Four named Teachers of the Year
Published: April 10, 2007 | 5968th good news item since 2003
Lisa Braren stood in front of about 10 children dressed in Hawaiian shirts, top hats and canes.
“My name is Lisa Braren and I am the music teacher here. These are my morning musicians and they are going to sing to you,” she told a group of Tommie Barfield Elementary School volunteers. “Boy, do I have the best job in the world.”
Braren’s job got a little better Thursday when she and three other teachers were named Teachers of the Year for Collier County.
Braren was named Collier County Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
“This does not happen very often, but I am speechless,” Braren said with a laugh. “This is such an honor. I am honored to teach at this school. You have made my bouquet complete.”
Also honored Thursday were North Naples Middle School science teacher Mary Jane Nardulli-Clark, who was named Collier County Middle School Teacher of the Year; Gulf Coast High School math teacher Susan Hemrick, who was named Collier County High School Teacher of the Year; and Debbie Graham, a fifth-grade teacher at Avalon Elementary School who was named the Macy’s Teacher of the Year.
The teachers were nominated and then chosen by a panel of previous Teacher of the Year winners. Each year Collier County recognizes the elementary, middle and high school teachers of the year.
The Macy’s Teacher of the Year award, which is sponsored by Macy’s department store and the Florida Department of Education, recognizes a teacher from each county in Florida who demonstrates a “superior ability to foster excellence in education and contribute to the continuous improvement of student learning and the school environment.”
The Macy’s Teacher of the Year is chosen from the same pool submitted for the Collier County award.
“I love teaching. I love you guys,” Graham told the fifth-graders as she accepted her flowers and a plaque from her students. “I appreciate that the district does honor teachers.”
Graham, who was surprised by Chief Academic Officer Cynthia Janssen and Principal Marilyn Moser, acknowledged that she would not have received the award unless Carmen Lopez, a fellow fifth-grade teacher, nominated her.
Lopez said Graham, who has been teaching for 15 years and has been at Avalon for five, inspired her.
“She doesn’t just think of her own students, either. She thinks of all of our students,” said Lopez.
Case in point: Graham was surprised in front of the entire fifth-grade class at Avalon because she brought in a guest speaker from Ethiopia to speak to the children.
“She exemplifies good teaching,” said Moser. “She does a fabulous job. She is very deserving.”
One by one, each recipient was surprised at school Thursday morning as they were acknowledged for their outstanding work.
Nardulli-Clark was the first to be surprised with the middle school teacher of the year award when assistant superintendent Eric Williams and staff carrying eight flower bouquets walked into her sixth-grade science class.
“I don’t know what to say. I thought I was in trouble,” wiping away tears Nardulli-Clark, said when she saw the administration group, including her husband Mason Clark, also a science teacher at North Naples Middle.
The sixth-graders cheered.
Paul Lauster, 11, and Steven Dekevich, 12, were among the students who said Nardulli-Clark is a good teacher.
“She’s patient,” Paul said.
Upon receiving the award, a shocked Nardulli-Clark, 30, said “these are great kids and they give to me as much as I give to them.”
North Naples Principal Frank Zencuch said she was deserving of the distinction.
“She’s excellent,” Zencuch said, adding that she is a creative teacher.
Clark, who has been a teacher for eight years, is the school’s science department head and a Naples Zoo liaison.
“She’s very deserving,” said Curt Witthoff, coordinator for science and environmental education for Collier County schools, who joined the staff to surprise her. “Definitely one of the top science teachers in the county.”
A few miles away, Williams surprised Hemrick, who has been teaching 30 years, of which 26 years have been in Collier County.
More than a dozen faculty members, including three generations of principals at Gulf Coast High and her husband, interrupted her algebra II class during a quiz.
“Holy smackers,” Hemrick, 52, said upon receiving the award.
“I’m very happy because there are so many qualified teachers in Collier County, so it’s wonderful to be honored like this,” she said.
Students sitting in the class agreed Hemrick was deserving of the award.
“She’s probably the best teacher in the school,” Gulf Coast senior Tom Sisca, 18, said.
Hemrick’s husband, Joe echoed students’ thoughts.
“She’s certainly deserving,” Joe Hemrick said. Their daughter, Caroline Hylemon, is also a teacher.
Tommie Barfield Elementary School Principal Jory Westberry said Braren deserved her honor.
“She’s fabulous, just fabulous. She gives up her morning planning to work with the kids and help them enjoy music and flourish,” she said. “No music teacher equals this one.”
Also honored today was Carolyn Rice who as a general secretary for New Beginnings, an alternative school in the district. Rice was honored as Collier County’s Florida School-Related Employee of the Year nominee.
All five employees will be recognized by the Collier County School Board at 4 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail.