Six Pinellas County schoolteachers were surprised Friday with the news that they are finalists for the district's Outstanding Educator of the Year award. The winner will be announced Feb. 27 during the annual "Evening of Excellence" gala at Ruth Eckerd Hall sponsored by the Pinellas Education Foundation. For more information go to pinellaseducation.org. Here's a look at the six finalists:
HOLLY DEL DUCA
Sandy Lane Elementary, Clearwater
From the nomination: Her classroom is set up for success by creating a risk-free, safe learning environment where all members of her "sharks for success" community feel appreciated, valued and respected. Mrs. Del Duca's classroom is designed for collaboration and student work, which demonstrates a high level of learning, is displayed and used as a reference for future learning . . . Mrs. Del Duca involves families in the learning process by hosting writing celebrations in her classroom. Mrs. Del Duca clearly communicates the grade level expectations with all parents and assists parents with activities to help promote learning at home . . . She sets a high standard for students as well as staff.
From the nomination: For over 10 years, Mr. Guess has set high goals and expectations for every student in his class, guiding them to find the enriching power of music themselves. He believes each student can develop musical skill, which is reflected in his classroom management style combining individual, group and class instruction . . . As an elective teacher, Mr. Guess often can have 60-plus students in any given class and a number of them can also be special education students. Mr. Guess chooses to know the strengths and areas of needed improvement for each of his students. Special education students report they love his class because he makes them feel capable and talented.
Eisenhower Elementary, Clearwater
From the nomination: Her drive and genuine desire to help her students become the most successful that they can be is unparalleled. Many of her students enter with some negative feelings toward writing and what it involves. She takes these students and pushes them to become some of the best writers and, most important, proud writers they can be. These students leave her classroom each day with smiles on their faces unable to contain their excitement about that have accomplished during their time with her . . . Sarah's classroom sets the standard when it comes to writing and reading classrooms . . . There is never a wasted day, period or moment in her classroom
Tomlinson Adult Learning Center, St. Petersburg
Grade: Adult Education
Subject: Adult Basic Education and GED
From the nomination: She is able to facilitate learning even among the most challenged students and help them find high levels of academic success. In adult education, her students have ranged in age from 16 to 85. Students attending her classes exhibit a diverse array of skills, ranging from well below literacy levels to college levels . . . In every new class the same dynamic occurs: students achieve academic skills well beyond what they believed even possible . . . Ms. Rennie always expects the same accomplishments from each of her students: academic excellence and achievement at the highest level possible.
CHRISTINA L. VAUGHAN
Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center, Pinellas Park
From the nomination: Mrs. Vaughan actively engages student learning by redesigning and incorporating strategies designed for general education students in order to best meet the needs of each student served in her classroom. After researching ways to teach the concept of colors to students with visual impairments, Mrs. Vaughan adapted a recipe to make scented dough so they could smell the colors. This strategy provides her student's with a multisensory experience to assist them in learning about the world around them. Mrs. Vaughan states, "I believe everyone can learn if we accept them for who they are and set high expectations."
From the nomination: If you walk into Mrs. Whitaker's classroom you will likely see students actively engaged in learning and student-learning conversations. A common example of this would be during group work in math when students are uncovering a new concept. You may hear student talk such as "let me explain my thinking," or "can I show you how I reached that answer"? This is a result of Mrs. Whitaker's belief that students should own and be accountable for their learning and share that learning with others. She expects her students to reflect thoughtfully on their work and "bump it up" to a higher level . . . She makes absolutely certain that students understand what they are learning, why the learning is important and how they can demonstrate their new learning.