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Merritt receives Effingham County Teacher of the Year Award
Justin Merritt
Effingham County Teacher of the Year Justin Merritt addresses his first-period students Thursday morning at South Effingham High School.
Effingham County teachers of the year
Effingham County's 2019-20 teachers of the year include Patsy Owens, Lynn Spencer, Thresa Holland, Sarah Farmer, Louise Anderson, Regina Fox, Jamesha Williams, Kayla Mullins, Eric Dixon, Dr. Kendra Brophy, Jeremy Turner, Danna Jones, Justin Merritt and Tara Grimball. Fox isn't pictured. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

2019-20 Effingham County Teachers of the Year

Blandford Elementary School — Patsy Owens

Ebenezer Elementary School — Lynn Spencer

Guyton Elementary School — Thresa Holland

Marlow Elementary School — Sarah Farmer

Rincon Elementary School — Louise Anderson

Sand Hill Elementary School — Regina Fox 

Springfield Elementary School — Jamesha Williams

South Effingham Elementary School — Kayla Mullins

Ebenezer Middle School —Eric Dixon

Effingham County Middle School — Dr. Kendra Brophy

South Effingham Middle School — Jeremy Turner

Effingham County High School — Danna Jones

South Effingham High School — Justin Merritt 

Effingham College & Career Academy — Tara Grimball

 RINCON — South Effingham U.S. history teacher Justin Merritt’s life has been supported by two crucial pillars — parental guidance and his Christian faith. Both have been instrumental in his success in two careers.

“Those things are very, very important to me,” he said following the Effingham County Teacher of the Year Banquet at New Ebenezer Retreat Center on Oct. 9. “I get the privilege to serve not only as a teacher but I am a minister as well. I pastor Excelsior Baptist Church just this side of Metter.

“There is absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t make it through a single day without Jesus ...”

Merritt was named the Effingham County Teacher of the Year after emerging from a field of 15 candidates — one from each school in the district. He was chosen by his peers.

“That makes it a lot better,” he said. “The one thing about it that is really cool is that this room is full of really, really great teachers. Just being a part of that is an important thing.

“We’ve got the greatest job in the world — to be able to invest in people.”

The honor isn’t one that Merritt, a Miller County native, envisioned for himself.

He said, “When I left home and went to college, I told my parents that I would never be a teacher and I’d never be a preacher. If you don’t think God has a sense of humor ...

“I am both now and so thankful to be.”

Merritt, whose mother was a teacher and whose father was a pastor, settled into the education profession shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia.

“It was kind of a weird ride,” he said. “I did some insurance work and a couple of other things first.”

Merritt quickly found teaching to his liking and has spent his entire 17-year education career in Effingham County. He started in special education and remains certified in that area.

“Effingham County has been really good to me,” he said. “I love my job. Jesus told us the two most important things are to love God and love other people.

“Being a teacher and a minister gives me an open door to do that.”