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Peers, parents point out district's terrific teachers

In-class judging for Teacher of the Year is next month and the winner is to be announced in mid-February.

By LORRI HELFAND

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000


Ten Pinellas County teachers are on the edge of their seats.

They have been named by the district as finalists for Teacher of the Year.

Judges, who will visit classes the week of Jan 8., will look at a variety of criteria, including how teachers apply district teaching methods and how well they relate to students.

"We're looking at the whole package. We've really had some amazing people apply," said Janet O'Harrow, the district's information specialist.

All the finalists took part in a rigorous selection process. Originally, 49 teachers were nominated by other teachers, parents, volunteers and business and community leaders. Once nominated, each submitted detailed self-assessments, describing how they apply effective teaching strategies in the classroom. All candidates also had to be backed by their principals.

Earlier this month, 20 semifinalists were selected. The 10 finalists were chosen late last week.

The Pinellas County Education Foundation will announce the winner Feb. 16 at a district luncheon at the Harborview Center in Clearwater. District winners will go on to regional and state competitions.

Here are the 10 finalists, along with comments submitted to the district from the people who nominated them:

Sara W. Dubbeld, an English teacher at Gibbs High. She was described by principal Barbara C. Shorter as "a teacher whose enthusiasm and love of teaching is truly infectious. She demonstrates the highest level of professional commitment, dedication and competency in her work with colleagues as well as students."

Deborah Green, a teacher of profoundly mentally handicapped students at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Center. "My daughter Erin has been in Ms. Green's class since the beginning of the semester," wrote parent Lucy Luisi. "Ms. Green's positive and enthusiastic approach to teaching special needs students has benefited Erin in her progress."

Cynthia Heinlein, an English teacher at East Lake High. Principal Rick Misenti wrote: "Our school's desire to nominate Mrs. Heinlein for this award mirrors her ambitious desire to be the best person and educator that she can be. Her wholesome approach to education and to children causes a positive and immediate impact in the lives of our students."

Sherrie Lee, a first-grade teacher at Mount Vernon Elementary. "Sherrie is dedicated to all aspects of her career," wrote fellow teachers Rhonda Burkholder and Linda Bayless. "She is dedicated to the philosophy that all children can learn and reach their highest potential."

Kathleen O'Neil, a library information specialist at Forest Lakes Elementary. Parent Melissa Joseph wrote, "I have admired Mrs. O'Neil's dedication to educating her students for the entire six years she has had one of my children as a student. She continuously challenges our children from story time in the younger grades to research and Internet lessons in the older grades."

Michael Percifield, a math teacher at Clearwater High. "Mr. Percifield knows magic," wrote fellow teachers Gregory Lord and JoAnne Westfall. "His learning potion is a mixture of hard work, dedication and discipline stirred with mutual respect and a sense of humor."

Christine Rose, a second-grade teacher at McMullen-Booth Elementary. The Kaufman family -- Lori, Larry and their son, Nicholas -- wrote, "From her years of experience, she has built a classroom environment of trust, respect for others and for self, and an atmosphere where children can continue to develop self-confidence as they learn new concepts."

Barbara Schuler, a fifth-grade teacher at McMullen-Booth Elementary. Parent Gigi Risolo wrote, "She is a very kind, understanding, hardworking teacher and deserves this special recognition!"

Robert Sinibaldi, an adapted physical-education teacher at Walsingham Elementary. "I am nominating Dr. Robert Sinibaldi for teacher of the year because of his outstanding work and relentless care for the special needs students here at Walsingham Elementary School," wrote fellow teacher Craig Capo.

Dara Zakrzewski, a fourth-grade teacher at Cypress Woods Elementary. "She helps you when you need it," student Ali Settel wrote. "She always has a smile for everyone to see."

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