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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 2 years ago

Sarasota Schools celebrate Teacher of the Year finalists

School district staff joined Education Foundation representatives in surprising the three finalists at their schools.
by: Whitney Elfstrom Staff Writer

Many teachers go out of their way to do more for their students than deliver a lecture from the front of a classroom.

Some set up behavior plans to steer a student in the right direction. Others pay attention to when there’s a change in a student's behavior and then check to make sure everything is OK at home. 

But one thing most great teachers have in common is that they know their job doesn’t end when the bell rings.

Each year, the school district names elementary, middle and high school teachers of the year who are then put in the running to become the Sarasota Teacher of the Year.

Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer Laura Kingsley hugs Marissa Dobbert.

Sarasota County Schools and the Education Foundation honored three teachers who exemplify the top skills on Nov. 14 with its annual Teacher of the Year tour. The finalists were chosen from a pool of 47 nominees and underwent a series of interviews with the Education Foundation and former Teacher of the Year winners. The 2020 Sarasota Teacher of the Year will be announced on Dec. 11 at an award ceremony at The Westin Sarasota. 

Jennifer Vigne, president of the Education Foundation, said teachers are everyday heroes who help their students thrive, which often means they don't carve out time for themselves.

“[Teachers are] so deeply invested in seeing their kids be successful, that they don't ever take the time to focus on themselves... . Part of the DNA of a teacher is to deflect the spotlight from themselves,” Vigne said. “We have a responsibility as a community to come together every year to celebrate the everyday heroes that are our teachers who've invested so deeply.”

And that's exactly what the nonprofit worked to do on Thursday as a charter bus filled with former Teacher of the Year recipients, Education Foundation board members and Sarasota Schools staff drove around Sarasota County to surprise the three finalists with balloons, flowers and their family members.

Sarasota Military Academy Prep teacher Marissa Dobbert, a sixth and seventh grade math teacher, was awarded as Sarasota County Middle School Teacher of the Year. 

Under the guise of the school performing an afternoon formation, Dobbert walked into the school’s courtyard where she was met by her family and the announcement that she was a finalist for Sarasota Teacher of the Year. 

Chosen for her classroom leadership and instructional skills, Dobbert caught the committee's eye when she told them the story of how she encouraged a student to change from being “leader in the wrong direction” to a “leader in the right direction.”

Heather Young is Sarasota County Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

One day she held the student after class to talk about his behavior, Dobbert said she got a little emotional, which is something she tries not to do in an effort to maintain a strong demeanor, and talked with him about how she could help him.

“The turning point was when he realized that I cared about him as a human being and an individual and [that I cared about] more than just math,” Dobbert said. “Now he's turned into a leader in a positive way instead of a negative way.”

Dobbert began teaching at SMA in 2015 and became the SMA math department head in 2017. She emphasizes collaborative learning, use of technology and hands-on learning that encourages students to learn from one another.

In a press release, Dobbert said that her job is more than just teaching math. Before she can even begin to teach her students, she said she has to develop a positive rapport with them.

“Students have bigger challenges in their lives than I had to deal with in middle school. When students don’t know where they will sleep, when they will have their next meal or the opportunity to shower, what becomes important as a teacher changes,” she said in the release. 

Venice is home to Elementary School Teacher of the Year Heather Young, Venice Elementary School art teacher, and High School Teacher of the Year Josh Grant, a Venice High School Career and Technical Education teacher.

Young, a former gifted teacher, has been teaching for 22 years and said that though educational trends have varied, what remains the same are the kids and the relationships she has built with them.

Josh Grant is Sarasota County High School Teacher of the Year.

For Young, the most rewarding aspect of being the Sarasota Elementary School Teacher of the Year is being recognized and nominated by her peers who understand what it takes to be in the classroom each day, she said that aspect makes the award extra special. 

Starting out at an alternative school for at-risk youth, Grant said that he soon found out teaching is based on more than writing lesson plans. So he began to engage with his students and offer an ear for kids who may not have someone listening to them at home.

“High school is tough, educationally, emotionally, growing personally and socially. So [students] need someone to be there and they need somebody who will sit and listen to them,” Grant said. “The best way for me to be the best educator I can be is to… get on their level and try to understand where they're coming from.”

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I’m the Sarasota community reporter, which means I cover the people, places and things of Sarasota. I graduated from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg with a degree in journalism and digital communication and a minor in English. 

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