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Top faculty member a survivor

Susan Cannoy is Westside Elementary. After all, she was there when the place opened 28 years ago.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2001


SPRING HILL -- If a teacher ever embodied a school, it might be Susan Cannoy of Westside Elementary.

Cannoy was there in 1972 when Westside opened, and she endured its awkward baby steps.

There were no desks in the first weeks. Kids sat on the floor, using chairs as writing platforms. It was so crowded that Cannoy, a first-grade teacher, had 45 students. The school ran double sessions. Half the kids showed up at 7:30 a.m., the other half at noon.

In its second year, Westside was expanded to relieve that crowding. But that meant Cannoy, her students and other classes in the school worked out of a makeshift classroom at Grace Presbyterian Church until after Thanksgiving.

But Cannoy and Westside stuck it out. Both have adapted to growth in Spring Hill and to the changing nature of families. Now, they are seeing the rewards.

First, Westside won an A grade under the state's accountability system for its performance last year. And then, on Saturday night, Cannoy was named Hernando County's Teacher of the Year -- the first from Westside.

Cannoy, who along with fourth-grade teacher Barbie Hall is the last remnant of Westside's original faculty, wants to share the glory with her colleagues and 28 years' worth of students. But she also recognizes a bit of personal satisfaction.

"It shows that all my hard work has paid off," Cannoy said Monday.

Chuck Johnson, who has been Westside's principal since 1988, said it's appropriate that a Westside original would be the school's first to be named county Teacher of the Year.

"I knew we had an outstanding candidate this year, and I felt it was our year," he said.

Cannoy, who grew up in Pinellas County, decided to become a teacher in fifth grade. Her teacher at the time, Jeanne Freeze, inspired the choice. "I absolutely adored her. She made learning so much fun that year," Cannoy said.

She tries do the same for her kids today. Even fundamental tasks, such as teaching first-graders to form their letters, takes on a story-time feel.

The lowercase l is in the Army, she tells her kids, and must always stand at attention. The lowercase f hurt its leg and needs a cane. And the cane has a cross on it. The tricky lowercase s is a letter that was riding its bike outside but abruptly changed directions, going inside to play Nintendo.

It makes sense to her 6- and 7-year-old students, who snicker at the funny things the letter s does as they form the letters on their papers.

Quatavia Merriweather, a student in Cannoy's class, said he has been learning a lot about phonics lately. But his favorite subject is reading. He thinks highly of his teacher.

"She's nice," he said.

Christa Arvay's twins also are Cannoy's students. Kendra is in the room full time. Kyle comes from a neighboring class for half the day during language arts, an arrangement that helps struggling students in the other room get more time with their teacher.

"They love her," Arvay said. "They think she's great."

Arvay heard other parents talking about Cannoy's skillful teaching last year, when her children were in kindergarten. After watching Cannoy teach her kids, Arvay agrees with the praise. "I think she is very deserving," she said.

Cannoy's teaching assistant and sister-in-law, Kim Englebert, has been at Cannoy's side for the past three years. She said lots of parents specifically request Cannoy to be their child's teacher.

Some are Cannoy's former students. Some have been Westside teachers. Some were teachers from other schools who, by policy, could have had their children attend the school where they work.

"There's not a better teacher in the world than Susan Cannoy," Englebert said. "She's a born teacher. She really is."

Cannoy, 52, taught at Brooksville Elementary for one year before coming over for Westside's debut. She has an associate's degree from St. Petersburg Junior College, a bachelor's degree from East Tennessee State University and a master's degree from the University of South Florida.

At Saturday night's Teacher of the Year ceremony, the audience watched a brief video profile of each of the 17 nominees. In it, Cannoy talked about her roots at Westside.

"I was here when the walls went up, and I keep saying I'll be here when the walls went down," she said on the video.

Moments later, she was Teacher of the Year, an honor that comes with a bouquet of flowers, a plaque, a $500 check and a trip to Orlando this summer as the county's candidate for Florida Teacher of the Year.

Back at school Monday, Cannoy said receiving the award was "like a dream come true." And looking up the corridor that she's been walking for 28 years, all seemed perfect at Westside.

"This is my home," Cannoy said. "I feel like I built this house."

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