7878 Shark Way, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Teaching was not Susan Ellard’s first career.
Ellard, the director of the medical academy at Gulf Coast High School, was a medical technologist for 10 years before leaving to become a stay-at-home mom.
“I loved teaching. Even in my medical career, I was drawn to that,” she said. “When I went back to work, I could have easily gone back into the lab, but there was something about the teaching profession, engaging kids in learning, that I wanted to try.”
The state of Florida apparently thinks Ellard made the right choice. Thursday, she was named the Macy’s Florida Teacher of the Year for Collier County.
The award, sponsored by Macy’s 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.”
Ellard, who did her student teaching at Gulf Coast High School and has never taught anywhere else, was nominated by her peers and had to fill out an application before being named the county winner.
“It means a lot to be nominated by my peers,” she said. “And I had to make a video of me teaching a lesson, so we had TV production kids in here helping me out. It was definitely a group effort.”
Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute surprised Ellard in her classroom Thursday afternoon with the award. As the county choice for the Florida Department of Education-Macy’s Teacher of the Year 2011 program, Ellard will receive $750 from Macy’s. Her school will receive $250. Pending availability of funds, the state will present additional cash rewards to each district’s teacher of the year.
Her award advances her to 2011 Department of Education/Macy’s Teacher of the Year competition. That winner will be announced in July. The Florida Teacher of the Year receives $10,000 from Macy’s, and four other finalists each collect $5,000. Macy’s also gives $1,000 to the finalists’ schools to be used for educational programs.
Ellard, the mother of three grown daughters, said she was glad she went through the experience of applying because it made her reflect on her training and the teaching profession.
“I want to help my kids reach their hopes and dreams,” she said. “This is such an honor to me. To be a teacher, you have to be dedicated and believe what you are doing is for the good of students.”
Principal David Stump said Ellard is most deserving of her award.
“She is an excellent teacher and she has put together a phenomenal program,” he said. “The kids love her.”
But Ellard was not the only Collier County School District employee being honored Thursday. Danielle Gilman, a safe schools assistant at Veterans Memorial Elementary School, was honored as the Florida School-Related Employee of the year nominee. She will not be entered in the state’s School-Related Employee of the Year competition.
Naples Park Elementary School first-grade teacher Robyn Covino was named Collier County Elementary School Teacher of the Year. North Naples Middle School art teacher Gina Rose was named Collier County Middle School Teacher of the Year. Gulf Coast High School exceptional student education/inclusion teacher Mary Beth Merrill was named the Collier County High School Teacher of the Year. Germain Leonard, a commercial foods and culinary arts teacher at Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology, was named Collier County Post Secondary Teacher of the Year.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers.