On January 24th, 2019, I was given the opportunity to cover the Excellence in Education awards (EIE): An annual event that presents awards such as the Teacher of The Year award, Ida S. Baker, and Instructional Support Employee of the Year. Though not all educators can be recognized in such a short time period, the EIE’s purpose is to give as much gratitude to educators as possible.
When I first arrived at the Straz, there was a red carpet, sign in booths for nominees and to my surprise, multiple volunteer desks. The EIE’s was a large event, but the volunteer desks made me wonder: what went on behind the scenes. I spoke with Sharon O'Connor, the event coordinator for the Hillsborough Education Foundation, who has coordinated the event for 3 years.
“I work on this event about six months with my boss; Now when this event ends, I will already be asking the Straz for available dates next year,” O'Connor said.
Included in coordinating the EIE’s, she works with the culinary programs of multiple schools for the large array of food available. Chef Rick, the head of the culinary program at Sickles High School has helped cater the event for about 10 years.
“I think it’s moved past from when we started, now that it’s become an every year event. I think everybody’s very comfortable now and are excited to see what the kids can do. Because when we first started I think everyone was a little hesitant with the “oh school students?” But now everyone looks forward to it,” said Chef.
I ran into a culinary student from Steinbrenner, who mentioned that they prepped for this event since the day before, and have been manning their station and food all day. With good reason, besides quick finger foods there was a pretty large array of food to appeal to many or maybe all types of taste.
Aside from the culinary program, I noticed that around the venue there was “sponsored by” signs, I got to talk to Bob Conigliaro, VP Community Relations at Caspers Company McDonald's Restaurants. The founding sponsor of the Teacher of the Year award portion.
“It is so critically important for us, we’re so passionate about putting teachers on a pedestal, to let them know how much we appreciate them for what they do,” said Conigliaro.
It was really refreshing to see that so many people care and want to recognize teachers and their efforts, and not to mention the numerous amount of volunteers present.
Debra Blossom, with a history of volunteering whether it be in church, her daughter's school or other, she is the manager for volunteer services, “I see an increase in volunteers for this event and even repeats, I think it’s key to help the event and to honor” and she said it best herself, “Volunteers are happier than other people,” said Blossom.
There were nearly 700 Hillsborough County staff members who were nominated. Students introduced the 13 finalists on stage and shared why they think their teacher or school staff member should win the award, even the youngest students had compelling reasons to share.
This was my first and last year attending the EIE’s as a student reporter since it is my senior year. But for the small time that I did attend, I was very pleased with what I encountered. The community of people coming together to support such an important cause, the student help, and of course, all the educators. It was an honor to have been invited to such a large scale event and I believe that others should come out and experience it as well.
Daniella Padilla, Senior at Sickles High School
And who were the winners, you ask...?
Teacher of the Year
Dr. Dakeyan Graham, King High School
Dr. Dakeyan C. Graham, affectionately known as “Dr. Dré”, serves as the Director of Instrumental Studies at his alma matter, C. Leon King High School. Dr. Graham holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Music Education (University of Florida), a Master’s in Educational Leadership (Concordia University) and a PhD in Music Education (University of South Florida). Throughout his 10 years as an HCPS educator, his students have demonstrated determination and focus, earning a performance position in the prestigious Carnegie Hall. As president of the Hillsborough Secondary Music Council and founder of the Eastern Coalition of Music Directors, his passion is to continue positively impacting the next generation of world changers. He is blessed to share his life with his wife, Casey (also an HCPS educator) and daughter Aaliyah.
Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year winner:
Sandra Misciasci, Newsome High School
Sandra Misciasci is an innovative teacher who has worked tirelessly for 16 years to evolve as an educator in order to best meet the needs of her students. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from USF and her Master’s from the University of Florida. She strongly believes that the classroom should be a “community” and works hard to create a sense of belonging for all students. Sandra has earned numerous awards during her career such as: 2014 State of Florida Reading Teacher of the Year, 2016 PTSA Teacher of the Year, 2016 Governor’s Shine Award, and 2017 Florida High Impact Teacher Award. She has a deep faith that all her blessings come from the Lord and is proudest of her relationship with God, her amazing husband, her two beautiful children and her family.
Instructional Support Employee of the Year:
Barbara Maxwell, Dover Elementary
Barbara Maxwell graduated from Plant City High in 1977 and has worked at Dover Elementary for 21 years, initially as a Pre-K aide, and then as Secretary I. Her southern charm, determination and enthusiasm are the glue that holds the school together. For instance, when she learned that a fatherless student had no one to take him to the races, she and her husband treated him to a trip there. When another student’s father committed suicide, she reassured her that other people would love and care for her. Barbara is also a vital part of the local church and community, with an active role in meeting the needs of local families. Because of Mrs. Maxwell, students come in as strangers and leave as family.