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Honor comes late in career

IDA S. BAKER DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR: A 34-year teacher, Windell Roberson of the D.W. Waters Career Center is an advocate for students who have had few.

By LETITIA STEIN
Published November 18, 2005

TAMPA - At D.W. Waters Career Center, what Windell Roberson expects of students is the rigid accountability that his superiors demanded in the Army Reserve.

No nonsense at school, he cuts loose on stage.

At Florida A&M University, Roberson played the trumpet in a band called the Monterreys. He's a tenor, who directs two choirs at First Baptist Church of College Hill.

Roberson's photogenic, dimpled smile came out on Thursday evening, when Hillsborough educators named him the county's Ida S. Baker Distinguished Educator of the Year. The award recognizes contributions to minority students and the community.

"For this to happen so late in my career is really validation," said Roberson, noting that while applying for the award, he found it hard to write about his accomplishments. "I just kind of do what I do."

And singing is one of his things. After brief thank yous, he warmed up to the microphone and cajoled nearly 800 people to stand, clap hands, sway hips and wave napkins in the air.

A 34-year educator, Roberson, 54, works as an advocate for students who have known few. For four years, he has taught at the Waters Career Center, which serves teenagers below their academic grade level. The average student reads at the fifth-grade level.

As student intervention specialist, he stands between a student in trouble and the consequences.

"He listens, that's what the kids say," said Principal Veronica Knight. "He doesn't care who it is, or how far it is."

Though reserved, the Clair-Mel resident has a wicked sense of humor.

"He might come into the room and say something funny that throws you for a little while," said LaZiae Jordan, who teaches parenting and child development to teen parents. "All of a sudden, you find out the joke's on you, and you haven't figured it out yet."

Working with at-risk youths, he draws on his own experiences growing up in Tampa's Belmont Heights neighborhood. He traveled with his father, a migrant worker, picking seasonal crops.

Roberson specializes in teaching math to middle and high school students. He has spent his career in Hillsborough schools, including more than a dozen years at Leto High. He's taught some of the parents of his current students who are at Waters Career Center.

This year, he started a mentoring program, matching members of the staff with students in their senior year. Students in the program come to school more regularly, said Knight, the principal.

Roberson also created a mentoring group that links students with members of the regional chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. And he has trained teachers throughout the county on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test math strategies.

Roberson's work stood out from more than 160 teachers nominated. Other finalists were Peggy Gassett, a fourth-grade teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary in Ybor City, and Ninfa Guerra Rodriguez, who teaches English as a second language to third-graders at Dover Elementary.

Finalists receive prizes including $1,500 in scholarships to continue their education at the University of South Florida and Nova University and $500 from the Hillsborough Education Foundation.

As the winner, Roberson receives an additional $1,500 in scholarships, plus an extra $1,000 from the Education Foundation. He also gets a four-day, three-night cruise to the Bahamas from ASI Travel.

"With teaching, you give of yourself," said Elvira Pinder, a longtime friend and the director of music at First Baptist Church of College Hill. "That's what he does mainly, is give of himself."

Letitia Stein can be reached at 813 661-2443 or lstein@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 18, 2005, 01:27:15]


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