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Teachers' honor roll

Sixteen instructors vie for educator recognition awards. One teacher will represent the district in the state teacher of the year program.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 5, 2003


Pinellas County Schools will honor its top teachers at a dinner Thursday hosted by the Pinellas County Education Foundation. Five educators will be named category winners and one will be selected to represent the district in the state teacher of the year program.

Here is a look at the finalists the district presented last week to the Pinellas County School Board. They are among 118 teachers who were nominated by other teachers, parents, students and community leaders.

Commitment to Improvement of the Profession

CONNIE DIERKING, first-grade teacher at Curtis Fundamental Elementary School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in elementary education and master's degree in special education from Kansas State University

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Pinellas County teacher of the year finalist 1998; author of two teacher resource books on how to teach writing to children; Cable in the Classroom mini-grant recipient; Pinellas County Education Foundation mini-grant recipient; publication in Reading Teacher magazine; Pinellas County writing demonstration teacher

Q. What career would you choose second to teaching?

I never thought about doing anything else, but I've always dreamed about being a writer. I don't know if I would write short stories or write for a magazine or if I would write a children's book. I would love to do that and get paid for it. Another option would be occupational therapy or physical therapy as long as it was with children.

* * *

CAROL DINSDALE, teacher of kindergarten through fifth-grade students with emotional handicaps at Mount Vernon Elementary School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in special education and master's degree in behavior disorders from the University of South Florida; postgraduate certifications in elementary education, emotional handicaps, varying exceptionalities, specific learning disabilities and exceptional student education from the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: International Conference for Adolescents with Behavior Disorders presenter; University of South Florida adjunct professor; Council of Exceptional Children; Pinellas County teacher of the year nominee; Students Targeted for Exceptional Performance coordinator; site-based coach for new teachers at Mount Vernon; Pinellas County representative to Hong Kong for International Association of Special Educators conference

Q. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?

I realize that accountability is necessary for improvement, but I am a special education teacher, and my students by definition are achieving below grade level. My job is to support and modify the curriculum, which is a constant job due to the different grade levels that I teach and my students' multiple exceptionalities. Our current system does not recognize their tremendous growth. I see them struggle valiantly to succeed and I must motivate them and encourage them to continue to make incredible strides even though their efforts often fall short of our local and our state expectations.

* * *

DIANE JARRELL, kindergarten through fifth-grade achievement specialist at McMullen-Booth Elementary School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in elementary education; 25 hours toward master's degree in curriculum and educational leadership at the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: STEPS reading instruction certified trainer; Pinellas County Reading Council; Florida Reading Association; International Reading Association; Center for Learning Student Achievement Institute Project; Seven Habits of Highly Effective People certified trainer

Q. If you could change one thing about the school system, what would it be?

The district offers a great deal of professional development. The challenge we have is that teachers are so busy. They don't often have that extra time and support to reflect on what they're doing. If we could do something differently, I think it should be to offer more professional development support, coaching, resources and time that would allow teachers to work on their craft.

Creativity and Innovation

BECKY BRIDE, algebra II, algebra II honors and calculus teacher at Palm Harbor University High School

EDUCATION: bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics education from the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: GTE grant to integrate chemistry and algebra II in the classroom; Pinellas County Education Foundation mini grant recipient; Pinellas County outstanding mathematics teacher of the year 2000; Radio Shack national teacher of the year 2002; author of mathematics resource book for teachers

Q. When was your greatest moment of self-doubt?

I took an eight-year break from teaching in 1985. I didn't think I would come back. I got my master's and decided to teach at the junior college level. But there were no junior college jobs, so I started teaching at Tarpon Springs High. I found out about Kagan learning strategies and cooperative learning. That changed everything for me.

* * *

LINDA S. FAIRMAN, K-5 physical education teacher at Cross Bayou Elementary School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in education from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University; master's degree in education from University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: journal articles published in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance convention speaker

Q. What would you most like to accomplish before you retire?

I would like to have one or more of my students come back and tell me that because of what they learned in my classroom or through my teaching, they have been successful or have decided to become a teacher.

* * *

LORRE GIFFORD, ninth-grade honors physics and 12th-grade advanced placement physics teacher at the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in physics/science/education from the University of South Florida; master's degree in curriculum and instruction from National-Louis University

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: author of a project-based learning model used at Lakewood High School and featured on CNN; pioneer in application of Internet testing; Radio Shack national teacher of the year nominee 2002-03

Q. What advice would you give to a new teacher?

My advice to a new teacher would be to have fun in the first year. Try not to get caught up in the fear factor. Trust your instincts and don't be afraid.

Inspiring Students to Performance at Higher Levels

CATHERINE KLEIN, fifth-grade teacher at Brooker Creek Elementary

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida; master's course work completed in educational leadership through Nova University

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: twice nominated for Pinellas County teacher of the year and Disney teacher of the year; Seven Habits of Highly Effective People certified trainer

Q. What uplifts you when you have a discouraging day?

The fact that no day is ever the same. There's always something that one of the children will come up with. They'll do something that will tickle your fancy or they'll say something encouraging, or one of them will come up and give you a hug. I'll get a letter from a former student or I'll see the excitement on the face of a student when he grasps a new concept.

* * *

ROBIN LADD, Precalculus, algebra II and liberal arts mathematics teacher at Seminole High School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in science with an emphasis in education from the University of Minnesota at Moorhead; master's degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in mathematics from the Citadel Military College of South Carolina

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Pinellas Council of Teachers of Mathematics teacher of the year 2001-02; Seminole Chamber of Commerce teacher of the year 1999

Q. What is the most important thing you've learned about teaching since you've been on the job?

The most important thing I've learned as a teacher is to have an incredible amount of patience, to be very flexible, and to always, always be prepared. I know that I'm successful in my classroom because I have an incredible amount of enthusiasm. The kids get caught up in that. They might come in not liking math, but I can turn them around.

* * *

LINDA VEST, teacher of trainable and profoundly mentally handicapped students in grades 9 through 12 at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in secondary education from the University of Missouri; 36 hours of graduate work in special education at Sam Houston State University and the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Paul B. Stephens teacher of the year 2001-02

Q. In your opinion, what is the most important quality a teacher can possess?

A sense of humor. Some pretty strange things can happen sometimes that you don't expect. You'd better have a sense of humor, or you can get really frustrated. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the stuff that happens and go on.

Commitment to Children and Families

SANDRA BANKS, intervention specialist at Cross Bayou Elementary School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in elementary education from Michigan State University; master's degree in curriculum from National-Louis University

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Pinellas County Economics Fair winner; All Children's Hospital Seminole guild president; Faith Presbyterian Church elder; state of Virginia volunteer of the year 1994

Q. If another subject could be incorporated into the curriculum, what do you think it should be?

I don't know if you would call this a class, but I'd like to see more stress placed on character and ethics. We can do all the academics in the world, but if we don't teach kids how important it is to have a strong ethic and take responsibility for their actions and suffer the natural consequences for what they do, I think we're in a big mess. I think it was Teddy Roosevelt who said if you teach academics without character, you create a monster. The only way you can teach it is to model it. Fortunately, in my situation I have the opportunity to do that for parents and for kids and for other educators.

* * *

DIANE CHURCH-SMITH, counselor at the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in education/English from the State University of New York; master's degrees in guidance and educational leadership from the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Pasco County teacher of the year nominee in mid 1980s; National Association for College Admissions Counseling; Southern Association for College Admissions Counseling; Pinellas Counselor Association; National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Math, Science and Technology

Q. Who has been your greatest inspiration?

The students. When I come in on Monday morning and see their smiling faces and hear them ask, "How was your weekend?" that is my inspiration. The students are the fun part of going to work every day. And of course our wonderful faculty inspires me.

* * *

MALLA KOLHOFF, world history teacher of pre-International Baccalaureate 10th-graders at Palm Harbor University High School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in comprehensive social studies from the University of Toledo; elementary education certification from Ohio State University; graduate course work in administration and gifted certification from Nova University and the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Pinellas County social studies teacher of the year 2002-03; Friends of the Dunedin Public Library president; president's national service award for work with hospice teen volunteers; J. C. Penney Golden Rule award; site-based coach for new teachers at Palm Harbor University High School; Transition to Teaching mentor; Creating Independence through Student-Owned Strategies district trainer; Classroom Learning System demonstration teacher; National Honor Society adviser

Q. How would you describe your teaching style?

It's very interactive. I don't want to talk to the kids, I want to talk with them. I want the process to be a give and take, a sharing of information and experiences, and for them to become involved in the learning process.

Ambassador of the Profession

NANCY FANNON, choral director at Seminole High School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in music education from Jacksonville University; additional classes in music education at the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Seminole Chamber of Commerce educator of the year nominee in 1998; Tampa Bay Heralds of Harmony Barbershop Chorus teacher of the year 1998

Q. What do you consider your greatest asset as a teacher?

I really get to know my students because I have most of them all four years. I try to set an example of who I want them to be. I encourage them to set goals and to work hard to achieve them. I listen. I think I make an impact in that way. When I first started teaching, my principal said, "You need to get to know the kids, then you teach your subject." I've always kept that in the back of my mind. You get a rapport, then you teach your subject.

* * *

DONNA KANE, teacher of trainable mentally handicapped students in grades 6 through 8 at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in behavioral psychology from Florida State University; master's degree in special education from the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: PTA treasurer for five years, team leader for two years, twice nominated for Pinellas County teacher of the year; Paul B. Stephens teacher of the year

Q. If you had unlimited resources, what would you buy for your classroom?

We have a brand-new school that has wonderful physical resources already. Because our kids benefit so much from individual attention, I would probably want a reduced ratio of students to teachers so they would get the help they need.

* * *

JACKIE MARN, 11th-grade English and 12th-grade advanced placement literature and composition teacher at Countryside High School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in education and master's degree in secondary education from Alabama State University

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: developed and maintained a peer mediation program and created a peace ambassador program at Countryside High; multicultural liaison; founder of Seaside Steppers dance group

Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing young people today?

Kids seem to be growing up a little too fast. They're bombarded with so much. I think back to when I was a girl and how much slower-paced life was. I didn't get too much at one time. I just wish things could be a little bit slower so maybe they could stop and think and have an honest reaction time to things.

* * *

ROBERT KALACH, teacher of combined first- and second-grade class at John B. Sexton Elementary School

EDUCATION: bachelor's degree in elementary education and master's degree in educational leadership from the University of South Florida

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Suncoast Academy of Teacher Induction; new teacher training workshops presenter; site-based coach for new teachers at Sexton Elementary, Classroom Learning System cadre member and demonstration teacher; three-time presenter at the National Science Teachers Association Conference

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