressed the school system. He didn't say when he'd be back but promises he will be.
His story is inspiring someone who's done a little inspiring of his own.
Ladell Fortune is a teacher at Butler High School and admits things have been tough for Richmond County schools this past year. But now he's happy to have some good things to sing about.
Fortune and his students are on a high note after learning their favorite chorus instructor is Richmond County's Teacher of the Year.
Fortune looks over his classroom of students.
"They are the reason that I received the award. I have the best of the best. The cream of the crop," he said. "It creates a special bond and a special relationship because I realize that what I'm doing is impacting them."
With recent news* of some schools' low AYP scores, Mr. Fortune says he believes in focusing on the positives around Richmond County. He can relate to the students' struggles, as he graduated from Butler High School in 1998.
"I can share with them my experiences as a Richmond County student," Fortune said. "I let them know if I can do it, if I can succeed, then they can succeed. And go even beyond what I've done."
Fortune now teaches in the very chorus room where he grew as a high school singer, the same place in which he decided teaching music is his passion.
While the Teacher of the Year banquet was to honor county teachers who are making a difference, many say the most inspiring part of the evening was a surprise visit and speech from Superintendent Roberson.
"It was so exciting," said School Board Vice President Venus Cain. "I just can't tell you what an inspiration it was to see him there."
She's among several school board members who tell News 12 they still hope Roberson will eventually come back to work in some capacity with the school system.
"When it comes to Dr. Roberson, he's proved anything is possible," Cain said.
"My heart was filled with so much joy and pride because it was such an honor to have him there."
Even as a teacher, Mr. Fortune is still learning lessons, too. For example, he points out, he has learned a lot while watching Roberson recover from brain surgery.
"Seeing him speak was something that I'll probably treasure for a lifetime. His story in itself is such an inspiration. No matter what life throws at you, you don't throw in the towel," he said. "He's taken a lickin' and keeps on kickin'. That has to fuel us as educators -- that there's no situation that we can't overcome."
For now in Mr. Fortune's class, they're beginning rehearsal for their Christmas performances. He says for a chorus teacher, it's never too early to begin practicing.
And as his students belt out the school anthem and spirit cheers, they won't just show their pride. They'll sing it loud and clear.
*Original article edited. Graduation rates at seven of ten Richmond County Schools, including Butler High School, increased from 2009/10 to 2010/11.