CLEARWATER — At age 28 and with five years on the job, an energetic fifth-grade teacher was crowned as Pinellas County's 2011 Outstanding Educator Tuesday night.
Receiving the honor at a packed red carpet gala at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Tracy Staley quickly shifted the spotlight to others.
"I'm here today because I've been supported my entire life, but I know that's not the case for all my students," said Staley, who teaches math and science at Ponce de Leon Elementary in Clearwater. "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.' "
The award is presented by the Pinellas Education Foundation, which this year whittled down 24 semifinalists to six nominees. The awards gala featured a jazz ensemble and a multipart video presentation for each semifinalist.
"Incredible. Dedicated. Patient. Compassionate. These words describe what each of you are to your students," said Pinellas school superintendent Julie Janssen, "You are all an inspiration and important to your students and the community."
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. Earlier this year, Staley won a $2,442 grant that will allow her students to plant a water-conserving garden on campus, using rain barrels for irrigation.
As part of her honor, Staley, who is working on her master's degree at the University of Florida, will ride to school in a limo this morning Her students will be waiting for her at 9 a.m., wearing purple, her favorite color.
The other nominees were:
Sandra Rosado, 55, a Spanish teacher at Perkins Elementary in St. Petersburg. Rosado was presented with the "fan favorite" award from people who voted online.
Vicki Meredith, 61, a fifth-grade math and writing teacher at Woodlawn Elementary in St. Petersburg.
Susan Pomeroy, 51, a third-grade teacher at Azalea Elementary, St. Petersburg.
Sara Carroll, 53, a special education teacher at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Largo.
Jessica Felice, 29, a fifth-grade teacher at Starkey Elementary in Seminole.
Luis Perez can be reached at (727)892-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.