“United in Excellence” was the theme at the Friday convocation for Zachary educators, administrators, coaches, district staff, school board members and invited guests.

Nash Joyner, who delivered the welcome remarks in 2003 as a kindergartner, welcomed attendees as a Zachary High senior entering his final year in the Zachary School District.

Ten-year-old Dayton Suire’s story was part of the program. Dayton, a fifth-grader at Copper Mill Elementary, recently was selected from more than 250,000 pediatric patients in Louisiana hospitals to become an ambassador for the Children’s Miracle Network.

At age 5, he was hit by a car in his parents’ driveway in Eunice. Doctors didn’t think he would survive, his mother, Katie Suire, said.

Dayton’s younger brother, Drake, now a fourth-grader at Zachary Elementary, assisted his brother in leading the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The 2015 Teacher of the Year awards were presented to Christie Aguillard, Zachary Early Learning Center; Lola Hill, Northwestern Elementary; Cory Lemoine, Rollins Place Elementary; Crystal London, Zachary Elementary; Darryl Allelo, Copper Mill Elementary; Margret Atkinson, Northwestern Middle; Kevin Stansbury, Zachary High; and Josh Concienne, Zachary Career and Technical Center. Each teacher received an inscribed plaque from Superintendent Scott Devillier and School Board President Hubie Owen.

“It’s great that you all applauded these teachers when their awards were handed out,” guest speaker Kim Bearden said. “That’s unique. It doesn’t happen in every district, but you are all genuinely supportive of each other here. I can tell.”

Bearden is a co-founder, executive director and teacher at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, the author of “Crash Course: Life Lessons My Students Taught Me” and multiple award-winner, including the Disney American Teacher Awards Outstanding Middle School Humanities Teacher honor. She delivered an energetic and inspiring message to district personnel by sharing poignant details such as how her students were the light that illuminated a dark and turbulent time in her life.

“They became my sanctuary instead of my burden,” Bearden said. “Children can teach us the importance of building relationships, abandoning fear, embracing one’s unique gifts and living with passion.

“As you set the tone for the new year, think about what kind of teacher you want to be, extraordinary or ordinary. How you teach, are, act and what you do, think and feel is projected upon children,” Bearden said. “Remember, it’s hard for broken adults to help broken children.”

Bearden told the group that leading by example, seeking to have healthy teaching families, maintaining academic rigor in the classroom and engaging in teamwork are ways to set the tone for a successful classroom, school and community.

“Your school is only as good as the weakest teacher,” she said.

Owen welcomed new and returning district personnel, saying he felt the 2015-16 school year would be different from years past.

Devillier’s remarks on coming together as a district, uniting as a team and working together to achieve academic excellence was impressed upon the educators before ending the program.

Both teachers and students returned to school Monday.