Student applause greets teacher

Published February 6, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - It was the second grade's turn Monday afternoon for a brush with fame.

"Congratulations!" students shouted in unison across the media center at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, and Debbye Warrell brushed away a tear. She got at least five hugs.

It was that kind of Monday for Warrell, the school's media specialist, who was honored Saturday as the district's Teacher of the Year by the Hernando County Education Foundation.

"I'm still in shock," she said. "I've gotten hundreds of e-mails, and I just had flowers delivered."

Last month, Challenger principal Sue Stoops told the School Board it had found a winner in honoring Warrell for its site recognition award.

"Mrs. Warrell is a dynamo of energy and enthusiasm," Stoops said, recalling the teacher's costumed holiday appearances as a cat and Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas!

"She is an actor, a director, an artist and an educator. You name it."

The librarian admitted as much, describing her 18-year vocation as all-consuming.

"I'm very passionate about what I do," Warrell said, as she prepared to help the second-graders find new books. "This is not a job, this is my life, 24-7."

Each of the county's 20 schools nominates a candidate for the annual award, which serves as the first step in the state's Teacher of the Year competition.

Those school nominees face a stiff review, including class visits and interviews, said foundation executive director Kathleen Reitz.

But Warrell said there's no sense of competition in the Hernando school system, where she is in her fourth year of teaching. When she needed classroom copies of the novel Bridge to Terabithia, the entire district came to her rescue.

"I put out e-mails, and boxes of books started arriving," Warrell said. "We are a team."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.