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    School motivator's work honored

    A woman who ''goes way above and beyond her job'' at Calvin Hunsinger School is the district's Support Employee of the Year.

    By LORRI HELFAND

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Eva Rodriguez is the secretary/bookkeeper at Calvin Hunsinger School, but she'll have you know she's "not just a paper pusher."

    Often you'll see her leading a multicultural committee pep rally, offering advice to educators at other schools or coaching her co-workers to take on leadership roles.

    "She goes way above and beyond her job," teacher assistant Debbie Zimmerman said. "She gets involved in everything."

    Assistant principal Pat Stanton said Rodriguez has been that way since she came to Calvin Hunsinger, the center for severely emotionally disturbed children, 10 years ago.

    And that's why, they say, she was named Pinellas County Schools Support Employee of the Year on Tuesday.

    Rodriguez, 52, was selected from more than 7,000 full- and part-time support staff members and honored at a breakfast sponsored by the Pinellas County Teachers Credit Union.

    It's a great honor for Rodriguez, but she sees it more as an opportunity to motivate her colleagues.

    "I'm happy I'm being recognized," she said. "I'm hoping that other support staff see me as a role model and say, 'I can do this too.' "

    Assistant bookkeeper Debi Dame said Rodriguez has already motivated her.

    "Eva is my mentor. She is the first person I worked with in the school system that has actually encouraged me to grow," she said.

    Dame, who has worked in the school system for 14 years, said Rodriguez persuaded her to pursue the Certificate of Distinction curriculum, a professional development program.

    Rodriguez, who was the district's first support employee to receive the certificate, has worked in Pinellas County schools for 16 years.

    She heads the school's multicultural group and safety goals committee and is active in school improvement planning. She also counsels other schools on how to use business concepts to improve student achievement.

    In 1971, Rodriguez went to Mexico for what was supposed to be a month. She met her future husband and ended up staying 14 years. She studied at the Universidad Ibero Americano and became a teacher of English as a second language. In 1985, she returned to the United States and began working part time as a teacher's assistant at Safety Harbor Exceptional School before transferring to Calvin Hunsinger.

    Of her numerous endeavors, Rodriguez said her role in the multicultural committee is one of her favorites.

    "It makes everything else worthwhile. I can't help it. I enjoy having fun with the kids," she said with a shrug and a smile.

    With her district honor, Rodriguez received $500 from the Pinellas County Teachers Union and a gold ring.

    The district also recognized first runner-up Joan Gordon, a paraprofessional at Lealman Avenue Elementary School; the second runner-up, Teresa Bach, a secretary at the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High School; seven additional finalists; and 11 semifinalists.

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