Three East County staff members named finalists for 'Support Employee of the Year' in Manatee County.
Two East County teachers and three staff members were shocked when School District of Manatee County officials walked into their respective classrooms and offices Dec. 16 and announced they were finalists for "Educator of the Year" and "Support Employee of the Year."
Jennifer Santora, a third grade teacher at B.D. Gullett Elementary School, and Faith Bench, a math teacher at Braden River Middle School, are two of four finalists for the district’s Educator of the Year award.
The other two finalists for "Educator of the Year" are Amanda English, a science teacher at Bayshore High School, and Susan Nickerson, a fourth grade teacher at Palmetto Elementary School.
Support Employee of the Year finalists include: Amie Golden, registrar at Gene Witt Elementary School; Martha Stroup, senior school secretary at Freedom Elementary School; Christal Cashmore, a paraprofessional at Myakka City Elementary School; and Alison Cooper, a clerical assistant at Williams Elementary School.
The School District of Manatee County will announce "Educator of the Year" and "Support Employee of the Year" at the Excellence in Education Awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Feb. 5 at Manatee Technical College’s main campus.
The winner will advance to the Florida Department of Education Macy’s Teacher of the Year competition.
Jennifer Santora, a third grade teacher at B.D. Gullett Elementary School
When Jennifer Santora was in kindergarten, she knew what she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.
“I enjoyed modeling what my teachers used to do,” Santora said. “I used to go home and play school every single day with my little chalkboard and chalk, and I really looked up to teachers for what they did.”
Her teachers as a child helped shape her into who she was as a child and later on as an educator herself, she said.
In Santora’s eight years of serving as a teacher in the School District of Manatee County, she has been at B.D. Gullett Elementary School.
When Santora was announced as a finalist in front of her students, she said she was blessed, humbled and honored to be selected.
“I feel that as teachers we come to work every day and we do the hard work for our students,” Santora said. “They payoff usually comes in what we see our children do and how they succeed, but to receive this honor is above and beyond my expectations of why I teach.”
Santora would be happy teaching any grade level, but the third grade is perfect for her, she said.
“I like teaching this grade level because they’re still sweet and they’re still impressionable,” she said. “They’re still thirsting for learning and knowledge. … I really feel like at this age level I build a really strong classroom family, and I’m able to make a difference with this age.”
Whether it’s socially, emotionally or academically, Santora enjoys seeing her students progress throughout the year.
Faith Bench, math teacher at Braden River Middle School
Faith Bench turned in her paperwork for the Educator of the Year award weeks ago, so she completely forgot about it until Dec. 16 when her classroom was filled with her students and district officials.
“I was just doing my normal thing teaching my fourth period and then just a huge group of important people walk in with balloons,” Bench said. “It was so exciting. I can’t believe it’s real.”
Bench said being a finalist is exciting because it is “one of the biggest awards a teacher can win in their career.”
When Bench’s son, Bradyn, started kindergarten at Braden River Elementary School, she wanted to be close to him, so she chose the school next door, Braden River Middle School. She has now spent six of the seven years of her career at the middle school.
Bench said there are people who are “math people” and others who are not. She doesn’t consider herself “a math person.”
“I always struggled with math, even concepts that my peers just got effortlessly,” she said. “I always struggled and had to get extra help.”
As a student teacher, Bench taught math to sixth graders but in her own way.
“I remember seeing their eyes light up, and they understood it when I taught the way that made sense to me,” she said. “I just remember being like, this is what I want to do.”
With different students every year and the occasional unpredictability of her students, Bench said every day at school is never the same, which is what she enjoys most about being a teacher.
Amie Golden, registrar at Gene Witt Elementary School
In her 19 years with the School District of Manatee County, Amie Golden has helped thousands of children and their families get enrolled in school.
“I get to know them from the minute they walk in the door to register their kids and get to see them all the way from either (voluntary pre-kindergarten) or kindergarten all the way through,” Golden said. “I really enjoyed all of the families and just the community and everything we get to accomplish every day here.”
She said being a finalist for Support Employee of the Year has been an “amazing but overwhelming” experience for Golden because she’s not used to all the attention.
Golden’s educational career started when her children, Megan Hawkins and Ryan and Hailey Golden, entered kindergarten at Gene Witt Elementary School. She decided to follow along. She began as a clerical assistant and has spent the past 12 years or so as the registrar. She’s remained at Gene Witt for all 19 years.
“I love every minute of it,” Golden said. “It’s great getting to know all the families that are here.”
Golden hopes to remain at Gene Witt until she reaches 30 years and can retire.
Martha Stroup, senior school secretary at Freedom Elementary School
Martha Stroup has held three different positions but has always been a staff member at Freedom Elementary School.
Stroup started as a paraprofessional 10 years ago after being a stay-at-home mom taking care of her children, TJ Lopez and Nicole and Ryan Stroup. Her family had just moved from Colorado, and she wanted something to do.
Then in 2012, she became a clerical attendance clerk until July of this year when she transitioned to being the senior school secretary.
“I love interacting with the children and parents and getting to know them,” Stroup said. “At the front desk you really get to know everybody.”
Stroup was shocked to find out she was a finalist for Support Employee of the Year as she never heard back from the district after submitting her paperwork.
“It’s a little overwhelming but exciting,” she said. “I’m very honored. It’s exciting to know people actually take the time to acknowledge certain people.”
Stroup said she wants to stay as long as she can at Freedom Elementary and continue to learn as she takes on the position of senior school secretary.
Christal Cashmore, paraprofessional at Myakka City Elementary School
Christal Cashmore was running to a classroom at Myakka City Elementary School to try to get there before school district officials.
She was told they were coming to observe the class during her usual lunch break. On her way to the class, she passed the officials and quickened her speed.
Cashmore later found out the group of people from the district were actually at the school to announce her as a finalist for Support Employee of the Year.
“I almost cried because I was so overwhelmed and shocked,” Cashmore said. “I could barely even talk.”
As a finalist, Cashmore said she feels appreciated because people think she goes above and beyond at the school although she sees it as simply her doing her job.
Cashmore was a substitute teacher for three years before deciding to become a paraprofessional. She has been at Myakka City Elementary for six years and is considering going back to school to get a teaching degree.