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Fourteen teachers earn praise for jobs well done

"I wouldn't trade my career with any of my friends, even though they may have more lucrative careers," one says.

Usually teachers give out gold stars.

The tables were turned on Wednesday morning, however, when 14 area teachers received "gold star" paperweights, silk floral arrangements and plaques that will hang in their schools.

The teachers and their principals were honored in a breakfast at Seminole Middle School.

In past years, one "Educator of the Year" was selected at the annual breakfast, sponsored by the Greater Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce and several area businesses. This year, the chamber decided to honor one educator per school. Of the 25 schools in the Seminole area or who have teachers from Seminole, 14 responded by nominating a teacher for the award.

"This was so lovely," Elaine Cutler, Seminole Elementary School principal, said after the ceremony. "Every teacher here represents the best. And the teachers didn't have to feel like they were in competition."

Seminole Vocational Education Center mathematics teacher Ben Chertok said he was happy about the award. "This star is something I'll treasure," he said.

Chertok, who moved to Florida 10 years ago from Boston, said he chose teaching because he was influenced by two social studies teachers he had: one in grade school and one in high school.

"I wouldn't trade my career with any of my friends, even though they may have more lucrative careers," said Chertok, 33.

Another honoree, Jill Shircliff-Ceciro, 34, got hugs from her principal, Fred Ulrich, as she accepted her award. "I am honored beyond belief," said Shircliff-Ceciro, who teaches mentally handicapped students at Osceola Middle School.

In her entry form, she stated her philosophy: "Everyone deserves to be given an opportunity to become successful no matter what their level in life may be."

Other honorees and their schools were:

Linda Cinnamon, PTEC, St. Petersburg. "She is a beloved teacher . . . who has made the difference in the lives of people between the ages of 16 and 60," said Marilynne Wasielewski, a PTEC marketing specialist.

Melissa Feaster, Madeira Beach Elementary School. A teacher of first through third grades, Feaster said on her entry form: "One great thing about being a teacher is watching your students grow and change throughout the school year . . . seeing their eyes light up when a new concept finally clicks."

Brett Volland, Madeira Beach Middle School. Last month, a parent said of Volland, a sixth-grade social studies teacher: "Mr. Volland's lessons and assignments have turned my son back on to learning. We began working on his project together and because of this . . . and Mr. Volland, my son and I have reconnected."

Cynthia Barr, Seminole Elementary School. She organizes an annual fourth-grade overnight trip to Tallahassee and holds fundraisers so any child can go. She is also the co-sponsor of the Kiwanis K-Kids at Seminole Elementary.

Linda Brown, Bauder Elementary School. A fifth-grade language arts/reading teacher, she said she strives for the highest achievement level of her students and introduces new technology at the school.

Barbara Ferguson, Osceola High School. "She goes beyond the student-to-teacher relationship and gets to know you on a personal level," principal Doug Smith said.

Deborah Love, Seminole Middle School. Love is a teacher of sixth- and seventh-grade gifted students who has been a finalist three times in the Pinellas County Teacher of the Year competition and was named 1995 Educator of the Year by the Seminole chamber.

Robin Ladd, Seminole High School. A mathematics teacher, Ladd said on her entry form: "Even after seven years of teaching, I still feel the butterflies of excitement before each class begins as we, as a class, prepare for another exciting day of learning mathematics."

Bonnie Matthews, Blessed Sacrament Catholic School. "From the moment one enters her classroom, one can feel the sense of joy and wonder that infects Bonnie and her students," principal Jane Moerschbacher wrote of Matthews.

Teresa Moon, Indian Rocks Christian School. Moon, who teaches science and mathematics, was praised by her principal, Dan Stevens: "Mrs. Teresa Moon . . . is always very positive and always has a smile on her face."

Irene Offutt, Bardmoor Elementary School. A first-grade teacher, Offutt received kudos from her principal, Linda Nore, who described her as a teacher "who is not satisfied simply with performing the status quo, but who believes that going above and beyond the call of duty should be the status quo."

Connie Rouse, Starkey Elementary School. A teacher of kindergarteners and second-graders, Rouse has been a teacher for a quarter-century and has been nominated for Disney's American Teacher Awards 2000. "Connie Rouse has the utmost respect from her students, parents, peers and administrators," said her principal, Kenneth MacKenzie.