For one glorious evening, Pinellas school employees cast aside their worries about budget cuts and revenue shortfalls and reveled in everything that is good about teaching.
An hour and a half into Thursday night's celebration at Ruth Eckerd Hall, superintendent Julie Janssen pulled a sheet of paper from a large white envelope, Academy Awards-style, and announced that Bridget Bohnet, a seventh-grade math teacher at Coachman Fundamental Middle School, was the county's Outstanding Educator for 2009.
"This is absolutely amazing," Bohnet said as she clutched a bouquet of pink and yellow roses. "I am so fortunate for my family that encouraged me from day one."
She went on the thank her husband, John, and her colleague Georgeann Bates, a second-year teacher who nominated her for the award.
"I learn from her every day," Bohnet said.
A National Board Certified teacher, Bohnet, 43, earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., in 1988. She began her career at Tyrone Middle School and came to Coachman when the school opened in 1995.
Backstage after the ceremony, she recalled how her principal at Tyrone encouraged her to make the move to Coachman.
"She told me, 'This is the school that was made for you,' " Bohnet said.
She has never desired to go anywhere else.
Chairwoman of the math department, she serves on Coachman's management team and is active in professional development. She's a member of the National Education Association and the Pinellas Council Teachers of Mathematics and was named Pinellas County math teacher of the year in 2000.
She has a simple message for teachers who are just starting out or who may be questioning their role as educators.
"When you close that classroom door, everything rests on you," she said. "You need to make magic."
The Pinellas Education Foundation sponsored Thursday's awards ceremony. This year, 130 teachers received nominations from other teachers, principals, parents and students.
A group of judges narrowed the field to 15 finalists, based on classroom visits and interviews. Bohnet won the Ambassador of the Profession category, beating out the other four category winners for the top prize of Outstanding Educator.
She will receive an Apple computer, an iPod Nano, a $1,000 scholarship from Nova Southeastern University and $2,000 from the Education Foundation.
Bohnet will travel to and from school today in a limousine. In the spring, she'll compete for statewide Teacher of the Year.