ST. GEORGE -- The wait was agonizing for Williams Memorial Elementary School teacher Melanie Hughes, Dorchester District 4's 2011 Teacher of the Year.

For the previous four years, a Williams Memorial teacher had been named the district's top teacher. And Hughes, a fifth-grade science teacher, was hoping she wouldn't be the one to break the streak but would instead become the school's fifth consecutive district Teacher of the Year.

Her wait ended Wednesday when a team from the district burst into her classroom Wednesday and told her she had won.

Hughes was nearly speechless. She simply said that she was relieved, and that the school's principal "Mr. (Jeff) Beckwith raises good teachers."

But her students weren't nearly that modest as they huddled around her stretching their hands in the air in hopes of being the next one to be able to say something great about their teacher.

"She's the very best and she taught me more than any other teacher has taught me," 11-year-old Jonathan Addison said.

"She knows what she's doing," said Alexis Wooding, who also is 11.

Tanasia Green, 10, said Hughes tells interesting stories that help students learn science.

And Blair Floyd, who also is 10, said she got to look at squirmy worms through a microscope.

An external team made up mostly of retired educators makes the selection of Teacher of the Year from among the top teachers at the district's five schools, said Gwendolyn Bright, the district's director of accountability and staff development.

Beckwith said school employees tried not to talk about the Teacher of the Year streak because teachers there already stress themselves out trying to do a good job.

But he was pleased Hughes won. "She does a ton for us, and that filters into her teaching," he said. She stays late and works at home, he said. And she leads the school's recycling program, teaching the students the importance of preserving the environment.

The previous Teachers of the Year were: Jennifer Durr in 2010, Lauren Varnadoe in 2009, Valerie Gadson in 2008 and Evan Eadon in 2007.

The district's 2011 Rookie Teacher of the Year is Megan Ridge, a preschool teacher at Williams Memorial Elementary. The Rookie teacher is selected by the previous year's school-level Teacher's of the Year, Bright said.

Jerry Montjoy, Dorchester District 4's superintendent, attributed Williams Memorial's success to the school having a good staff. "It's a blend of young teachers and seasoned teachers and they work hard at what they do," he said.