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Pasco teacher of the year finalists announced

The winner will be revealed with a surprise visit next week.
Jayme D'Avanzo, Craig Jacobowitz and Yan Li Gazda are finalists for Pasco County 2021 teacher of the year.
Jayme D'Avanzo, Craig Jacobowitz and Yan Li Gazda are finalists for Pasco County 2021 teacher of the year. [ Courtesy of Pasco County school district ]
Published Dec. 7, 2020

Three popular Pasco County educators have been named finalists for the school district’s annual Teacher of the Year recognition.

Krinn Technical High language arts teacher Jayme D’Avanzo, San Antonio Elementary art teacher Craig Jacobowitz and Seven Springs Middle Chinese language teacher Yan Li Gazda will learn next week which of them will represent the school system in seeking the statewide honor. Pasco has had one state finalist, in 2016.

The principals for each teacher said all are tops in their field.

D’Avanzo, a district teacher since 2005, is “awesome” in the eyes of Krinn principal Chris Dunning. He noted that D’Avanzo, whose mother was the district’s 2006 Teacher of the Year, helps put out the school yearbook and morning news program, serves as a class sponsor, and does plenty of other extras for the school beyond what’s expected.

“While no strategy is entirely effective for all students, making content relevant and providing options has the potential to re-engage many of our students,” she told the evaluating committee. “Even the smallest spark can light a fire and the aim of these techniques is to rekindle students’ desire to learn.”

Dunning’s evaluation: “She’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with.”

Jacobowitz, also a district teacher since 2005, won high praise from San Antonio principal Kim Anderson, who said he incorporates technology, modern art styles such as anime, and boundless enthusiasm into his classes.

“He loves what he does, and the kids love him,” Anderson said of Jacobowitz, who is pursuing a doctorate degree.

He told the evaluating committee that teaching defined him: “Teaching is who I am. I put all of my heart into it. Sharing my passion for Art and passing it onto my students, seeing my students succeed or even try something new, is when I feel the most accomplished.”

Li, a district teacher since 2012, told the evaluating committee that “building a good teacher-student relationship was the key of a successful classroom.”

Seven Springs Middle principal Cortney Gantt said his ability to do so is obvious. She had only positive things to say about his teaching and his personality, which she has experienced as a school administrator and as a parent with a child in his class.

“He is the kindest human being,” Gantt said, mentioning how Li will go out of his way to help any student at any time. “He should be teacher of the universe.”

A team of district leaders plans to surprise the winner with a classroom visit to announce the award. The district expects to have a special dinner for all honored employees later in the academic year.

So far, it has named Joel DiVincent of Paul R. Smith Middle as Principal of the Year, leadership development senior supervisor Vaughnette Chandler as Administrator of the Year, and Andrea Altman of Quail Hollow Elementary as Assistant Principal of the Year. (Altman recently was appointed principal of Watergrass Elementary.)

The district also has named four finalists for School-Related Personnel of the Year. They are Pam Paone of River Ridge High, Catherine Pinteralli of Trinity Elementary, Jewell Fye of Wiregrass Ranch High and Nancy Reese of Zephyrhills High.