1. News
  2. /
  3. Education

Teacher of the Year finalists, SPC’s new winter session and other Pinellas education news

News and notes about K-12 schools and colleges in Pinellas County.
Students at Dunedin Elementary welcomed teacher Stephanie Whitaker back to campus the morning after she was named Pinellas Teacher of the Year in February 2012. The 2019-20 winner will be announced Jan. 29 at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Ten finalists have been selected. [DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
Students at Dunedin Elementary welcomed teacher Stephanie Whitaker back to campus the morning after she was named Pinellas Teacher of the Year in February 2012. The 2019-20 winner will be announced Jan. 29 at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Ten finalists have been selected. [DOUGLAS CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Nov. 20

District announces 10 Teacher of the Year finalists

The Pinellas County school district has named 10 finalists for 2019-20 Teacher of the Year. The finalists were notified during surprise classroom visits by district and school administrators and, in some cases, their family members. A panel of judges determined the finalists after rating 131 nominees on multiple criteria. The finalists now will undergo an interview process and a second round of scoring by a different panel of judges, who will select the winner. All of the nominees will be honored at the annual Evening of Excellence, presented by the Pinellas Education Foundation on Jan. 29 at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. The finalists are: Deborah Guinn, Osceola Fundamental High; Cheri Connelly, Anona Elementary; Tina Angles, Ponce De Leon Elementary; David Martinez-Cooley, Leila Davis Elementary; Susana Carter, Elisa Nelson Elementary; Tracey Keim, St. Petersburg High; Staci DaSilva, Seventy-Fourth St. Elementary; Ajori Spencer, Maderia Beach Fundamental; Natasha Reed, Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle; Diana Mills, Bay Point Middle.

SPC students can take a four-week class during winter session

St. Petersburg College now offers a winter session from Dec. 16 to Jan. 10 that will allow students to take accelerated courses online. Students with financial aid can use their benefits to pay for the courses, which will count towards their Spring Term goals. The new offering "will allow students to progress faster through their academic pathways to earn college degrees” and meeting their scheduling needs, said SPC Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences Joseph Smiley. More than 15 accelerated classes will be offered online. "These classes are designed to take advantage of free time in the holiday season and would allow students to focus on a single quickly paced class,” said SPC Dean of Public Policy and Legal Studies Susan Demers. In addition to the Winter Session, SPC offers a 10-week Express Session and Weekend College during the spring and fall terms. For more information and to search for available classes, visit

Honors and awards

Pinellas geography bee winner Lauren Basara, center, is flanked by school district K-8 Social Studies Specialist Michelle Anderson, left, and Carter Waterkeyn, president of the Pinellas Council for the Social Studies. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Schools]
"Desperation," by Charlotte Bayly [Courtesy of Pinellas County Schools]
"Steps & Tunes," by Madison Cyr [Courtesy of Pinellas County Schools]

Seminole Middle eighth-grader Lauren Basara won the Pinellas County school system’s first annual geography bee recently. More than 30 students from seven middle schools participated in the competition. Lauren will take a qualifying test for the state geography bee in April. ... Two Pinellas students won top awards in the Florida Art Education Association’s annual K-12 Student Art Assessment & Virtual Exhibition. Charlotte Bayly of Clearwater High won the prestigious Best in Show for her color pencil artwork, “Desperation,” and Madison Cyr of Safety Harbor Middle was the Middle School Winner for her oil pastel, titled “Steps & Tunes.” Their teachers, Clayton Burkey and Nicole Eiler, were acknowledged as well. ... Long-time Pinellas School Board member Carol J. Cook was named the board’s chairwoman, and board member Eileen M. Long was selected as vice chair during the board’s annual organizational meeting earlier this month.

'Let’s Talk!’ tool lets families contact the school district 24/7

The Pinellas County school system has launched a new online tool called “Let’s Talk!” that enables anyone to submit a question, comment, concern or compliment 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To start a conversation, visit the district’s website,, or access Let’s Talk! directly at The launch will be limited to several departments and district offices at first, but the district will be adding more in the coming months. Let’s Talk! will not be used to address safety concerns, which should be reported by calling 911 or submitting a tip to the Sandy Hook Promise Anonymous Reporting System or Fortify Florida.

Deadline is Friday to donate gadgets for SPC drive

Friday is the final day of a drive by St. Petersburg College and eSmart Recycling seeking donations of gadgets for local children who don’t have access to technology. The program is collecting old laptops, computers, tablets, keyboards, printers, stereos, fax machines and more, regardless of their condition. For a complete list of acceptable items, visit Contributors who would like to receive a Certificate of Data Destruction from eSmart Recycling should write their email address on a sticker and place it on the donated item. Donations will be accepted through Friday at two locations: The SPC Seminole Campus, UP 192, at 9200 113th St. N, (9 a.m.-7 p.m. through Thursday; 9 a.m.-noon on Friday), and the SPC Bay Pines STEM Center, 4723 Bay Pines Terrace, (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday). Anyone with questions about personal data destruction may call (813) 501-7768. For more information, call Chad Mairn at (727) 394-6917 or Erica Moulton at (727) 344-8043.


  1. More than 1,300 summer and fall graduates were eligible to participate in the morning or afternoon commencement ceremonies Dec. 11 at the Pasco-Hernando State College New Port Richey campus. Approximately 345 degrees and certificates were conferred. [MICHELE MILLER  |  Times]
    Two ceremonies were held at the New Port Richey campus.
  2. Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins, shown at Mort Elementary School in 2016, is retiring effective June 30. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
    Jeff Eakins, the current superintendent, is retiring, effective June 30.
  3. Hillsborough county parents can check the district's website for their child's bus route and their school's bus schedule. Visit, click the link under "Preparing for Back to School," then find the links for "Bus Schedule" and "Bus Availability." For more information, call (813) 982-5500. [SKIP O'ROURKE  |   Times]
    Our running list of the candidates to replace superintendent Jeff Eakins includes top educators with a wide range of experience.
  4. A vigil at Pine Trails Park in Parkland for victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. Some schools have already closed for the holidays, but everyone should be off by the end of the day Dec. 20. [Times (2015)]
    Some schools are closing for the holidays this week; others won’t be done for a few days. Then it’s lights out until early January.
  6. Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, presents his bill on civics education to the House PreK-12 Innovation subcommittee on Dec. 11, 2019. The legislation received unanimous bipartisan support. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport,’ sponsor Rep. Ben Diamond reminds colleagues.
  7. This Sept. 12, 2019 file photo shows a University of Tennessee shirt in Knoxville, Tenn., using the design of a Florida fourth-grader who was bullied.  Sales of the T-shirt have raised over $950,000 for an anti-bullying organization. Tennessee officials said Wednesday that 112,715 shirts have been sold in the three months since it was created. (AP Photo/Steve Megargee, File) [STEVE MEGARGEE  |  AP]
    Tennessee officials said Wednesday that 112,715 shirts have been sold in the past three months.
  8. Haley Manigold, second from left, and Armwood High School classmates Maria Medina and Madison Harvey take a photo with Sen. Tom Lee, who is sponsoring their legislation, and teacher Tony Pirotta.  They presented their bill in the Senate Education Committee on Dec. 9, 2019. [EMILY L. MAHONEY  |  Times Staff]
    Armwood High senior Haley Manigold discusses her effort to convince lawmakers to adopt testing legislation.
  9. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
DL Tre'von Riggins (98) on the field during spring football practice at Lakewood High School in in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, April 30, 2019.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  10. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. [JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer]
    The School Board will consider a $2.2 million package at its Dec. 17 meeting.