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Educators in Lakewood Ranch area are first class

Two East County teachers are finalists for district's Educator of the Year award.

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  • | 8:50 a.m. December 19, 2018
Debra Hartline. Courtesy photo.
Debra Hartline. Courtesy photo.
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Debra Hartline was managing a law firm two decades ago in Cleveland, Ohio, when she began to worry about her second-grade daughter’s education.

Her daughter, now 28-year-old Victoria Wirtanen of Venice, scored poorly on the state’s reading assessment exam.

“She could sit and read through pages and pages, but not be able to tell you what she had read,” Hartline said.

Hartline began tutoring Victoria at home, and when the family moved in 2000 to Summerfield, Hartline wondered if her daughter would receive better instruction at her new school, Braden River Elementary.

She took it upon herself to begin tutoring children at Braden River Elementary as a volunteer, and eventually became a substitute teacher. She has been teaching full time for 13 years, the past eight at Braden River High School, where she teaches

reading and English courses.

Debra Hartline. Courtesy photo.
Debra Hartline. Courtesy photo.

On Dec. 3, Hartline was teaching class when she caught a glimpse out her classroom window and saw balloons in the hallway. She thought it must be someone’s birthday.

Moments later, Manatee County Schools Interim Superintendent Cynthia Saunders, Braden River High Principal Sharon Scarbrough and several other School District of Manatee County officials came through the door.

They told Hartline she had been selected as one of four finalists — Hartline, Freedom Elementary’s Diane Stead, Sea Breeze Elementary’s Stephanie Davis and Electra Lee Middle’s Richard Daenell — for the School District of Manatee County’s Excellence in Education Award.

“I was in shock all day,” said Hartline, who became her school’s first finalist for the award. “I’m honored to be chosen with the other teachers. It’s great to represent my school, and it would be great to represent my school on the state level, especially as a high school teacher.”

Hartline said she tailors lesson plans to each student. She said her background managing 40 employees working for defense contractors and at a nuclear power plant helps in the classroom.

“I love working with the high school kids,” Hartline said. “I’m able to give the kids instant feedback. You can see when things are clicking. What’s really key is to give them enough room so they are responsible to make their own decisions.”

Stead, who teaches fifth grade at Freedom Elementary, also comes from a business background. She was in sales and

Diane Stead. Courtesy photo.
Diane Stead. Courtesy photo.

marketing in New Jersey before moving in 2003 to Florida. She said she always wanted to be a teacher, and Florida’s teacher shortage provided the perfect opening to changing her career.

“I was very nervous when I changed careers,” Stead said. “Teaching is not as lucrative. We do it because we want to make a difference. I really felt like that is what I was meant to do.”

Stead said as a child she was told by her mother, Mary Jo Prettyman, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” It’s advice she uses to inspire her students.

“We need to inspire our students to change their mindsets,” she said. “They can go beyond their expectations. If you decide in your mind you can do it, you will do it.”

Freedom Principal Guy Grimes said Stead focuses on the “whole child and the big picture.” Something as simple as collecting socks for the homeless through the school’s National Elementary Honor Society becomes an opportunity to talk about how the body is affected by cold and disease.

“Nothing is a mindless event,” Grimes said. “Nothing is single-oriented. She has that ability for the kids to see all different dimensions.”

The School District of Manatee County will announce its “Educator of the Year” on March 6. The winner will advance to the Florida Department of Education Macy’s Teacher of the Year competition, which will be announced in July.


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