Teachers honored for excellence
Six school employees receive awards in Collier
COLLIER COUNTY — About 10 years ago, as the Gulf Coast High School principal, Michele LaBute hired social studies teacher Susan Soulard believing she would be an excellent choice for the opening school.
Tuesday afternoon, LaBute, who is now the district’s chief operations officer, presented Soulard with the Macy’s Florida Teacher of the Year Award for Collier County.
Freshman Sara Alvarez, who is in Soulard’s Advanced Placement human geography class, said Soulard is deserving of the honor.
“She’s really nice,” the 14-year-old said. “She explains everything thoroughly to us and she is always willing to help and answer our questions.”
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.”
Principal David Stump said Soulard deserved the honor.
“She has a wealth of knowledge. She challenges the kids and they love it,” he said. “They are engaged and enjoy learning.”
Her award advances her to 2012 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.
Soulard, who came to teaching as a second career, said the award caps a year that also saw the school’s Model United Nations and Academic WorldQuest Teams, of which she is the school’s sponsor, perform well.
“It’s been a great year,” she said.
Soulard was just one of six Collier County School District employees surprised with the honor of employee of the year by district administrators Tuesday.
The others were:
■ Tim Coyle, a physical education teacher at Tommie Barfield Elementary School on Marco Island, who was named Collier County Elementary School Teacher of the Year.
■ North Naples Middle School exceptional student education teacher Cathy Crowley, who was named Collier County Middle School Teacher of the Year.
■ Gulf Coast High school earth space science teacher Valerie Valdes, who was named County High School Teacher of the Year.
■ Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology business education teacher Barbara Spenik, who was named Collier County Post-Secondary Teacher of the Year.
■ Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Groce of New Beginnings in Immokalee, who was named Collier County’s nominee for the Florida School-Related Employee of the Year.
The teachers who were named recipients of the awards were nominated by their peers. Their accomplishments included; delivering clothes and food to students in need; seeing 89 percent of students successfully complete the business education program and seek employment in the local workforce; teaching ESE students to be helpful to their peers and being a role model for their students.
“This is amazing. I am so honored,” Valdes said as her classroom erupted in applause when she was surprised with her award. “I work in a good school. I want to give a good experience to my students.”
Valdes, who has taught for 10 years – including five at Gulf Coast High School, said she teaches from the heart.
“I take it personally when they don’t do well,” she said. “I want to leave my students with a sense of knowing how the world works. It is not about just reading the book. It is about having fun.”
Freshman Sabrina Falco said Valdes lives up to her award.
“She’s so nice. I love her,” she said of her earth space science teacher. “She does fun things with us.”
In addition to the accolades they received Tuesday, the six teachers will be officially recognized at the May 17 Collier County School Board meeting.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/