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Hernando County Teachers Honored at Gala Event

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What better combination for a gala – music, adult and non-adult beverages, delicious food, women dressed in evening gowns and men dressed in tuxedos, but most of all, celebrities and awards. The only thing missing was a red carpet!

The Hernando County teachers who were honored at the Teachers of the Year banquet on Friday, January 19th, are indeed local celebrities. The Hernando County Education Foundation (H.C.E.F.) spearheads this event every year. It starts with each school in Hernando County choosing its individual Teacher of the Year.

Prior to the actual start of the event, there was a cocktail hour held outside with entertainment by Kold Nation, a duo that performs Rhythm and Blues, Hip-Hop, and Southern Soul. Some members of the crowd got into the spirit of the music and danced along with the duo.

Then, everyone proceeded into the American Aviation hangar at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, where the event was held. To begin the festivities, Santiago Pinkney, a student at Springstead High School, sang several pop songs.

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Tammy Brinker, CEO of H.C.E.F. and school board member Gus Guadagnino welcomed the crowd to the ceremony. Guadagnino spoke about the origins of the Education Foundation many years ago when they were asking for $50 donations from businesses. He got Ms. Brinker on board almost from the beginning. Since that time, the organization has grown to a point where they collect hundreds of thousands of dollars, which they give out to individual teachers and schools to supplement what they get from the state and county.

The main sponsor of the event was Suncoast Credit Union, which has donated more than $40 million to the schools over the past few years. Other sponsors were Kelly Education, Lowman Law Firm, Herff Jones, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, AT&T, Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Burn Boot Camp, Bribag Law Firm, and Grand Canyon University

The Delores S. Parrot Middle School Advanced Choir, under the direction of John Bliffen, sang the National Anthem and two inspirational songs. After the entertainment, the attendees enjoyed a delicious meal catered by Outback Steakhouse while listening to the mellow sounds of Del Barnes’ saxophone.

Superintendent of Schools John Stratton addressed all the teachers in the room, not just the nominees, when he said, “Never underestimate the power and impact that you have and always use it to inspire.”

Adrianna Swearingen, a Media Specialist and Florida’s 2024 Teacher of the Year, gave the keynote address. In speaking to the audience, she compared teachers to lighthouses.

“Like rays from a lighthouse, we, as educators, have the privilege of helping students by being the hope, resiliency, and curiosity leading them to discover their potential.”

She went on to say that because of the dedication of Florida educators, the state has been ranked #1 for education by “U.S. News and World Report.”

Ms. Swearingen concluded by quoting from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh,” in which Christopher Robin tells Pooh, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” She encouraged teachers to adopt that attitude with their students and said that educators provide encouragement and stability and instill perseverance in the young people they teach.

She also stated that teachers encourage their students to grow, overcome, explore and learn and that curiosity fuels learning.
As the nominees for Teacher of the Year were announced and there was a brief explanation of what made each teacher special, they entered the venue, led by an escort. Each nominee had their own enthusiastic cheering section. As in all award ceremonies, they left the best for last, announcing the Hernando County Teacher of the Year among the twenty-eight nominees at the end of the evening.

The nominees were (drum roll, please): Michael Rae − Adult Education, Simone Drake – Brooksville Elementary, Penelope Gressick – Central High School, Katie Day – Challenger K-8 School (Elementary level), Jaime Suarez – Challenger K-8 School (Middle School level), Natalie Darby – Chocachatti Elementary School, Andrea Kelliher – D.S. Parrott Middle School, Christina Lewis – Deltona Elementary School, Tami Siciliano – Eastside Elementary School, Keri Seroski – Endeavor – Discovery School, Jessica Langdon – Explorer K-8 School (Elementary level), Jeanette Roble Wadsworth – Explorer K-8 School (Middle School level), Ronica Guerrier – F.W. Springstead High School, Tina Hall – Fox Chapel Middle School, Mona Johnson – Hernando ESchool, Mason R. Lewis – Hernando High School, Baylee Waterman – J.D. Floyd Elementary School, Michele Morris – Moton Elementary School, Laura Brunner – Nature Coast Technical High School, Andrea Kreismann – Pine Grove Elementary School, Lisa Kepner – Powell Middle School, Amanda Samson – Spring Hill Elementary School, Alexis Chin – Suncoast Elementary School, Charlene Ross – Weeki Wachee High School, Thomas Be Cude – West Hernando Middle School, Daniel Cohen – Westside Elementary School, Mark Thomas – Winding Waters K-8 School (Elementary level), and Nicole Rooney – Winding Waters K-8 School (Middle School level).

The second runner-up for Teacher of the Year was Ronica Guerrier, a Language Arts teacher at F.W. Springstead High School. The first runner-up was Simone Drake, a teacher at Brooksville Elementary School.

The winner of Hernando County’s 2024 Teacher of the Year was Jaime Suarez, a Math teacher for Gifted children at Challenger K-8 School. Ms. Suarez is described as someone whose “presence, alone, inspires and motivates others to do their best every day.”

The twenty-eight teachers honored at his year’s Teacher of the Year celebration are just a small sampling of the excellent teachers in Hernando County. Events like this not only pay homage to the teachers but also inspire other teachers to excel. In addition, it demonstrates to parents and the public, as a whole, the quality of the education in our community.

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