Being backstage at the 2019 Excellence in Education awards is exciting and nerve-wracking and intense. It’s a long day for the finalists and their young escorts. However, it paid off by being a fun and gorgeous event.
The EIE awards began months ago with each school choosing its own Teacher of the Year, Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the year and the Instructional Support Employee of the year. From that impressive group, a panel sat down and poured over the qualifications and resumes of each nominee—anonymously, of course. The panel doesn’t know the nominee’s name or the school where they work. And that’s how the 13 finalists are chosen!
The next few weeks are a whirlwind for the finalists. They are interviewed by a panel--consisting of Superintendent Jeff Eakins and members of Hillsborough County Public Schools senior staff, as well as President Kim Jowell of the Hillsborough Education Foundation. After the interviews, the panel makes its decision on the winners.
That brings us to awards night! Each finalist chose a student escort who accompanied them on stage for the evening. The finalists and their escorts start arriving at The Straz around 1:30 pm for dress rehearsal. Some are already in their gowns and suits, the student escorts all have a parent in tow, everyone is a bundle of nervous excitement!
The finalists and their escorts are brought on stage and given a brief run through of the show. One student raised his hand to ask whether he should accompany his mentor on stage if she wins. The answer is--you most certainly can! One of the Teacher of the Year finalists tried to break the ice a bit by asking what day the awards show falls on! Umm, TODAY, of course! Everyone chuckled excitedly.
Around 3:45 pm guests start to arrive! Slowly at first and then the Straz was packed. Everyone dressed to the nines and enjoying the delicious food prepared by Hillsborough County High Schools culinary programs. Student reporters line the red carpet speaking with nominees, school board members and, of course, the superintendent. One young reporter asked School Board Member, Cindy Stuart, what she’s most excited for. Her answer, “I can’t wait to see who the winners are!” Another asked Superintendent Eakins why these awards are so important, “This is a night we get to celebrate all the amazing employees across our district--and thank them for the amazing work they do for our students,” the superintendent said with a big smile.
Around 5:30 pm the finalists and their student escorts start to trickle backstage. They sit in their assigned seats, chatting quietly with one another. Superintendent Eakins and Kim Jowell walk through the rows speaking to each person and trying to calm a few nerves.
Straight up at 6:00 pm, the curtain rises. Emcee for the evening, Ernest Hooper, from the Tampa Bay Times, gets the crowd pumped up and ready to celebrate the best of the best in Hillsborough County Public Education.
And then, one by one, the finalists and their student escorts are called to the podium. Each finalist has chosen a song to play as they are announced. They are presented their award as a 2019 finalist, they pose for a few pictures with dignitaries, and then their student escort walks up to the microphone. This is often one of the highlights of the evening. Some of the speeches are funny. A few of the younger escorts had the audience in stitches! One young man talked about the huge messes he and his friends make around Eisenhower Middle School, but he says the second Aymee Mejias is called, her immediate words are, “I’ll be right there!”
Some of the speeches are more emotional. A student escort from Caminiti Exceptional Center called Physical Education Teacher, Anne Smith, her hero for preventing her from falling down one day. And a kindergarten student from Just Elementary School had the audience in the palm of her hand as she expertly read a very moving speech about her teacher, Le’Jean Miller. The little girl stood on a small stool placed near the podium so she could reach the mic and talked about how Mrs. Miller allows her to make mistakes in order to help her learn. The young student's reading was outstanding!
After the speeches, there’s a brief intermission as the stage is set for the winners to be announced.
The finalists exit stage right and wait for the moment their category is called.
Superintendent Eakins takes the stage to announce the winner for the Ida S. Baker diversity educator of the year. That award goes to reading teacher, Sandra Misciasci from Newsome High School!
She rushed on stage along with her student escort and confidently gave a beautiful speech, reading a quote that she says helps her along the way, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift TO God.”
Next, the superintendent takes the stage to announce the 2019 Instructional Support Employee of the Year is Barbara Maxwell, a secretary from Dover Elementary School!
A very emotional Mrs. Maxwell took the stage, shaking hands and taking pictures. In her thank you speech she took the time to honor her student escort who is now in her second year of college with plans to become a teacher. Mrs. Maxwell says she has no doubt the young woman will be standing on stage one day, accepting the award for Teacher of the Year.
Finally, the last award of the evening. Superintendent Eakins takes the stage as the five finalists wait nervously off stage for the announcement.
The superintendent wastes no time. The 2019 Hillsborough County Public Schools Teacher of the Year is Dr. Dakeyan Graham, a music teacher from King High School.
The Straz erupts in applause and shouts of “GO DR. DRE!”
Once the screaming settles down, Dr. Graham closed his eyes for a moment to compose himself and then he started singing. The place erupts again as he sang the first verse of, “My God is Awesome”!
He goes on to thank his school and his mentor who he says led him back to King High School, where he was a graduate years before.
After Dr. Graham’s speech, all the winners are called back on stage for one last round of applause before the curtain falls on the 2019 Excellence in Education awards.
To see Dr. Graham's inspirational speech and more pictures from the ceremony, visit Hillsborough County Public Schools on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HillsboroughSch/ and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/hillsboroughsch/