CHIPLEY -- Last year's Teacher of the Year Erin Harris described the role of great teachers with a familiar saying for educators worldwide.

A great teacher is "like a candle: it consumes itself to light the way for others," Harris said Thursday evening at the opening of Washington County School District's annual Teacher of the Year award ceremony, held at Chipley High School.

Holding a torch high for her students at Chipley High School, chemistry teacher Lenora Henderson was named WCSD's 2019 Teacher of the Year.

"I'm excited," Henderson, who's been with the district for 12 years, said after the ceremony. "I've been waiting for this a long time, but it's God's timing -- not mine."

She said freeness in the learning environment encourages students to ask questions and engage her about the material.

"If you put God first, then, you have no worries," Henderson said, noting her relationship with God guides are classroom. "And that includes even with my students."

"I treat them the way that Christ would; so, when they come through my door, they feel free to learn," she said.

For 2018 Rookie of the Year, the district choose Jessica Carter, a biology, anatomy and physiology teacher at Chipley High School.

"It's wonderful to know that my peers and the district think that I deserve this award," Carter said. "I think everybody who goes into the field of education deserves it. It's a tough job, but it's so rewarding."

She has been with the district for two years.

And Kate M. Smith Elementary School paraprofessional Jessica Vallejos was named 2018 School-Related Employee of the Year.

"It's quite an honor, really," Vallejos said, who has been with the district for five years. "I work so hard and I love what I do. It's really quite an honor."

Superintendent Joseph Taylor drew applause when he reminded faculty and staff that while school districts in surrounding counties saw a drop in their graduation rates for the 2016-17 school year, WCSD did not.

"It means our teachers care," he said, adding moments later regarding the role of faculty and staff, "You are the ones that are doing this."

"I'm absolutely thrilled at the direction the district is going," Taylor said, culminating the ceremony. "And, in that, I think all of us need to be ... This is something you can all be proud of."