CLEARWATER — Sarah Dobes arrives at East Lake Middle School Academy of Engineering two hours before the bell rings every morning, despite a 33-mile commute from her home in St. Petersburg.
"You gotta wake up every day excited about what you do," Dobes said.
For a day at least, she can get those two hours of sleep this morning, as she'll arrive at the school in a stretch limo as Pinellas County's 2016 Outstanding Educator of the Year.
Then it's back to work.
Her schedule is packed with school commitments, including serving as a member on the school accreditation team, its improvement plan writing team and her department's chair. She created schoolwide lessons in vocabulary, plagiarism and students' learning scales.
For an English teacher, Dobes is pretty good at numbers, too.
As one of the first teachers to open East Lake Middle in 2014, the eighth-grade language arts and English I Honors teacher began tracking her students' assessments by creating her own Microsoft Excel pivot tables. The results: standardized test scores that eclipse those of the county and state.
Before accepting her award Tuesday night before a crowd of 800 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, she hugged her friend and fellow nominee Marissa McCarthy, a seventh-grade gifted math teacher at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle in St. Petersburg. The pair met as teachers at Dunedin Highland Middle almost a decade ago.
"I could talk science with her, I could talk student issues with her, I could talk about everything with her," McCarthy said. "She was a huge piece of the support system to get me through that first year."
Thanks to Dobes, 13-year-old Andrew Long now knows that "a lot" is two words.
"She's so organized compared to other teachers," said Long, an eighth-grader at East Lake. "She makes me feel confident I'm learning something way better."
Alicia Isaac, a ninth-grade Advanced Placement human geography and 12th-grade Advanced Placement government and politics teacher at Boca Ciega High, won the "fan favorite" award for gathering the most votes in an online poll. She got 7,000 out of 12,000 votes.
Other finalists for outstanding educator received $500 from the Pinellas Education Foundation, a $1,000 scholarship from Nova Southeastern University, an autographed copy of Wonderlust by Dick Jacobs and special recognition and a party suite with the Tampa Bay Rays on May 14 at Tropicana Field.
In addition to McCarthy, they are: Deanna Barthel, a language arts teacher from Countryside High in Clearwater; Wendy Bruce, an art teacher from Ponce De Leon Elementary in Clearwater; Randy McGonegal, a ninth- and 11th-grade International Baccalaureate biology teacher at Palm Harbor University High in Palm Harbor; Jennifer Raffaele, a second-grade teacher from Bardmoor Elementary in Seminole; Christine Rose, a literary coach from Fairmount Park Elementary in St. Petersburg; Denise Steele, a third-grade English language arts teacher from Frontier Elementary in Clearwater; and Jennifer Velez, a physical education teacher from Sexton Elementary in St. Petersburg.