TAMPA — Math teacher Cynthia Folsom Crim analyzed so much data, planned so many family math events and raised so many test scores that seven years out of college, she is a star in her profession.
But on Thursday night, she seemed genuinely surprised to be named Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year. Walking on stage, she confessed she had not prepared a speech.
"This is my passion in life," she said, adding she loves her students at Palm River Elementary. "When I go to sleep at night, I keep them in my prayers."
Crim, 29, was one of 234 educators who competed for the chance to represent the Hillsborough school district and go on to the statewide contest.
A mother of two in Riverview, Crim spent her formative years at Palm River, a 63-year-old institution that began as a one-room schoolhouse on the way to Brandon. Today it has about 500 students, most eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
It was precisely the environment Crim sought after graduating from Florida State University in 2004. "I knew I wanted to help educate students, specifically students of low socioeconomic status," she wrote in her contest essay.
At Palm River, she organized Saturday academies that attracted about half of the school's fourth- and fifth-grade students, she wrote. Participation was high in her Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test family math night and schoolwide "get ready for summer" math night.
"It is through these math nights that I have developed a strong connection with our community and parents," she wrote.
She also set out to counteract negative messages about math in the media, starting with a Pizza Hut commercial that declared, "Americans love pizza, they don't love math!" The response was a 10-minute video that showed Crim's students solving problems and communicating solutions.
A stickler for data and technology, Crim also takes pride in showing students how math exists in everyday life. She can find math in virtually any situation, said fifth-grade student Jalen Frett, who introduced her at the ceremony.
"She cares a lot about math," Jalen said. "But she cares more about us."
Crim's competition included fellow math coach Emily De Vizio of Edison Elementary, Webb Middle math teacher Desiree Daerr and Valrico Elementary second-grade teacher Amanda Newman. Michael Boza, who teaches psychology and coaches cross country, represented Plant High.
The evening, with entertainment from performing arts students from Blake and Bloomingdale high schools, also recognized the year's Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator, exceptional education specialist Cassandra Davis of Seffner Elementary.
Timothy Driggers, who has received acclaim as a bus driver who reads to his passengers before school, was recognized as Instructional Support Employee of the Year.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or email@example.com.