SARASOTA COUNTY – Teachers at three public schools in Sarasota County were surprised in their classrooms today with balloons, awards, and gifts to celebrate their new status as the school district’s 2011 Teachers of the Year at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Superintendent of Schools Lori White, Sarasota School Board members Caroline Zucker and Jane Goodwin and a bus full of district leaders, sponsors and past winners traveled to three schools to surprise finalists in the annual competition. Winners received the good news in front of delighted students, colleagues and family members, many of whom were in on the secret.
The first stop was at Suncoast Polytechnical High School, where Social Studies teacher Jeffrey Kahler was lauded by Principal Jennifer Putnam as the school’s “founding father.”
“Our school opened in August 2008 with 8 teachers,” Putnam told the school’s 450 students gathered in the outdoor assembly area. “Mr. Kahler was the first person I hired. He is a master teacher — passionate about teaching and making history and science relevant and fun for students.”
Kahler was presented with a double-sided portrait with the image of George Washington on one side and his photo on the other.
“This is a very special school,” said Kahler. “When any teacher or student receives an accolade, it is because of the work we all do together as a team.”
In addition to teaching for 17 years in New York state and Sarasota, Kahler has served SPHS as data coach, testing coordinator and sponsor of the school’s Academic Olympics team.
Next, the bus pulled up to Bay Haven School of Basics Plus to surprise Melissa “Missy” Owens, who has taught at the school since 1984.
After being surprised in an outside play area to the sounds of cheering elementary school students and supporters that included her husband, Judge Andy Owens of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, Missy Owens said she was “overwhelmed with joy to represent Bay Haven — my home for the past 26 years.” She added that she will “continue to embrace the journey that teaching is all about.”
Bay Haven Principal Betsy Asheim-Dean said that Owens “exemplifies the excellence of our school and is a great example of the wonderful teachers here and throughout our district.”
Owens says her teaching philosophy is based on the principles of the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who said, “You haven’t taught until they have learned.” Owens is well-known in community for her yearly trip with her students to the Sarasota County Judicial Center to learn about the role of the courts in the U.S. She is also known for her team-building skills in the classroom. Every morning her students recite the Wolf Pack Creed, a short statement written by Del Goetz that stresses honesty, integrity and respect. Her students have enthusiastically embraced the tenets of the creed, especially the lines, “Teach the young. Cooperate with the pack.”
The final stop was Heron Creek Middle School, where Principal Bill Bolander prepared students waiting in the gymnasium for the big surprise. Eighth-grade language arts teacher Jerry Stowell was called down from the bleachers for the honor.
A veteran teacher with 33 years of experience in Illinois and Florida, Stowell came to Heron Creek in 2005. He starts each class with a motivational reading and says he especially enjoys working with students who are considered “challenging,” including those with negative attitudes or discipline problems and those who struggle academically.
Stowell wrote, directed and narrated a play that has been performed for Heron Creek students at all middle school grade levels by the school’s eighth-grade teachers, who portray students facing various challenges in the production. The title and message of the play is “You Have Greatness Within You.” That was also Stowell’s message for Heron Creek students after he was surprised.
“We have great students and staff who make it a joy to work here,” Stowell told the enthusiastic crowd. “If you want to give someone a round of applause, give it to yourselves. You make it easy to teach here because you all have greatness within you…each and every one of you.”
The overall district Teacher of the Year will be selected from among the three finalists and announced at a luncheon at 11:30 a.m., Wednesday, March 23, at Michael’s on East in Sarasota. The Teacher of the Year will represent the Sarasota County School District at the Florida Department of Education-Macy's Teacher of the Year program and serve as spokesperson and representative for the teaching profession throughout the 2011-2012 academic year.
The Sarasota County Teacher of the Year program is made possible through the funding and support of community partners. Premier Sponsors include Nova Southeastern University-Fischler School of Education and Human Services, Publix Super Markets Charities, and Sunset Chevrolet Buick GMC. The Notre Dame Club of Greater Sarasota is a Diamond Sponsor. Gold Sponsors are McDonald’s of Sarasota, Prudential Retirement, Sarasota County School-Based Administrators Association (SBA), University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and VALIC. Sarasota County School District Administrators (SDA) and Herff Jones-Steve Kline are Silver Sponsors.
Each of the three finalists receives a cash award from the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, scholarships from Nova Southeastern University, and gift bags from McDonald’s of Sarasota. All three finalists attend the Excellence in Teaching Conference at the University of Notre Dame, all expenses paid, courtesy of the Notre Dame Club of Greater Sarasota. The individual selected as the district’s top Teacher of the Year receives a new car to use for the year from Sunset Chevrolet Buick GMC, as well as a scholarship from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. All 45 individual schools’ Teachers of the Year receive a variety of gifts, including a professional portrait by Prestige Portraits by Bryn-Alan.
Photos courtesy Prestige Portraits by Lifetouch
Sarasota County Superintendent of Schools Lori White, right, surprises Bay Haven School of Basics Plus teacher Missy Owens as the district’s Elementary School Teacher of the Year, March 3, at the school.
Superintendent Lori White, left, looks on as reigning Sarasota County Schools Teacher of the Year Seth Gardner, right, congratulates Heron Creek Middle School teacher Jerry Stowell, middle, as the district’s new Middle School Teacher of the Year, March 3, at the school.
Left to right, Sarasota County School Board members Jane Goodwin and Caroline Zucker join Suncoast Polytechnical High School Principal Jennifer Putnam and Superintendent Lori White in surprising Jeffrey Kahler as the district’s High School Teacher of the Year, March 3, at the school.