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The Week in Review

By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

NEW TAMPA SURVIVOR TAKES THIRD: After a 39-day adventure of bugs and bats, camaraderie and cutthroats, 54-year-old Jan Gentry of Hunter's Green took third place in the reality show Survivor: Thailand. Gentry, who teaches first grade at McKitrick Elementary School in Lutz, moved to the background midway through the show's run, as used car salesman Brian Heidik emerged to lead the tribe and ultimately win the $1-million grand prize.

"One thing I've learned from this is that you don't quit," Jan told viewers after Heidik selected restaurateur Clay Jordan over her to join him in the final tribal council. "I'm a teacher. I don't want any of my students to ever quit anything."

WTSP-Ch. 10's broadcast included several scenes from Beef O'Brady's in Channelside, where Gentry's colleagues at McKitrick gathered to cheer her on.

The Texas native didn't even tell her husband, William, or five children -- three from a previous marriage and two stepchildren -- how well she had done.

* * *

NEW TAMPA HAS TWO TEACHER FINALISTS: Everyone in the Chiles Elementary School front office thought it was so sweet that principal Shari Beaubien's husband showed up Tuesday morning with a gorgeous bouquet of red roses. Beaubien had to play along with the ruse to keep safe the secret that the flowers were in fact for the school's crackerjack music teacher, Jennifer LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, Chiles Elementary's nominee for Hillsborough's Teacher of the Year award, was about to get the surprise of her life. A team of education honchos and event sponsors whirled into her choral room with the news that she is one of 10 finalists for this year's award.

LeBlanc and nine other finalists got the good news Tuesday as two "prize patrols" swooped into unsuspecting classrooms bearing flowers, chocolates and an invitation to vie for the top teacher award.

One of the patrol teams caught LeBlanc in mid-rehearsal conducting 75 fourth- and fifth-graders through a number called It's December in Our Town. When the music stopped, the smiles started.

The scene was much the same 30 minutes later when a prize patrol interrupted Pride Elementary kindergarten teacher Debbie Gil Leslie during her lesson on graphing.

"This school is just absolutely wonderful," said Leslie, who has taught elementary school for 27 years in Hillsborough County. "The kids are what keep me coming back. I don't even want to talk about retirement."

With about 12,000 teachers in the school district, each school's staff nominates one of its own as a Teacher of the Year candidate. A group of select administrators pores over the 194 nominees to narrow the field to 10 finalists. In January, those 10 will be interviewed by a judging panel. The winner will be announced at a banquet on Feb. 6.

* * *

BELOTE DROPS OUT OF COUNCIL RACE: A candidate for Tampa City Council dropped out of the race Tuesday after his involvement in a prostitution case became public. Monte Belote, 43, was to be a confidential informant in a statewide prosecution case about a Web site that advertised prostitutes. His decision to leave the race came the same day the Tampa Tribune reported that Belote admitted in court documents he has used prostitutes since 1998.

"Obviously, I'm focusing on my family," said Belote, who is married and has a son. "It's got to come first."

Belote of Forest Hills is a consumer affairs consultant who headed the Hillsborough Democratic Party in 1999. For eight years, he was director of the Florida Consumer Action Network, a nonprofit advocacy organization. In 2000, Belote made a failed bid for the state House District 47 seat. In the Tampa City Council race, he faced incumbent Shawn Harrison of Tampa Palms.

The prostitution case centered on the Web site www.bigdoggie.net, which promotes escorts who sell sex. The case apparently is in jeopardy because of Hillsborough Circuit Judge Debra Behnke's concerns that the prosecution withheld the names of informants.

Belote was not charged in the case in exchange for his promise to testify about the Web site. He said he cooperated with the understanding that his name would not be made public.

* * *

KIDNAP/RAPE ALLEGED AT LAKE CARLTON ARMS: The state official who supervised the Tarpon Springs Probation and Parole office was arrested Monday, charged with kidnapping and raping a female acquaintance at his home in Lutz's Lake Carlton Arms apartment complex.

Paul Martin Hummel, 52, was a 25-year veteran of the state Probation and Parole office.

Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies say the woman went to Hummel's apartment on Monday afternoon. There, he pointed a revolver at her and threatened to kill her, deputies said. He tied the woman to his bed, blindfolded her and raped her, deputies said. The woman was eventually released, left the apartment and called authorities.

Hummel was charged with armed sexual battery and armed kidnapping. On Tuesday morning, the state Department of Corrections fired him, agency spokesman Joe Papy said.

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