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Pinellas announces its Teacher of the Year this week. Meet the finalists.

The group of 10 includes a mix of elementary, middle and high school teachers.
Visual arts teacher Eileen Iacobucci was cheered by students at East Lake High in November after she was named one of 10 finalists for 2021-22 Pinellas Teacher of the Year. A winner will be announced Wednesday in a ceremony at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg.
Visual arts teacher Eileen Iacobucci was cheered by students at East Lake High in November after she was named one of 10 finalists for 2021-22 Pinellas Teacher of the Year. A winner will be announced Wednesday in a ceremony at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. [ Pinellas County Schools ]
Published Jan. 24|Updated Jan. 24

The Pinellas County school system has chosen a diverse group of finalists vying to be its 2021-22 Teacher of the Year.

The slate includes three elementary school teachers; three high school teachers specializing in math, biology and art; two middle school teachers, one for science and one for math; an online instructor who teaches medical transcribing; and a former history teacher who leads a Seminole High program to train future educators.

The winner will be announced at the district’s annual Evening of Excellence event at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. A livestream will be available on YouTube.

The finalists are:

Catalina Andujar

Fifth-grade teacher | Eisenhower Elementary

Catalina Andujar
Catalina Andujar [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Master’s in educational leadership, University of West Florida; bachelor’s in elementary education, St. Petersburg College

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 12

In the teacher’s words: “Education is about teaching students to be kind humans and helping them interact with the outside world while also stretching their academic thinking. I want students to leave my classroom with a positive mindset and a determined spirit. I want my students to know that they have a voice, that they can be brave, and that they have the strength to face life’s challenges, inside and outside the classroom.”

• • •

Esvicloria Blasingane

Math teacher | Pinellas Secondary School

Esvicloria Blasingane
Esvicloria Blasingane [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Master’s in education, curriculum and instruction, University of Phoenix; bachelor’s in mathematics, Fort Valley (Ga.) State University.

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 31

In the teacher’s words: “When a student enters my classroom, I want them to know that they are loved, special, smart, cared for, and most of all important. I want them to be confident in their ability to understand and apply mathematics in real life situations. Finally, I want my students to think big, graduate from high school, and pursue a successful career.”

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• • •

Bonnie Capra

Online instructor (medical transcribing) | Pinellas Technical College-St. Petersburg

Bonnie Capra
Bonnie Capra [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Certified professional coder through the American Academy of Professional Coders. Ongoing education and training through the AAPC and other professional organizations. Teaching certificate through Pinellas County Schools’ Transition to Teaching program.

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 13

In the teacher’s words: “I want my students to know that they are valued, are capable in achieving their goals, and empower them to continue to excel long after they have finished my program. I want to inspire them as much as they inspire me and instill in them a growth mindset that stays with them their entire lives.”

• • •

Ivana Grant

Biology teacher | Richard O. Jacobson Technical High

Ivana Grant
Ivana Grant [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Bachelor’s in biology teacher education, St. Petersburg College

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 6

In the teacher’s words: “I want my students to feel that science isn’t a scary topic but something that they play a part in every day ... They know that it is OK to learn at a different pace and it’s OK to be wrong. You always get a redo in my classroom. The important part of my classroom and this mindset is that my students are taught to never give up. They develop grit and never stop trying to succeed.”

• • •

Justin Howard

Fourth- and Fifth-grade teacher | Campbell Park Elementary

Justin Howard
Justin Howard [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Bachelor’s in elementary education, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, S.C.

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 4

In the teacher’s words: “I can only hope that my students see as much potential in themselves as I see in them ... My impact will be allowing my students the opportunity to find their natural talents and teach them how to use these talents to benefit themselves as well as others. My students should leave my classroom realizing that someone loves them, recognizes how special they are, and be constantly reminded of how bright their future can be.”

• • •

Eileen Iacobucci

Visual arts teacher | East Lake High

Eileen Iacobucci
Eileen Iacobucci [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Master’s in education, Cambridge College, Cambridge, Mass.; bachelor’s in art education, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 24

In the teacher’s words: “My goal is to teach students the skills, patience and persistence required to create a piece of art that they are proud of. It is incredibly rewarding to see a student who didn’t think they had artistic abilities suddenly develop confidence in their craft.... Watching my students become passionate about their work brings me the greatest sense of accomplishment.”

• • •

Lorna Kelley

Math teacher | Tyrone Middle

Lorna Kelley
Lorna Kelley [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Master’s in educational leadership, University of South Florida; bachelor’s in secondary mathematics education, St. Petersburg College.

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 10

In the teacher’s words: “Being a classroom teacher is truly what l am meant to be. I love creating engaging lessons and getting to know my scholars to incorporate the things they like. As a teacher I consider myself as more than a facilitator of learning, but also as someone making a difference in the lives of all scholars in my classroom and in the classrooms of others.”

• • •

Deanna Russo

Center for Education and Leadership coordinator | Seminole High

Deanna Russo
Deanna Russo [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Graduate level teacher certification, University of South Florida; bachelor’s in English literature, Florida State University.

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 11

In the teacher’s words: ”I have learned over the course of my career that I want to be a classroom teacher because it gives me the opportunity to change students’ lives in a positive way by building relationships with them, letting them know that someone sees their potential and cares enough to try and help them find their paths to success. It doesn’t matter if I’m teaching literature or U.S. history or fifth-grade science, I just love teaching.”

• • •

Sarah Swoch

Science teacher | Pinellas Park Middle

Sarah Swoch
Sarah Swoch [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Master’s in elementary education and English for speakers of other languages, University of South Florida; bachelor’s in marine science/biology, Eckerd College

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 9

In the teacher’s words: “Being a classroom teacher means every day I can make changes for students, large and small. From making a joke so a student smiles to supporting them through a credit recovery course, I know the time I spend with them builds their character and prepares them academically for whatever path they choose in their life. It’s an honor to be entrusted with developing the future thinkers of my community.”

• • •

Melissa Walls

Third-grade teacher | Safety Harbor Elementary

Melissa Walls
Melissa Walls [ Pinellas County Schools ]

Education: Master’s in reading education and bachelor’s in early childhood education, University of South Florida.

Years with Pinellas County Schools: 21

In the teacher’s words: “The impact that I want to have in the lives of my students is this: “Dream big, work hard, and stay kind.” I want to inspire them to take their knowledge and use it to achieve their dreams while also remembering to have a compassionate heart that embraces the differences in those they encounter throughout their life.”

• • •

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