TAMPA — At Lowry Elementary, Marlene Sacarello gives timid second-graders the courage they need to speak in front of an audience with conviction and authority.
But when Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia called her name and surprised her with a $10,000 check Monday, the veteran educator couldn't find words.
When her husband and daughter emerged with a dozen long-stemmed roses, she covered her beet-red face. She put both hands across her chest. She took deep breaths.
"Oh, my God," she mouthed as she rose from her chair. "I'm shocked."
District officials told her to bring her class to the school's covered play court for a morning assembly on fitness. It was part of a ruse to honor Sacarello, this year's recipient of the "We Deliver Award." Now in its second year, the award is the district's way of recognizing that special employee whose impact reaches beyond the classroom. The $10,000 prize is funded through the Hillsborough Education Foundation.
Last year's winner, Sadie Douglas, a teacher's aide for students with disabilities, has been a foster parent to 120 children.
Sacarello doesn't have that many kids, but what she and Douglas share is their passion for children, according to colleagues, parents and students.
Sacarello, a Hillsborough High and Florida State grad, began her teaching career 28 years ago in Tallahassee.
Since coming to Lowry in 2002, she has coordinated a young writers conference, increased the number of students who publish books, initiated a storytelling festival, and coached the last four winners of the Lutz/Land O'Lakes Woman's Club Writing Contest. This year, those efforts and others earned her Teacher of the Year honors at Lowry.
"Most teachers teach to make a living," parent Lori Smart said in her nomination letter. "Marlene Sacarello lives to be a teacher."
Five people, including Smart and school principal Kathy Coto, recommended Sacarello for the award. Elia selected her from a pool of 387 candidates.
Sacarello does not yet know what she will do with the money. "I've never had this much money at one time," she said.
Her son is about to wrap up his first year at Yale Law School — a $50,000-a-year education. That's on top of $24,000 in student loans he had to take out while an undergraduate at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
One thing is for sure: Her husband will get none of it.
"Do I get half?" asked Jim Sacarello, a real estate agent.
"No," she said, jokingly of course.
Rodney Thrash can be reached
at email@example.com or