Ida S. Baker was a teacher and administrator in Lee County, and the first black woman to become a high school principal in that school district.
She later became a deputy superintendent for the Florida Department of Education. She was known as a pioneer, advocate and role model for minority students.
In her name, school districts around Florida each year recognize educators who show a commitment to meeting the needs of minority students.
This year's finalists for Hillsborough County include an elementary school teacher who found that her students would be more open to her instruction if they could throw her a football and an assistant principal who is applying cutting-edge methods to help recent immigrants reach their educational goals.
As with Teacher of the Year, the winner will be named Feb. 16.
Walter Fernando Balser
Leto High School
"Over the last three years I have worked with the night school principal to establish the full-day Spanish GED program. Since many of our students arrive to the United States as 16- and 17-year-olds with no English language skills, the establishment of this program was absolutely vital. We knew that it was important to the families that students be in school all day and that we provide food and transportation. From 2008 to 2010, I worked with the night and day school principals, guidance, students and parents to found the program and enroll the first cohort.
"The establishment of this program has had a tremendous effect on the lives of our students — as well as our graduation and dropout rates. As of June 2011, approximately 20 students had graduated from the program and another 20 to 30 are expected to graduate during the start of the 2011-12 school year. While these diplomas may not count in our school's overall graduation rate, they absolutely count in the lives of our students and families."
Second-grade math and science teacher
"I began my education career as a second-grade teacher at USF/Patel Charter School in a very diverse community. When I received my first class, I couldn't wait to get started and meet my students. Well, there were many behavior problems. I did a lot of problem solving the rest of the year. I would try everything: stricter procedures, incentives, positive reinforcement, etc. Then I started really listening to them. I took an interest in what interested them. Music, sports … I played with them on the playground, from throwing the football to jumping rope.
"By taking an interest in them, I began to notice that they were taking an interest in the classroom. They were behaving better. When there was an issue, I would really listen to what it was. Sometimes, it didn't seem like an issue to us, but to them it was something that they didn't know how to handle. Our classroom was turning into a respectful community. I reflected on the year and learned that all children want to succeed and do well. But what prevents them? I think sometimes they just don't know how. So many children lack guidance. I try to be the best role model that I can be for them."
Karen J. Mynes
(from second-grade teacher Karen Sigmon)
"Your job title — guidance counselor — is so much more than just a job title. It is your heart. You live and breathe guiding our students to make choices that will have a lifelong positive impact. You creatively implement peer interaction and problem-solving techniques that will have an effect long past elementary school.
"As a parent, I appreciate the fact that you have provided opportunities for our parents to grow in their roles as caregivers. You encourage those of us who need an 'atta-boy' and you advocate for those who need more specific parenting lessons. You have a welcome sign on your office door that extends to our families and the community at large. Your smile and personality draw business partners into our school endeavors and they willingly participate because you make them feel a part of this McDonald family.
"I have seen you stand in the gap for our students who needed someone to stand up for them. I have witnessed your efforts to build self-esteem and intrinsic values in students who have experienced ugliness and cruelty in their lives. You are a role model to me in how to lovingly believe in children who have no one else who believes in them."
Migrant reading resource teacher
"I provide parent migrant meetings and workshops for migrant families. The workshops cover a range of needs, including Open House topics, FCAT and SAT information, pesticide awareness, immigration, first aid and CPR classes. … My families are provided with various social services. I help put them in contact with services such as food banks, legal help, government agencies, holiday assistance, English-language learning classes and academic support. I have a resource room to provide parents with literacy activities and materials that they can use at home with their children. When they check out the materials, they are trained how best to utilize them in the home.
"This year I have launched an English learning program (called) 'Sed de Saber' at my school. This is an effort to have the families of students learn basic English. The goal is to have more English in the home, and eventually this will benefit the students in our classrooms. They will have more reading in the home and assistance with homework. Our hope is that all members of the family will experience success. The gateway to success in this country is through English. I want to provide them with this skill to open more doors for them."
Cypress Creek Elementary
"Teaching at Cypress Creek has been truly rewarding because I was involved in a mentoring program for students. This program created a role model atmosphere for minority students whose parents were not able to be present during this time in their lives. I have created several bonds with families that are everlasting. One of the bonds I have made from this program has led me to become a guardian for one of the students. This student's parents have taken me in as part of their family because they know that both of my parents are deceased. … Their youngest son has been living with me for over a year because they could not afford to give him what he needs or wants. I have signed him up for football and taken care of his medical bills, school supplies and clothing since he was in the third grade and now he is in the ninth grade. It is truly a blessing to have this child in my life. I put education first in my house, so he gets the help he needs to succeed in life. He has become a leader in school as well as in church. …
"My efforts in providing minority students the tools they need to succeed in life have made a positive change in many lives, but mostly my own. I do not help these students because of their ethnicity. Their skin color and racial backgrounds are important to know in order to relate to them. However, I enjoy helping all students become respectful adults in our community."