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School Board Recognizes Outstanding Students and Educators

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On Tuesday, May 28, the Hernando County School Board, at its regular meeting, recognized some of our educators’ and students’ achievements. These covered a number of different fields.

Students from Powell Middle School led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance. Then, principal Alexandra Rastatter spoke about the achievements of Powell’s students and teachers. First, she described their first dinner theatre, which was a joint venture of their drama and culinary arts program. They served dinner to the parents and had a performance of “Beauty and The Beast Bed and Breakfast.”

In addition, the boys’ football, basketball and tennis teams were all county champions. Boys’ volleyball, track and softball placed second.

One of Powell’s teachers, Mr. Edward Carlson, was nominated by Readers’ Digest as America’s Favorite Teacher. He also received the Bay News 9 A+ Teacher Award. The school also recognized Ms. Lisa Kepner as its Teacher of the Year. Ms. Harmony Turnbull was a Spotlight Teacher and was recognized as such by the district.

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Beth Lastra, Supervisor of College and Career Programs, recognized the 26 Career Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) at the various schools. These programs give students an opportunity to interact with other students throughout the state. Danielle Williams introduced some of the students involved in these activities.

Ms. Williams explained, “The experiences provided by these organizations are transformative. They offer valuable skills and play a pivotal role in shaping the aspirations and character of our future leaders, whether it’s developing entrepreneurial skills, fostering a passion for agriculture and sustainability, nurturing the educators of America or honoring technical skills essential for the workforce.”

In recognizing the important role of the advisors in these organizations, Ms. Lastra remarked, “Their tireless efforts and unwavering support are the backbone of these organizations. The guidance of these mentors is instrumental in the personal development of these young achievers.”

First, student representatives from Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapters at Weeki Wachee and Hernando High School spoke briefly about what they had gained by being members of this organization. Next, Future Farmers of America (FFA)members from Parrott Middle School and Hernando High spoke about the experiences they had gained, not just in animal husbandry but also in other areas such as public speaking.

Representatives of Florida Future Educators of America chapters from Weeki Wachee High School and Hernando High spoke about the unlimited possibilities of a career in education and the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. These students have had real-world experience by visiting elementary schools and interacting with the children.

Although there were no student speakers from the Skills USA program, Ms. Williams described the wide variety of experiences these young people can obtain in their field of interest. These include filmmaking, engineering and culinary skills.

Another item on the agenda was the recognition of the monthly military veteran employee. Dr. Glenn Lastra, principal of Eastside Elementary, introduced May’s veteran, Ms. Kerri Ousley. The Navy veteran served at the Pentagon in the Chief of Naval Operations office and as an admiral’s aide issuing top secret clearance to individuals. Now, Ms. Ousley works in Exceptional Student Education. This year she has been responsible for her students making a 77 percent gain in achievement.

Assistant Superintendent Gina Michalicka recognized Hernando students who were selected to be part of the statewide musical performance ensembles. Out of thousands of students who applied for this honor, fourteen were chosen to represent our county. These young people exemplify either instrumental or vocal excellence and each one received a certificate of achievement. Dave Pletincks, choral director at Powell Middle School, called each of the choral and band directors up to the podium to introduce the students from their respective schools.

Challenger K-8 Band director Michelle McCarthy introduced a talented tuba player who was chosen for this honor. Zachary Furterer, Band and Choral Director at Explorer K-8, recognized an outstanding saxophone player who made it to the state All-Stars. Band director Ross McCarthy from Powell Middle School introduced an exceptional flute player who has achieved several state honors.

Choral students from Powell Middle School also received recognition for their performance in the American Choral Directors Association Honor Choir and the Florida Music Educators Association Choir. Springstead High School’s band director, Leah Huston, introduced Allan An, a flute player who has been a member of the Allstate Honor Band for the past five years.

Hernando High School band director Joe Harrin introduced Joseph Marrone, a Senior who is a trumpet player. He was selected to be part of the Florida Honors Band and the Tri-State Honors Band, consisting of students from Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Weeki Wachee High School recognized two students−one who was named to the All-State Honors Band and the other was chosen for the All-State High School Concert Chorus.

Next on the agenda was the recognition of Jamie Suarez, a Challenger K-8 Math teacher, as Hernando County Teacher of the Year. Ms. Suarez has also made it as one of the five finalists for the 2025 Florida Teacher of the Year−a first for our county. Tammy Brinker, CEO of the Hernando County Education Foundation, presented some of Ms. Suarez’s accomplishments.

Ms. Brinker stated, “Her dedication and passion for education has not only impacted the lives of students but have also set a remarkable example for educators across our state. This achievement is a testament to Jamie’s unwavering commitment to nurturing young minds and fostering a love for learning. Beyond her teaching prowess, it’s her genuine care and compassion that sets her apart. Her belief in the potential of every child has touched the hearts of all who have had the privilege of knowing her. ”
Reading from a letter written by the parent of one of Ms. Suarez’s students, Challenger K-8 principal Ms. Rosemarie Maiorini said, “Hopefully, one day your child will experience the magic of a teacher who sees them in their entirety.”

This parent went on to say, “Before coming to Ms. Suarez’s class, my son fought to maintain a ‘C’ average the year before. He started the school year discouraged. Then the magic happened. I watched in absolute wonder as he flourished. Every test day, Ms. Suarez opened her classroom for any kid who needed extra help. He got an ‘A’ in math the last three grading periods. Not only did his grades increase, but so did his belief in himself. Mrs. Suarez didn’t just take the time to teach the curriculum; she took the time to dig deeper into her students and see them for everything that they are.”

In addressing the audience, Ms. Suarez stated, “I truly believe that teaching is the most important job in the world. Every day, we get the opportunity to encourage, inspire and sometimes change the course of a child’s life. I believe we can help a child identify their potential and then speak it into existence.

Next on the agenda was citizens’ input.

Ms. Tina Viera, voicing her concern about all the school staff positions that have become vacant with people either retiring or leaving the county, remarked, “I hope the Board is going to take a look at this and take some necessary action. We need to address the reasons people are leaving. Pay is a concern, but morale is definitely one of them, As a parent, I don’t want my son to be educated by someone who’s not quite as good as they should be because we’re taking whatever we can get. As an educator, I’m concerned because my job becomes more difficult if I’m surrounded by people who might not be capable of doing the job. I don’t want us to lower our standards.

Another audience member, Ms. Jennifer Cook, quoted several well-known individuals about the importance of the right type of education. For example, Gandhi stated, “Intelligence that does not mold character is worthless.” C.S. Lewis remarked, “An education without values makes a clever devil.”

Ms. Cook commented, “Misbehavior is the number one reason why teachers leave. Schools now award normal behavior and ignore bad behavior. Kids are given stickers, candy, etc. for doing what kids are supposed to do. These extrinsic rewards have replaced an intrinsic reward system consisting of pride; self-satisfaction felt when doing a job well done. Candy and toys rob the children of the joy of doing the right thing without being compensated. That’s part of character-building. Give the teachers back their power. Let them be in control of the classroom with full support of administrators and board members.”

The next school board meeting will be at 6:00 pm on Tuesday, June 25, at the school board office−919 North Broad Street, Brooksville. If you can’t attend in person, you can watch it live online or pre-recorded. The Hernando County Schools’ website is www.hernandoschools.org.

Florida Future Educators of America students with their sponsor. [Photo by Sarah Nachin]
Florida Future Educators of America students with their sponsor. [Photo by Sarah Nachin]

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