State and local education officials snuck into King High School in Tampa on Wednesday to surprise band director Dakeyan Graham with the news that he had been selected one of five finalists for Florida Teacher of the Year.
Graham, Hillsborough County’s 2019 teacher of the year, said he and other districts’ teachers of the year were aware that state officials were traveling the state making such announcements. Still, he acknowledged being “incredibly surprised” to see state K-12 chancellor Jacob Oliva enter his classroom, followed by superintendent Jeff Eakins, School Board chairwoman Tamara Shamburger and a host of others.
“It is such an incredible honor,” Graham said.
He was the final honoree to be revealed. Oliva and others already had visited top teachers in Sarasota, Leon, Hamilton and Indian River counties over the past two days.
Education commissioner Richard Corcoran praised Graham as well deserving of the recognition.
“The fact that Dr. Graham has repeatedly earned superior ratings from the Florida School Music Association is a testament to his talent and ability to instill in his students a passion for the magnificent art of musical performance," Corcoran said in a statement. "He possesses many qualities that make him an excellent role model, and it is a pleasure to recognize him.”
King High principal Arlene Castelli said she was not surprised to see her director of instrumental studies, a 2003 King alumnus, get the nod.
“He’s so deserving of it,” Castelli said. “He’s just a wonderful guy. He has so much passion.”
Graham, who has a doctorate in music education from the University of South Florida, has served as president of the Hillsborough County Secondary Music Council. He authored a high school African American heritage curriculum for secondary music. He also is active in nonprofit music organizations, serves as a worship leader and choir director at his church, and instructs at two martial arts studios, among his many activities.
He said he saw himself as representing a long line of King graduates serving their school and band communities. His two predecessors in the job also attended the school.
“I’ve always looked at what I do here as part of a legacy,” he said. “It’s great to get our school out there on a state level in a positive light.”
Graham added that he felt blessed to be part of an “incredible community of educators.”
The statewide Teacher of the Year will be announced at the annual Florida Teacher of the Year Gala July 18 in Orlando.
If he were to win, Graham would not be Hillsborough’s first state teacher of the year. Four years ago, Hillsborough County teacher of the year Diane McKee won the award. In 2010, Hillsborough’s Megan Allen received the honor.
Note: This post has been updated to include comments from Dr. Graham.