Support employees for the public schools work for low pay and little recognition.
They sweep floors and answer phones, serve lunch and drive the bus.
Many rise above the dictates of their job descriptions and become parental figures and role models, calming a frightened kindergartener on the first day of school or putting on a dog costume to help make reading night a success.
Five finalists have been chosen for Hillsborough County Instructional Support Employee of the Year. The award, along with Teacher of the Year and Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year, will be given Thursday evening at the Hillsborough Education Foundation's yearly reception.
The following paragraphs are from letters written on behalf of the support employees, concluding a three-part series in the Tampa Bay Times.
"Kathy is a lady of integrity who will work beyond her scheduled day to make certain each staff member has what they need to be prepared for a field trip, to submit payroll, to complete the supply order, to create a display board for the Battle of the Books or to wait with a child whose parent may be late picking him or her up.
"Mrs. Bennett steps out of her role as a secretary and can often be found calming an upset child, brushing a child's hair who feels inept at their appearance, working with a student who has been sent to the office for a discipline concern or calmly speaking with an upset parent. Kathy will walk a child to class, escort a parent to an event or find the answer to a question to support a parent in need. She is often the first impression an individual will receive of our school, and it's one we're grateful to present."
Nancy Mooy, principal
Assistant teacher, bachelor's degree level
"Ms. Hasbini is a true champion for education. Her own desire to learn makes her the perfect role model for the students of Hillsborough County. She is a goal-setter, not only for students, but also for herself. She is 21 years old and has recently earned her master's degree in counseling from the University of South Florida. Yes, I said master's at the age of 21. She never quits, nor will she let her students quit. She is a challenger, motivator and encourager.
"Leena pushes herself far beyond her job description by organizing parent informational meetings at Wharton. This school year alone she stepped up to cover all the duties handled by Wharton's college and career counselor while she was on medical leave. Ms. Hasbini could not bear the thought that her students and their parents would not have the timely information needed for preparation with financial aid, college applications and scholarship search practices …
"She is a stellar example of professionalism in education."
Marilyn Craig-Wicktor, Career and Technical Education adviser
Paraprofessional, Exceptional Student Education
"Not only does Mr. Johnson create positive relationships with his students, co-workers and parents, he builds partnerships with the community and uses these partnerships to enhance student learning. Mr. Johnson made contact with a truck driver. The driver sent postcards to the students from the road. Mr. Johnson used this information with the students to teach social studies, science, writing math and reading. …
"Got goat? Well, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Johnson, three families in Africa do. Through a service project that began with his class as an extension to a book they were reading, Mr. Johnson led the charge for our school to raise enough funds to buy goats for needy families in Africa. Again, this project enhanced student learning in reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
"Mr. Johnson is a role model for his character and his consistent, calm presence. The students in his classroom are working on skills for handling their emotions and their behaviors. He actively teaches them successful strategies and serves as an example through his everyday actions."
Sarah Jacobsen Capps, principal
Kena McDaniels Harris
Paraprofessional for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students
"Kena spends all day with her students, from picking them up at the bus ramp in the morning to taking them to specials and lunch and waiting until they have all been picked up after school; always without complaint and often without a structured break time for herself.
"When students and staff members need someone to talk to, Kena is always there to listen and offer support. Kena is known for her patience, kindness and willingness to listen even when emotions are high. She is skilled at diffusing volatile situations, bringing a sense of tranquility and order. Kena provides a shoulder to cry on to those who are in need of compassion. She is always willing to go above and beyond in order to help those who need assistance. … Her work ethic sets an example for all staff."
Nominating committee, Edison Elementary
"Before the first bell rang on the first day of school, before one brick was placed to form the physical building, Mr. Myers was instrumental in creating what is now David E. Bailey Elementary. …
"More than just preparing the physical building, he builds relationships with everyone he meets to ensure Bailey is a warm and welcoming place for all who come through our doors. Beginning at 7:15 a.m., he greets students and parents, each one by name. He knows each and every student in the building, as well as their parents, grandparents, siblings and often their extended families. In fact, we have one Pre-K student and one kindergarten student that do not want to get out of the car until they see 'Mr. Brad.' …
"He will stop what he is doing to serve snow cones at our end-of-the-month celebration to recognize students that have gone above and beyond. He will serve french fries at McDonald's Spirit Night, or dress up as Clifford the Big Red Dog for Family Reading Night. He will set up our PTA Pumpkin Patch on Saturday, delivering over 75 pumpkins, so students will be surprised when they arrive on Monday to see pumpkins and haystacks and decorations. … He helps students look forward to coming to school!"
Amy L. Zilbar, principal