Students in Andrew Forster’s music classes at Messalonskee High School say it’s easy to see why he is one of the best teachers their school in Oakland has to offer.

“He’s a really good friend to all of his students,” said 18-year-old Gretchen Rice, of Oakland. “We just feel like we could talk to him about anything. Sometimes he sings to us when we come in just to say good morning.”

“He’s fun but he also knows when to be serious,” said Hannah Hargrove, 15, of Sidney. “We all agree his class is the best class.”

The students aren’t alone in thinking that their teacher is one of the best in the area.

On Friday, Forster was recognized in a ceremony at the State House in Augusta as the Kennebec County Teacher of the Year. He’s one of 15 County Teachers of the Year honored by the Maine Department of Education and the nonprofit group Educate Maine. Other central Maine teachers recognized include Tammy Ranger, of Skowhegan Area Middle School, the Somerset County Teacher of the Year; and Selina Warren, of Kingfield Elementary School, the Franklin County Teacher of the Year. Every county except Piscataquis was represented.

This is the third year of the Maine County Teacher of the Year program, which was started in 2014 and is part of the Maine Teacher of the Year program. Teachers selected as county teachers of the year will go through a review process that includes school visits, portfolio work and an interview with a state review panel. The winner will be announced at a surprise school assembly this fall and will become a candidate in the National Teacher of the Year program.

More than 300 nominations were submitted this year for the county teacher of the year awards. No winner was selected from Piscataquis County, where four teachers were nominated for the award but none chose to move forward with the selection process.

On Friday, the chosen teachers, their families and students, state lawmakers and education officials from around the state gathered at the State House to recognize the county teachers of the year.

“Each of us remembers a teacher who changed our lives, a special teacher who instructed us in formal education, yet who also mentored us in becoming who we are,” Deputy Commissioner of Education William Beardsley said at the ceremony. “These County Teachers of the Year we honor today are individuals with exceptional yet different gifts. They personify the best in their profession.”

“It was an honor to meet with all the teachers nominated for Teacher of the Year,” said Rep. Jeff McCabe, D- Skowhegan. “It was great to hear about their personal experiences and listen to their concerns and ideas for education in Maine.”

Forster, who was nominated by Messalonskee High School Principal Jonathan Moody, teaches music production and jazz band and is the school’s band director.

“It’s a very humbling experience to be among these teachers,” said Forster, 49, of Oakland. “It is really an honor and a surprise.”

“When I first met Andy as a colleague in 2001, it was immediately apparent to me that he is a one of a kind human being,” Moody said in a prepared statement Friday. “He cares deeply for his students and puts in the time necessary to ensure all of them (including those not enrolled in his classes) are touched by music and given the chance to shine at Messalonskee.”

In Somerset County, Ranger, of Waterville, is the third Skowhegan Area Middle School teacher to be named County Teacher of the Year. Ranger, 52, is a special education and reading intervention teacher and has worked in School Administrative District 54 for 16 years.

“It takes a village,” said Ranger, who previously worked at the Margaret Chase Smith Elementary School, also in Skowhegan, before going to the middle school. “It’s a very supportive district and very supportive building.”

Jennifer Dorman, who is also a special education and reading intervention teacher at the middle school, was the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year as well as the 2014 Somerset County Teacher of the Year.

Last year, Debra Tanner, a mathematics teacher at Skowhegan Area Middle School, was the 2015 Somerset County Teacher of the Year.

“Everybody pitches in at the school,” Ranger said. “The teachers don’t say, ‘These are my kids’; it’s ‘These are our kids.’ The district is the same way. Even when there are budget cuts, they do everything they can to help us. It’s very centered on what’s good for the kids.”

In a prepared statement Friday, Skowhegan Area Middle School Principal Zachary Longyear said he nominated Ranger for the award because “she encompasses the entire construct of education serving her students, parents, colleagues, community and herself as a professional.”

“Be it through her ability, drive or compassion, Ms. Ranger is an educator who defines what the Teacher of the Year title and philosophy stands for,” Longyear said.

Many of the teachers at Friday’s ceremony said they were surprised at the recognition and agreed that having supportive school districts and colleagues has contributed to their successes.

In Franklin County, Warren, a second-grade teacher, said of her award, “I really feel this is something that represents all the teachers at Kingfield Elementary School.” She added, “I hope the students are proud of all of their teachers and the work we do together.”

Warren, 34, was nominated by Kingfield Elementary School Principal Kim Ramharter, who described Warren’s work as “extremely noteworthy.”

“As an educator, Selina has strived to utilize the best teaching practices,” she said in a statement. “The planning and preparation that goes into setting up these systems, teaching them to her young learners and following through on using the taught routines is no easy feat.”

“I just feel really grateful,” Warren said. “This is a day I’ll never forget.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm