ORLANDO — Megan Allen, a fourth-grade teacher at Cleveland Elementary in Tampa, has been named the Macy's/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year.
The Hillsborough County teacher topped four other finalists in the statewide competition.
"It was like the Fourth of July here," a stunned Allen told the St. Petersburg Times by telephone from the awards ceremony. "They're treating me like an absolute princess."
She'll have to get used to that.
For the next year, the 30-year-old Allen will serve as the roving Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, representing Florida's more than 180,000 teachers to both the state and nation. She'll meet with lawmakers, confer with education officials, and wave to the crowd in New York City at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
On Friday the company will prepare her for the big time, with media training and a shopping spree to buy a new wardrobe. She also won a $10,000 cash prize, with $1,000 more going to her school.
Still, Allen said the best reward is the chance to immerse in her chosen profession at a whole new level.
"I'm very excited to see what's going on in Tallahassee, seeing our new standards being developed," Allen said. "And seeing what's going on in other classrooms around the state."
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said the state judges picked the right winner.
"Since she started teaching, she's been teaching in at-risk schools," she said. "It's a wonderful honor, and Megan will be a great representative."
Allen was tapped last February as Hillsborough's best, with county judges singling out her quirky, kid-friendly classroom manner and community service projects at both Cleveland and her previous school, Burney Elementary in Plant City.
Two other Hillsborough teachers — Jerry Murray at Adams Junior High, in 1993, and Jane Swinney of Carver Elementary in 1971 — have won the top state award. A third, Phoebe Irby, was a state finalist and won a national teacher of year award in 1996.
Elia said judges look for teachers who are "just so successful with students, just a dedicated professional whose impact goes way beyond what happens alone in the classroom."
From the moment the confetti flew at the awards ceremony, and three tables of Hillsborough supporters erupted in cheers, it was clear Thursday night that Allen's impact on the district was only beginning.
"I'm the principal of the teacher of the year," marveled Peter Russo, her boss at Cleveland Elementary. "It's amazing."
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.
CORRECTION: Earlier versions of this story used in print and online made reference to how many times a Hillsborough County teacher has been named teacher of the year. That reference has been corrected.