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Hernando Teacher of the Year finalists are named

Twenty-one Hernando County School District teachers have been selected as the 2008-09 Teachers of the Year at their schools. On Saturday, the Hernando County Education Foundation will announce the Hernando County Teacher of the Year. Here are this year's honorees:

Brooksville Elementary School

Rita Lovelace, 54, a first-grade teacher, has been at the school since before it became Brooksville Elementary. When she started 24 years ago, the school was known as Mitchell L. Black.

Why I became a teacher: "My mother and my father were teachers in Hernando County; my father also taught at Brooksville Elementary. I have four sisters that are educators and our parents inspired us to love learning and this inspired me to want to share this love with others."

Best part of the job: "Seeing the excitement of my students as they learn to read and learn new things."

Central High School

Ronald W. Schildbach, 64, is the German I-IV and AP German Language teacher. He has been at the school for three years and with the district for 20 years.

Why I became a teacher: "I had excellent teachers in my high school who impressed upon me to become a teacher because they, perhaps, saw in me a natural talent, which I did not see at first. I enjoy teaching German as a second language and enjoy the success of my students, when they begin to converse in German.''

Best part of the job: "Learning from my students, who teach me a lot about themselves and most importantly, giving them the necessary tools of a second language to use and become competitive adults in the global economy of this century."

Challenger K8 School of Science and Mathematics

Richard Gomez, 34, teaches kindergarten through fifth-grade general music. This is his fourth year at the school and in the district.

Why I became a teacher: "I love music. Music is my life.''

Best part of the job: "Getting to share the art of music with as many people as possible."

Chocachatti Elementary School

Connie Ottoson, 42, teaches kindergarten and has been at Chocachatti for the 10 years it has been open. She has been with the district for 21 years. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Why I became a teacher: "When I was a little girl, I told everyone that I was going to be a teacher. I knew then that was the job for me! I had many obstacles that had to be tackled in order to do it but I was very determined and made it happen."

Best part of the job: "I have been blessed to work with some awesome kids and their families. I also love to see the sparkle in my students' eyes the first time they read a book, taking all the sounds we've learned, putting them together to make words and reading!"

Deltona Elementary School

Caroline Shimkus, 28, teaches first grade and has been at Deltona and with the district for five years.

Why I became a teacher: "I wanted to make an impact and make a difference. There are few professions that truly have the power to shape and mold someone's life. No matter who you are or who you become as an adult, a teacher has helped you in some way. I wanted to make children smile and truly know that they are important and special in their own way.''

Best part of the job: "Watching my students develop a sense of pride and a love for learning. I encourage each of my students to do their BEST and when they know they have done their best they glow. I truly love watching their excitement to begin a new lesson."

Eastside Elementary School

Kelly Slaga, 29, teaches fourth grade and has been at Eastside and in the district for eight years.

Why I became a teacher: "I wanted to become a teacher because I have always enjoyed working with children. Teaching gives me an opportunity to help mold the future generations.''

Best part of the job: "Working with the students and seeing the light bulb come on when they learn something."

Explorer K8

Paula Drankwalter, 61, is a Grade 3 gifted teacher. She has been with the district for 21 years and helped open Explorer K8 this year.

Why I became a teacher: "I wanted to become a teacher because I always loved working with children. I've always wanted to help children become all that they can be.''

Best part of the job: "Challenging and enriching the gifted children that I teach. I love looking for new ways to challenge and enrich them and helping them to learn new things and apply them to their lives."

F.W. Springstead High School

Chris Auricchio, 37, teaches advanced placement biology, biology honors and zoology. He has been at Springstead and with the district for eight years.

Why I became a teacher: "I have had the fortune to have had many excellent teachers in the past. Teachers who have been able to instill in me a love for learning. I see teaching as a way to continue to foster this love, not just in myself, but in my students as well.''

Best part of the job: "The moments I get to share in the classroom with my students. The most rewarding moments have to be seeing the confidence start to build in the students who had begun to "give up" on themselves.''

Fox Chapel Middle School

David Schlechter, 38, teaches eighth-grade language arts. He has been at Fox Chapel and with the district for five years.

Why I became a teacher: "I began my career working in a detention home for adolescents. In addition to being exposed to a tremendous amount of methods on how to work with young people I also saw the positive influence I was able to have. Combined with my love for history and writing I felt the next logical step was to enter the classroom.''

Best part of the job: "Working with young minds, which in turn keeps me young and energetic. Being a positive influence in students' lives and making my classroom one to which they look forward to coming.''

Hernando High School

Frederick Peter "Rick" Ahrens, 49, teaches agriscience education. He has been at Hernando High for 18 years and with the district for 27. This is his second selection as Teacher of the Year for Hernando High School. He is the chapter advisor for the Brooksville Sr. FFA, is the Industrial Education department chairman and the girls soccer coach.

Why I became a teacher: "I wanted to give back for all the guidance and support I received in my youth. For the people, who believed in me, when I didn't believe in myself."

Best part of the job: "Getting to know my students and their families, on and off campus, over the three to four years they are involved in my program. We're here to make an impact, not an impression."

John D. Floyd School of Environmental Science

Ed Audette, 45, teaches the fourth-grade inclusion class at J.D. Floyd. He has been at the school and with the district for four years.

Why I became a teacher: "I have several family members and other important people in my life who are or have been teachers. They inspired me and so did a close friend who encouraged me. At the time I chose to become a teacher, I was a single dad and I felt it would be a fantastic way to be there for my own children. I know that I made the correct choice."

Best part of the job: "When you get through to a student and they understand a concept with which they were struggling. It sounds cliche, but that is why we do what we do."

Moton Elementary School

Gale Reed, 37, teaches third grade and has been at Moton and with the district for four years.

Why I became a teacher: "It was the only convenient job in the county when I moved here. Later, I found that this was the only job where I do not get bored. The job is a treasure trove of challenges, from creating an atmosphere for learning and questioning and thinking up ways to improve my teaching methods, to wading through paperwork that comes with the job."

Best part of the job: "The times when I know I've reached a child enough toh ave that child trust and tell me of their concerns and sense of accomplishments. The constant challenge, where the element of surprise exists for even a carefully prepared lesson plan (and then trying to deal with it). The ability to incorporate things I love: reading, technology, desktop publishing and science into my job; and teach others to love them, too.''

Nature Coast Technical High School

Peter Diulio, 58, teaches culinary arts. He has been at Nature Coast for six years and with the district for 10.

Why I became a teacher: "I wanted to teach students interested in the hospitality field with the best knowledge available. I have over 35 years experience in the culinary business and I feel the need to share this with students.''

Best part of the job: "Seeing my students working in the business and then graduating and moving on to much better education experiences."

Parrot Middle School

Crissi Brandhuber, 37, teaches eighth-grade reading. She has been at Parrott for six years and with the district for 18.

Why I became a teacher: "The first day I substituted at Parrott Middle School, I knew that this was the job for me. Where else can I get paid to read books and discuss them in a thought-provoking way?

Best part of the job: "I have the opportunity to turn kids on to reading and every time a child comes in eager to share their favorite part of a book with me, I think of it as another angel getting their wings!"

Pine Grove Elementary School

Patricia Doyle, 47, teaches fifth grade. She has been at the school and with the district for seven years.

Why I became a teacher: "When my girls were small I thought it important to give back to the community and schools they were in so I began volunteering and subbing. Changes in my personal life necessitated me to do what was needed to teach full time.

Best part of the job: "Watching a student grow from one that is shy and unsure to a student that is self-confident and motivated to want to do better. When a student does something and succeeds at it and they've never attempted something like that before, well, you know you've hit a home run.''

Powell Middle School

David Pletincks, 42, teaches chorus, music technology and yearbook. He has been at Powell and with the district for seven years.

Why I became a teacher: "I loved being a part of the music program as a middle and high school student. I remember watching my high school band director at a football game having an absolute blast and I thought to myself, 'I want to have a job that is that much fun.' I had planned on being a math teacher and had never really considered being a music teacher until that time.''

Best part of the job: "Watching how far the students can progress musically over a three-year period. They come into the chorus as a bunch of future pop singers and I watch them develop proper singing technique and achieve musically as their voices grow stronger and mature. To see kids make all-state chorus or earn a 'superior' at solo festival is always a thrill since you know how far they've come."

Spring Hill Elementary School

Susan M. Timberlake, 53, is Spring Hill's media specialist. She has been at the school for four years and with the district for 11.

Why I became a teacher: "I feel connected to kids, and I have a real desire to encourage learners of all abilities to enjoy reading and make it part of their world.''

Best part of the job: "I have the opportunity to interact with all the students. My job allows me to have fun. I have the opportunity to use creativity and imagination in presenting stories and developing lessons that assist the students in becoming independent seekers of information. I truly love my job!"

Star Center

Calvin Brown, 40, is a sixth-grade reading teacher. This is the fourth time he has been Teacher of the Year for the Star Center. He has been at the school for 13 years and with the district for 14 years.

Why I became a teacher: "As a youth, I was encouraged by some strong personalities, including an uncle, to do my best. They also helped influence me to become an educator. Through education you can reach many students and you're able to instill in them to continue their educations."

Best part of the job: "To me it would be the morning time, just seeing the students coming in, to give them a good start to the day. It is so important to start off well because the rest of the day goes better."

Suncoast Elementary School

Emilie Hansen, 29, teaches a fourth-grade inclusion class. She has been at the school and with the district for six years. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Why I became a teacher: "I realized early on how remarkably rewarding it is helping someone achieve something that had previously been unattainable. There is a profound shared joy in that moment. It is something I look forward to everyday.''

Best part of the job: "The best part of my job is watching that spark start. It's something you can see in a child's eyes, a curiosity and a compulsion to learn more. In that moment, you realize that you have truly made a difference. It doesn't get any better than that!"

West Hernando Middle School

Maureen Finelli, 39, is a sixth- through eighth-grade exceptional student education teacher. She has been at West Hernando and with the district for six years. She is certified as an exceptional education (kindergarten through 12th grade) and reading endorsed teacher.

Why I became a teacher: "My uncle was a teacher and my mom worked with ESE children so they both played a role of why I wanted to be a teacher. I looked up to my uncle and I learned from him that I could overcome any obstacle that came my way. He taught me to never be afraid of new things and to always do my best. My mom pushed me to work hard and to believe in my dreams and goals.''

Best part of the job: "Each day presents new challenges and offers new experiences from which I learn and grow as an individual and professional. Each student has their own individual personality and level of understanding. My responsibility is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for all of my students to learn and grow. It's most rewarding to see every student develop to the best of their ability.''

Westside Elementary School

Dee Cardenas, 44, teaches a fourth-grade single gender class. She has been at Westside and with the district for 14 years. She has been a teacher for 22 years. She is reading (kindergarten through sixth grade) and ESOL endorsed.

Why I became a teacher: "I decided as a teenager, that being a teacher was a career that I could do that would enable me to give back to society, as well as allowing me to pursue my biggest dream of becoming a mom and homemaker. Now, I realize that TEACHING is my calling.''

Best part of the job: "The children. Teaching is never dull and there is a continuous challenge to meet the needs of each student."

Hernando Teacher of the Year finalists are named 02/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 2, 2009 8:28pm]

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