Twenty-three nominees for Hernando County Teacher of the Year will be honored during a dinner Friday night. At the end of the evening, the 2013 winner of the annual award will be named. The program is sponsored by the Hernando County Education Foundation. Here are this year's nominees — one per school — selected by their peers.
Sandy Capel, 32, teaches kindergarten and has been with the district 2008.
"The best part of my job is seeing the growth in the students at the end of the year. I love seeing students who couldn't read or sound words out read on their own. Seeing students who didn't even know what a word is being able to write four or five sentences on their own. I also love seeing the confidence of the students grow. They become confident in their problem solving (showing me the strategy they used to figure the problem out) and confident in their reading strategies (telling me how they use their 'schema' or 'clues from the author' to understand the story)."
Bethann Brooks, 48, is a 10th- to 12th-grade health science teacher and has been with the district for seven years.
"For me, there are so many aspects of my job that I enjoy. From the moment information really clicks with the students to hearing about their achievements after graduation. Seeing the look in students' eyes upon 'getting it' is priceless. At that point, you know you have succeeded in sharing the information and then you can proceed further to challenge the students to apply the knowledge they now possess. Furthermore, a part of my job that is quite rewarding is hearing the accomplishments of former students who have pursued their education and are now working in health care in various levels as well as other careers. In teaching, the rewards are endless."
Leonette Ehlenbeck is the K-5 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) lab teacher. She was Teacher of the Year at Brooksville Elementary during the 2001-02 school year and has been with the district 16 years.
"The best part of my job is giving my students an opportunity to explore the areas of science, technology, engineering and math and watching how engaged and excited they become. It doesn't get better than that."
Katie Sessa, 26, teaches fourth grade and has been with the district four years.
"First, the best part of my job is that I am able to change children's lives. My responsibility is to create a positive and warm learning environment, where I provide children with knowledge, love and guidance that they cannot only use in class, but also in their future. Also, having the opportunity to attend professional development workshops is imperative because it allows me to enhance my instructional methods for all students. This helps me incorporate the most current, innovative strategies that increase engagement in student learning."
Leila Pinkava, 62, teaches third grade and has been with the district since 1990.
"The best part of my job is to see the result of our hard work as my students grow up and become the wonderful, productive people I know they are!"
Melissa Parker, 26, is the music specialist at Eastside and is in her fifth year with the district.
"I love to create fun and challenging activities with which to teach musical concepts and I wait with anticipation to delight my students each day. In music education, the playing field is leveled. A student who might struggle in reading, math or writing can often be the first to master a rhythm pattern or turn notes on a staff into a beautiful melody on a musical recorder. I love to see a student surprised with success."
Kimberly Kessler is a sixth- to 12th-grade exceptional student education inclusion teacher and is in her fifth year with the district.
The best part of her job, she says, is "supporting students who are trying to overcome obstacles."
Leslie A. Pointer, 45, teaches fourth grade and has been with the district since 2005.
The best part of her job, she says, is "finding different ways for students to accomplish success. Many times this means singing, dancing and oftentimes just listening! How could this not be the best part of teaching?"
Fox Chapel Middle
Magen Schlechter, 29, teaches social studies for grades 6 to 8 and is in her fifth year with the district.
"The best part of my job is watching my students make real-life connections with the material they are being taught. Knowing that my students will use the lessons I have taught them throughout their lives is an incredible feeling. Their 'aha' moments make it worth it."
Noreen Shaukat, 35, is a ninth- to 12th-grade science teacher and has been with the district since 2006.
She says the best part of her job is "to be in a learning environment."
J.D. Floyd K-8
Dana Natale, 28, teaches fourth grade and has been with the district seven years.
The best part of her job, she says, is "seeing the kids smile when they get the concept you are teaching!"
Victoria Jasztal, 30, teaches fourth grade and has been with the district nine years.
"The most phenomenal part of my job is seeing my students flourish as individuals, both academically and personally. It is heartwarming witnessing them developing empathy, a deeper level of compassion and broadening their 'schemas' through enriching, hands-on opportunities. Tears of joy also well in my eyes when I read my cherished binder of nearly 200 end-of-the-year letters of gratitude from extravagant young people who have made my heart swell with immense pride."
Nature Coast Technical High
Ian Wald, 25, is the digital video production teacher and is in his fourth year with the district.
"I wake up every morning excited to come to work. Every day is a new challenge and a chance to positively impact a young adult, not an attempt to gain recognition or win awards. I show up and give all that I have because that is what my parents taught me to do and because that is what the students deserve. The award for me is seeing them develop and succeed and the positive impact they have on my life."
Karen E. Derf, 41, is a sixth-grade language arts teacher and sixth- to eighth-grade media literature teacher. She is in her ninth year with the district, with one maternity year off.
The best part of her job, she says, is "the kids. They keep me sharp and on my toes!"
Pine Grove Elementary
Carmela Duncan, 57, teaches kindergarten and is in her seventh year of teaching.
"As a kindergarten teacher, I challenge my students, giving them confidence and encouragement, so they can be successful in achieving their full potential, academically and socially. Therefore, the best part of my job is observing their academic and social successes and seeing their excitement as they realize their educational potential. The greatest joy for me as their teacher is when you see the look in your students' eyes and hear the excitement in their voices when they realize what they have accomplished in their first year of primary education."
Jacqueline Cross, 29, teaches sixth-grade science and is in her fifth year teaching.
"My students are the best part of my job. They are interesting, funny and intelligent, and I love learning from them every day. I love getting my kids excited about science and school in general! Middle school is a very difficult time in many kids' lives, and I love being there to help them through it. I am fortunate to have more than one 'best part.' "
Spring Hill Elementary
Susan Lake, 48, is a first-grade teacher and has been with the district for nearly 18 years.
"The best part of my job is seeing the excitement in the children's faces when they learn to read. They suddenly begin to attempt to read everything around them! This is a very special aspect of the primary years in school. I feel so fortunate to be a first-grade teacher."
Roseann Barile, 29, teaches 10th- to 12th-grade math and has been with the district for seven years.
The best part of her job, she says, is "knowing that while the students are in my class I can momentarily transport them to a land where mathematics flows like candy in a Wonka factory and the students are eager to eat it all up!"
Tandra Lamia, 41, teaches first grade and has been with the district for 17 years.
"The best part of my job is that I get to create that special spark in a child's mind and truly feel like I make a difference every day. The rewards are beyond measure."
Weeki Wachee High
Morgan Burburan, 34, is the school's director of choirs and musical theater. She has been with the district for five years.
"The best part of my job is watching students grow to the point where they no longer need me. I look at students' current abilities and compare that to where they were when they began studying in my program, both as musicians and as people. It is humbling to be a part of this incredible journey with them, and to watch them exceed even my high expectations."
West Hernando Middle
Rob Bradley, 55, teaches eighth-grade pre-algebra and Algebra I and has been with the district for four years.
"The best part of my job is teaching. I feel an education is the one thing in life nobody can ever take away from you. Being able to be a part of this is something I feel deeply about."
Melissa Tomlinson, 41, is a fourth-grade single-gender teacher and has been with the district for eight years.
"The best part of my job is seeing the excitement on a child's face when they 'get it.' Watching them grow and learn daily makes me excited to be their teacher."
Winding Waters K-8
Bobbi Fremer, 37, is a first-grade inclusion teacher. She is in her 14th year with the district and was the 2006-07 Pine Grove Teacher of the Year.
"It is truly a blessing to be a teacher! It is amazing to see the growth in my students each year — to see how they develop academically, socially and emotionally as they progress through first grade. It is so uplifting to know that you have made a positive impact on a child's life. I love coming to work each day and seeing the bright, smiling faces in my classroom."