HOLIDAY — Lisa Miller knew right away she wanted to hire Shawna Masterson to work at Fox Hollow Elementary School.
"I just loved her enthusiasm, her positiveness and her great personality," Miller, the school's principal, recalled. "I could see she would use all of that for the benefit of the students."
And that she did. Ms. Masterson, who died Wednesday (Feb. 24, 2010) at age 32 in a car crash on U.S. 19, became a beloved teacher at Fox Hollow — one who made a positive impact on students and colleagues. As the coordinator of the school's Tampa Bay Writing Project this year as literacy coach, after having taught third and fifth graders, she touched many lives.
"She had a smile for everyone she passed, and always a positive word," said Stacey Brazier, who worked as a counselor at Fox Hollow with Ms. Masterson for four years. "She challenged them to do well, and to do better."
Brazier served as part of a crisis response team that went to Fox Hollow on Thursday to help the children and adults who grieved Ms. Masterson's unexpected death. Ms. Masterson was ejected from her pickup after a car attempting to cross U.S. 19 in Weeki Wachee slammed into the side of her truck. She was not wearing a seat belt, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
Brazier said the counselors worked with several groups of students and also with a number of teachers.
"It's not business as usual today," Brazier said.
Ms. Masterson put her all into her profession. She worked to pursue her master's degree in education soon after beginning as a teacher at Moton Elementary School in Brooksville, and she was just months from completing her doctorate. She also taught courses for Argosy University in Tampa.
"The kids loved her so much," said Dana Crosby, Ms. Masterson's team leader at Moton. "She was so vibrant and her whole life was about the kids. When she was at school, she just want over and above for her children."
Rather than just teach her first graders the basic material, Crosby said, Ms. Masterson would take her lessons a step further. That meant growing a garden during science, for instance, or doing any number of hands-on activities.
"She was a fabulous teacher," said Donnie Moen, retired Moton Elementary principal. "She was one of the best that I ever hired."
Outside school, Ms. Masterson was equally passionate about animals.
"She loved animals," said Margo Garcia, Ms. Masterson's aunt. "She adopted stray dogs and cats, and loved horses. … When she was growing up, she would bring home everything. Her mom came home one day and found a chicken in her closet that she was taking care of."
Family members and friends remembered her cheerfulness, and her ability to make others laugh.
"She just had a smile and the cutest, cackling laugh in the world," Garcia said.
"We always had so much fun," Crosby said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.