NEW PORT RICHEY — Say the name “Lauren Pantoja” and Chasco Middle School teachers and students beam. They’re proud of Pantoja, recently named Florida Literacy Coach of the Year. Smiles come readily because of Pantoja’s helpful ways from her teaching expertise.
The state award nomination came from the Pasco school district literacy staff members who were impressed with Pantoja’s lifelong literary focus.
“She’s a learner herself, always looking for the next right thing for students and teachers,” said Rachel Hatten, senior instructional specialist for grades 6-12 English language arts.
“She’s made a huge difference in my life. I’ve completely changed my teaching because of her,” said Lucas Carnahan-Tweto, professional learning community facilitator for Chasco’s sixth-grade teachers.
Recently, Pantoja started the day with Carnahan-Tweto and Christina Manson, a first-year sixth-grade teacher. With reading books open, they discussed ways to help students respond to complex questions. The teachers absorbed Pantoja’s suggestions.
“This one question requires three different actions," Pantoja explained. "Students must look at the question completely so they understand it and don’t miss something important. Then they must break it apart and address each part separately.”
She opened data charts on her laptop that had red, green and yellow bars indicating achievement levels. Pantoja compared school data with district data and shared a direction and instructional pace to encourage student gains. Pantoja is passionate about students and their reading and writing, a dedication that began early in her career as a reading intervention teacher at Crow Elementary School, Crow Agency, Montana.
A mentor, Rose Schindler, helped her recognize the complexity of the reading process. Pantoja knew then that reading would be her professional focus and that it would take constant learning, refining and improving to help students. She practices what she teaches.
“I’m a voracious reader,” Pantoja said.
Her resume is proof she’s also a prolific writer of academic papers. A list of 25 presentations from 2008 to 2018, many at the state level, shows that her expertise reaches far beyond Pasco County.
In addition to being Chasco Middle’s learning design coach for literacy, Pantoja is the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) coordinator. In teacher Aris Willard’s AVID class, she watches teams of students helping each other solve problems from different academic areas. Cyntoria Barkley, former Chasco student and now a Pasco Hernando State College freshman, is group tutor.
Angel Laremont, a sophomore at PHSC, and Maggie Kallergis, Gulf High graduate, help with math problems. Pantoja offers advice as needed.
“She’s awesome, a very helping person. She put me on the right path to good behavior,” said Mikey Greenberg, a seventh-grader. “She’s an amazing teacher. She helps us know it’s important to get good grades."
Times Correspondent Gail Diederich is a retired teacher. She has 32 years of experience, including 28 years in Pasco County Schools, where she taught gifted students and was a reading specialist. She also taught education, general studies and business leadership at Pasco Hernando State College and at Saint Leo University.