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Judges will visit classrooms to find teacher of the year

Doug Smith, principal of Osceola High School, is watching closely for the winners of the top awards handed out by the Pinellas School Board: Teacher of the Year and Support Employee of the Year.

In each contest, Osceola employees are among the 10 finalists. Smith nominated both of them.

Sandra Hopkins, a biology teacher, "holds kids to high expectations and helps them get there," Smith said.

As for Linda Beitelshees, Smith's secretary, he couldn't run the school without her.

"I guess more than anything else, she's conscientious, she's caring and she follows through," Smith said.

The other 18 finalists come from all kinds of schools in all parts of the county, from Dina Nelson, a kindergarten transition teacher at Tyrone Elementary in St. Petersburg, to Carol Garasic, an office clerk at Dunedin High.

This week, judges will observe the teaching finalists in their classrooms. The finalists were nominated by parents and colleagues, then won their school contests.

The 1998-99 Teacher of the Year will be announced Feb. 12 at a luncheon at the Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa. The contest is sponsored by Cigna Healthcare through the Pinellas County Education Foundation. The county winner will represent the district in regional and state competition.

The Support Employee of the Year will be announced Jan. 26 at a breakfast at the Sheraton Sand Key. The Pinellas County Teachers Credit Union is sponsoring the event and will award $500 to the winner.

Finalists, Teacher

of the Year:

Donna Benitez, kindergarten, Plumb Elementary School

Keith Bylander, air conditioning, Pinellas Technical Education Center, Clearwater campus

Connie Dierking, first grade, Curtis Fundamental Elementary

Elizabeth Fulham, first grade, Cypress Woods Elementary

Sandra Hopkins, biology, Osceola High

Kim Lopez, third grade, Bay Vista Fundamental Elementary

Robyn Marquith, mathematics, Dunedin High

Joey Miazga, choral director, Seminole Middle

Dina Nelson, kindergarten transition, Tyrone Elementary

Sandy Smith, pre-kindergarten autistic, Lynch Elementary

Finalists, Support Employee of the Year:

Linda Anello, secretary/bookkeeper, Shore Acres Elementary

Linda Beitelshees, secretary, Osceola High

Robin Best, teacher assistant, Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center

Timothy Capps, maintenance parts foreman, Walter Pownall Service Center

Dena Economos, office clerk, Tarpon Springs Middle

Carol Garasic, office clerk, Dunedin High

Jane Howell, clerk specialist, district financial aid office

Wanda Marchant, secretary/bookkeeper, Belcher Elementary

Tom Ramos, head plant operator, Leila Davis Elementary

Deborah Stephens, secretary/bookkeeper, Frontier Elementary