Some common qualities unite the 10 finalists for 2018-19 Pinellas County Teacher of the Year.
According to nominating documents submitted by the teachers and their principals, they are quick to help out their colleagues, they communicate well with students’ families, they seek out training to improve their craft and they are all-in when it comes to practices the school district wants all of its teachers to be using.
Those include working to develop closer relationships with students, using data to target where they need help, and adopting a “restorative justice” approach designed to cut down on discipline issues by giving students a greater voice.
Among the finalists are a high school science teacher who grew up in a poor family and now finds that her background helps her relate to many of her students; a first-grade teacher who enjoys “growing greatness” by working with college teaching interns, and a third-grade teacher who, according to her principal, saved a student’s life during an incident in her classroom last year.
They range from a teacher in her third year to one with 20 years’ experience. Half of the finalists have been with the school district less than 10 years.
One of them will be crowned as this year’s top teacher, but all 10 will share the spotlight during the annual “Evening of Excellence” celebration Monday at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. So will the 128 other teachers who were nominated from schools around the county.
A reception to celebrate all of them will start at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Mahaffey. The awards show will follow at 7 p.m., with long-time Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats in the role of emcee.
The event is presented by the Pinellas Education Foundation. General admission tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door, and $5 for teachers, seniors and students. Tickets are available online at themahaffey.com or by calling the theater’s box office at (727) 300-2000.
According to the school district, a panel of judges determined the finalists based on multiple criteria, and a different set of judges selected the winner in a second round of scoring.
The winner will receive the traditional limo ride to school Tuesday morning.
The finalists are profiled below using information from questionnaires the teachers completed and the letters their principals wrote to nominate them:
St. Petersburg High
“Varying exceptionalities” specialist, teaching special education students and training colleagues
Education: Master’s degree, University of South Florida
Years with Pinellas Schools: 20
What principal Darlene Lebo says: “She provides excellent school/family communications so that when students struggle a team effort can be put into place to address the needs immediately. Everything that she does throughout the day is purposeful and student-centered.”
In the teacher’s words: “School is so very often a student’s safe place and they need to have the relationships first before they will perform academically. … I truly cannot relate to their personal stories compared to my upbringing, but (training) has taught me to have an open mind as to why the behaviors were occurring and what ‘fights’ the students were facing in their everyday lives.”
Eighth-grade science teacher
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Western Governors University
Years with Pinellas Schools: 5
What principal Michael Moss says: “She provides tutoring before and after school, during lunch or whenever she can fit in extra minutes for her students. It is inspiring to visit her classroom to observe the many students who previously experienced little academic success rise up to meet her rigorous expectations.”
In the teacher’s words: “Whether I am motivating students, challenging them not to be content or to take risks to be successful, I assure them we are in this together. Together we remain open, take ownership in our roles in the learning process, struggle as we grow, and ultimately trust each other.”
High Point Elementary
Education: Master’s degree, University of Florida
Years with Pinellas Schools: 3
What principal Michael Feeney says: “She goes above and beyond to grow herself as well as her peers. She takes our most struggling students who are significantly below grade level (and) gets them to believe in themselves. … On top of everything else she does, it all pales in comparison to the most selfless act I have observed from a teacher. … Last year, without a thought for her own safety, she quickly reacted to a situation where she saved a student’s life in her classroom.”
In the teacher’s words: “My students showed great growth in their reading abilities last year. On average my students improved about seven reading levels, with some students growing as many as 11 levels. … Through the year, my students made substantial gains in their reading abilities and closed the gap that had previously existed.”
Boca Ciega High
Science teacher/ volleyball coach
Education: Master’s degree, Nova Southeastern University
Years with Pinellas Schools: 11
What principal Michael Vigue says: “During her time as an educator, Mrs. Iovino has constantly shown the ability to help students reach high areas of achievement. This is reflected time and again in the results of the AP environmental science students who take her course and the AP exam.”
In the teacher’s words: “I began at Boca Ciega High as a permanent sub for honors biology and marine science. At the end of the year I was asked to stay since I could handle ‘these’ kids and they didn’t scare me off like other subs. ‘These’ kids were me growing up — poor, maybe not the best behavior, and school is not that important to them for various reasons. I was ecstatic about getting my first job at the age of 22 fresh out of college at a Title I school; I felt at home.”
Education: Master’s degree, Concordia University
Years with Pinellas Schools: 19
What principal Susan Manche says: “She maximizes every second of her day to insure … instructional time is protected and maximized. Angela will not take no for an answer and is a bulldog at following upon anything that gets in the way of her students performing at the highest level. This includes personally intervening with families in regard to absences, tardies, scarcity of resources or lack of motivation.”
In the teacher’s words: “I am always looking for ways to improve my practice with the ultimate goal of aiding my students. … Through course work, I was able to recognize that some of my practices weren’t always equitable. … Now I strive to meet the diverse needs of my students such as creating an environment where it’s safe to fail. The students see our class as a community that supports each other.”
Education: Master’s degree, Dowling College
Years with Pinellas Schools: 4
What principal Sandra Kemp says: “Nicole’s impact on learning and accountability does not stop in the classroom. She holds herself and others accountable for professional learning as well. … She engages adult learners in the same way she engages children: with positivity, enthusiasm, interactive discussions, music and movement. … She is changing the culture of our school.”
In the teacher’s words: “I was inspired by Google’s philosophy to allow their engineers to work for 20 percent of their time on projects that motivate them. Based on the company’s success with this program, I have adopted a similar practice called Genius Hour in my classroom. Genius Hour encourages my students to explore their passions and promote creativity in a structured fashion while still aligning to the Florida standards.”
Safety Harbor Middle
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Florida Atlantic University
Years with Pinellas Schools: 18
What principal Carrie Armstrong says: “Autumn has not only crafted and presented highly engaging lessons for her students, but also has reached out to the community for support and suggestions. … She works daily to ensure that students feel supported not only within the classroom but also their community.”
In the teacher’s words: “My success at advancing student growth is displayed on a larger scale when former learners reach out to share how I altered their educational journey. … To quote a former learner, ‘She always made sure students knew their worth. Mrs. Lunin always pushed us to do more than we knew we could.’ It is invaluable to hear how my imprint made a mark on our future’s success.”
North Shore Elementary
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Stetson University
Years with Pinellas Schools: 8
What principal Cooper Dawson says: “Mrs. Maker is greatly respected by our parent body. … Her warmth and passion engages families and has helped us to bring families to our school who may have otherwise chosen private school.”
In the teacher’s words: “I have opened my doors to college interns to share my love of teaching for the past four years. I served as a clinical educator to help them prepare for the wonderful world of teaching. These experiences have enabled me to positively influence teaching and learning within my classroom, around my school and throughout my district. I enjoy growing greatness at every opportunity.”
Education: Master’s degree, University of Phoenix
Years with Pinellas Schools: 12
What principal Mike Rebman says: “Teaching is not what most people would call a profession where rock stars originate, but when you are an educator you know when you are in the presence of one. So let’s meet Mrs. Candace Reed. … Her innovating, energetic instruction, curriculum knowledge, leadership abilities and complete focus on success are evident in a multitude of ways.”
In the teacher’s words: “I encourage my students to play with ideas, to think deeply about the task and to take on challenging work. … The end goal was to provide relevancy to my students and show them that education is a means to an end, self-sufficiency. Just like the workforce, my students are paid each day for good, old-fashioned work. Work that mattered for success in life.”
Safety Harbor Elementary
Education: Bachelor’s degree, St. Petersburg College
Years with Pinellas Schools: 7
What principal Cecilia Palmer says: “In speaking with a few of Ms. Stryker’s students, they described learning in their classroom as ‘vivid,’ ‘specific,’ and ‘amazingly different.’ … When observing instruction in her classroom … a casual observer would not be able to identify struggling students as each student excitedly participates and is a valued member of the classroom learning community.”
In the teacher’s words: “I have increasingly morphed from a rescuer, who used to jump right in to help a struggling student solve problems quickly, to a facilitator who leads students with thought-provoking questions, which in turn allows them to struggle and persevere through problems. … My students are not afraid to share their thinking because they know our class is a safe place where mistakes turn into powerful learning opportunities.”