Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Education

Pinellas Educator of the Year: a math teacher who brings 'a nurturing heart' to the equation

Vanessa Ko has two types of students.

The children in her classes at Palm Harbor Middle, and fellow educators in the districtwide training she gives on the college prep program, Advancement Via Individual Determination, known as AVID.

Ko, 35, received a standing ovation from many of them Tuesday night as she was named the 2017 Pinellas County Outstanding Educator of the Year during a ceremony at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The recognition from the school district and the Pinellas Education Foundation comes with $2,000, a vacation for two and the traditional limo ride to school this morning, among other prizes.

"It's such an amazing experience to be able to be with all those other educators, because we've been enjoying this journey together," Ko said, referring to the other nine finalists for the award.

Ko began her career in the Pinellas school system 13 years ago at Palm Harbor Middle, teaching math and AVID classes. Along the way, she has become a district pioneer for the AVID program, which, according to the district, aims to "close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society."

She has met with her students' families at sporting events and recitals to coordinate AVID tutoring sessions on the weekends. After one year of working with them, about 95 percent passed the Florida Standards Assessment math exam, with about 25 percent scoring at the highest level.

"Ms. Ko believes in us when we don't believe in ourselves," said her eighth-grade student Charles Stevens, 14, who introduced her on stage.

Outside the classroom, Ko hosted summer AVID training sessions for teachers throughout the district.

"I love what I'm doing in the classroom with my kids, but I get to impact other classrooms with other kids with these teachers," she said Tuesday night.

She also served as mathematics department chair at Palm Harbor Middle for five years and took new teachers and college interns under her wing.

Palm Harbor Middle principal Victoria Hawkins called Ko "a self-starter … with a nurturing heart" who can handle any situation.

"She has no problem 'making her practice public' and sharing her vast amount of knowledge," Hawkins wrote in Ko's recommendation letter.

Also Tuesday, the Education Foundation's "Fan Favorite" award went to Karen Cangemi, the reading and literature coach at High Point Elementary, who dominated in an online contest, receiving 1,500 of the 4,800 votes cast. Cangemi, 49, will receive $500 and the chance to throw out the first pitch on Education Night at a Tampa Bay Rays game, among other prizes.

The other finalists will receive $500 from the foundation, an autographed copy of Wonderlust, the photographic art essay by Dick Jacobs, and special recognition at the Rays' Education Night.

The other finalists were William Black, a fifth-grade teacher at Anona Elementary; Alison Blanco, a math teacher at Osceola Middle; Kali Kopka, a kindergarten teacher at Leila Davis Elementary; Angela Pitts, a kindergarten teacher at Azalea Elementary; Brandon Rader, a social studies teacher at St. Petersburg High; David Reid, a curriculum technology specialist at East Lake Middle School Academy; Zanetta Robinson, a language arts teacher at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle; and Michelle Zajac, a third-grade teacher at Curlew Creek Elementary.

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

 
Comments
Hudson Middle students shine in annual young authors event

Hudson Middle students shine in annual young authors event

NEW PORT RICHEY — James McFadden wrote a time-travel adventure story called, Escaping Time. Junaye Brown penned a twist on a classic fairy tale, called The Four Little Bears. Zoie Castleberry called on her own experience with a beloved pet to ...
Published: 09/24/18
USF assistant VP rides AHN wave of support to success

USF assistant VP rides AHN wave of support to success

Editor’s note: Academy of the Holy Names junior Tress Jacobs spent the summer of 2018 shadowing Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper. To conclude the experience, she interviewed Academy alumnus Kim Wilmath Hill and filed this report.By Tres...
Published: 09/23/18
How do you explain active shooters to a first-grader? For educators, school safety is a ‘work in progress.’

How do you explain active shooters to a first-grader? For educators, school safety is a ‘work in progress.’

Active assailant. Run-hide-fight. Barricade the classroom. The language of preventing a shooting like the one this year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is often filled with terms that can stir up fear in students, often out of necessity.But f...
Published: 09/22/18

Two acclaimed authors to speak about water at USF St. Petersburg

Pulitzer Prize winner and University of Florida professor Jack Davis thinks people need to humble themselves more toward water."The water doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the water," he said. "Without water, humanity would not exist, life would not...
Published: 09/21/18
Updated: 09/22/18
Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District on Friday released a long-awaited, school-by-school list of 1,785 projects to be funded by a proposed half-cent sales tax hike.The list, now on the district website, includes playgrounds for Anderson El...
Published: 09/21/18
Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Students, parents invited to three upcoming college and career fairsThree events are scheduled over the next two weeks that are designed to help students plan their next steps after leaving the Pinellas County school system. The University of South F...
Published: 09/21/18
Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

TRINITY — Julie Michael stood in the metal bleachers, flute poised at her lips, ready to play the national anthem with the Seven Springs Middle School advanced band.As the band segued into the school fight song, the eighth-grader continued per...
Published: 09/20/18
Updated: 09/23/18
Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

And 200,000 third-graders just rolled their eyes.I swear, even they can see through the education proposals offered by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum this week.Let’s see, the Republican wants more privatization. And the Democ...
Published: 09/20/18

Local rapper encourages elementary students to attend school every day(w/video)

Local rapper Corey Thornton performs original songs on Wednesday Sept. 18, 2019 about the importance of school attendance at Walsingham Elementary School during a school wide assembly. During Attendance Awareness Month, Pinellas County Schools and th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

TAMPA — All summer, while most students were gone, the University of South Florida has been toiling away on a blueprint for the complex merger of the USF System.Its three universities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota will soon consolidate into o...
Published: 09/19/18