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Vince La Borante of the STAR center earns Hernando's Teacher of the Year Award.
Published Feb. 8, 2008

STAR Education Center teacher Vince La Borante needed to be prodded into heading to the stage, such was his surprise when his name was announced at Saturday's Hernando County teacher of the year celebration.

His fellow teacher, Genele Firlik, was less stoic.

"I was screaming and jumping up and down," she said. "I lost my voice by the end of the night."

La Borante's reaction was more one of disbelief: "The teachers sitting next to me had to poke me to get up."

On Tuesday, his first day back to work since the big announcement, La Borante held center stage again at a celebration at the STAR center. He was out of school on Monday for a scheduled medical appointment.

"It never would have happened without you guys," he said to his co-workers. "Thank you, each and every one of you. STAR is on the map, folks. I wanted to do it for STAR."

STAR Education Center is an alternative school for students who may benefit in a setting other than a traditional school. La Borante, 47, teaches social skills and career development to exceptional education students. His career development class also includes students preparing for the General Educational Development test.

On Tuesday morning, balloons and well-wishes greeted La Borante.

"It feels like a win for all of us," Firlik said.

The compliments flowed.

"I think it's great," principal John Shepherd said. "Fantastic."

"He sets a good example," paraprofessional Wayne Steffen said.

"He's awesome. He serves as a mentor to all of us here," Firlik said. "It's a win for the kids, too."

"He's a good man, has a good heart, cares about his students, wants them to make something of themselves," said Donna Savoie, La Borante's assistant.

"He's funny. He's got a warm heart and a golden personality and he's always there for everybody. He works really, really hard. This couldn't have happened to a better person."

La Borante has worked for the Hernando School District for 19 years and has been a teacher for 20.

When he joined the district, he began at STAR, staying only a few months. He left to start a dropout prevention program at West Hernando Middle School, staying there for about 13 years and earning his first school level teacher of the year distinction.

From there he became the district's first coordinator of student services. It was then that he became really familiar with the way a district works.

"I learned the guts of the school system," he said. "I dealt with issues from parents, administrators and students. It was a wonderful learning experience.''

After about four years, he changed positions again, this time helping open Nature Coast Technical School as one of the assistant principals. He stayed for a year and a half. About this time, he resigned to care for an aging parent. When his mother died, he returned to the school system and STAR.

Wondering why he might have been chosen out of all the district's teachers, La Borante said, "I would like to think maybe longevity has something to do with it. I consider myself highly organized. I do what I can to make everybody's life easier."

Austin Evans, 16, one of La Borante's sophomores, agreed with his teacher's assessment.

"He makes it really easy to understand. He's an all-around good guy," Austin said.

Sophomore Michael Bowman, 16, said, "He's just a good teacher. He knows how to explain stuff to us. He gives us chances if we mess up."

Jolyn Ayala, 16, is a junior who attends STAR for its GED program. She, too, has plenty to say about the Hernando School District teacher of the year.

"He's really nice and he's a good teacher. He stays on the subject. He doesn't go on to little stories when he's teaching," Jolyn said.

"He's very nice. He's very funny, very outgoing. I wouldn't ask for any other teacher."

Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at