Pinellas teacher of the year winners: where are they now?

Vanessa Ko, a teacher at Palm Harbor Middle, won the Pinellas Outstanding Educator Award in 2017. The 2018 winner will be announced tonight at the the annual Evening of Excellence event at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Vanessa Ko, a teacher at Palm Harbor Middle, won the Pinellas Outstanding Educator Award in 2017. The 2018 winner will be announced tonight at the the annual Evening of Excellence event at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Published January 31 2018
Updated January 31 2018

A lot goes into the Pinellas Outstanding Teacher of the Year awards.

The monthslong process begins in September, when each principal receives a nomination packet. In total, 126 nominees are selected by October, and the top 10 finalists are surprised with a classroom visit in November.

Then the real work begins. Finalists go through an interview process with Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego while about 50 people from the district and the Pinellas Education Foundation work behind the scenes to make the annual event a reality. Sponsors donate more than $250,000 in contributions, in-kind gifts and Nova Southeastern University scholarships for the nominees, finalists and winner.

The 2018 winner will be announced tonight at the Evening of Excellence event held at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Follow tampabay.com for updates.

Since so much goes into these annual awards, we reached out to past winners to see how much of an impact the honor has had on their careers. Here's what they said:

2017 winner – Vanessa Ko
JOB THEN: Math and AVID teacher at Palm Harbor Middle
JOB NOW: The same
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO? "I've had the privilege to share on various topics at the Transition to Teaching commencement ceremony, the Regional Family Engagement workshop, the Superintendent's Leadership Meeting, the Pinellas Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) convening, and Osceola Middle School's school based ECET2.  I continued in some of the other facilitating work with the district that I was previously part of."

2016 winner – Sarah Dobes
JOB THEN: English teacher at East Lake Middle
JOB NOW: The same
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO? "I feel like I am a recognized teacher leader at school and within the district. I've been asked to share my knowledge at various trainings so I am more than happy to give presentations and that sort of thing. … I'm just so grateful that I'm able to do what I love every day, not everyone can say that."

2015 winner – Kim Lopez
JOB THEN: Fifth-grade teacher at Melrose Elementary
JOB NOW: Retired, but volunteering and working as a substitute teacher
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO? "The award, after 36 years of teaching, came in my last year. I was shocked; I still am. … I have done a long-term sub job (at North Shore Elementary, where my daughter is a teacher). … I think once a teacher, always a teacher. … I honestly miss the kids. I don't miss the emails, but I do miss the day-to-day interaction with the kids."

2013 winner – Joanne Wright
JOB THEN: Reading teacher at Safety Harbor Middle
JOB NOW: Instructional staff developer in the district's professional development department
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO? "My role is how to build teachers up to facilitate professional development to their peers, (like) structure, putting systems in place, unconferences (to) share with one another. I was so fortunate to be given this opportunity to expand upon that work district-wide and in the PD department. … I now (help) run Teacher of the Year. We partner with the education foundation, and I run the whole judging process. … It's just been great seeing the whole process from the other end."

2010 winner – Lisa Fagan-Brown:
JOB THEN: Library Information Specialist at Sanderlin PK-8 IB World School
JOB NOW: Same job, but at a private school in Accra, Ghana since 2012
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO? "I knew I would go and teach abroad after my children left high school. … I actually get to teach here. We don't have the same amount of bureaucratic things in Pinellas County and the district. I guess we have more freedom with our scheduling. It's more authentic and meaningful. i think the schedule got so busy in Pinellas County, like you're doing so many things on top of your job. … I'll leave it to the universe to decide where I end up. Just keep following your dream; don't lose the reason why you went into education."

2009 winner – Bridget Bohnet
JOB THEN: Math teacher at Coachman Fundamental
JOB NOW: Same thing, but the school is now Clearwater Fundamental Middle
WHAT ARE YOU UP TO?  “I am very fortunate to continue working with innovative and dedicated faculty and staff along with supportive administration.  I find it hard to believe that this is year 30 of teaching Middle School Mathematics.  Trends in teaching have changed over the years but the commitment and enthusiasm of PCSB teachers remains constant.  I have been able to work with other outstanding educators to deliver professional development throughout the years but am most excited about collaborating with two other PCSB TOTY recipients Joanne Wright and Vanessa Ko to provide PCSB teachers with the opportunity to participate in (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers).  ECET2 is a forum for exceptional teachers to learn from one another and to celebrate the teaching profession.  I am honored to be a part of an amazing profession that continues to make a difference every day.”

On Monday, the winner's packet will be submitted to the statewide competition. If that person has Ko's luck, he or she will be named a finalist and compete for the top prize.

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