Pinellas County 2011 Outstanding Educator Tracy Staley got a hero's welcome when she stepped from a limousine as she arrived for work Wednesday morning at Ponce de Leon Elementary in Clearwater.
Staley, a 28-year-old math and science teacher with five years on the job, was crowned Tuesday in a red carpet gala at a packed Ruth Eckerd Hall.
"I'm here today because I've been supported my entire life, but I know that's not the case for all my students," she said as she accepted the award. "That's why I want to teach. I want to be that one person who tells my students 'I love you, I know you can succeed, and I'm going to show you how to succeed.' "
Staley, a graduate of St. Petersburg College, began teaching at Sandy Lane Elementary in 2006, and moved over to Ponce De Leon a year later. She's credited with juggling her classroom duties with exceptional grant writing. Staley won a $2,442 grant this year that will allow her students to plant a water-conserving garden on campus using rain barrels for irrigation.
The award is presented by the Pinellas Education Foundation.
Times staff writers Luis Perez and Theodora Aggeles contributed to this story.