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Top of the class at Braden River High and Myakka City Elementary in Manatee County

East County schools pull down top Excellence in Education awards.

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  • | 9:10 a.m. March 13, 2019
  • East County
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Knowledge McDaniel, a senior at Braden River High School, didn’t quite care for reading teacher Debra Hartline when he started her class.

“I didn’t believe her,” he said of her methods.

Those methods, he said, included deep breathing exercises around test time, reviewing materials and taking practice tests.

McDaniel said the methods and strategies were little things to help support students. It’s clear those little things added up in a big way.

As time went on, McDaniel decided to give Hartline’s teaching methods a try, and he found she played a crucial role in preparing him for his future at Marshall University in West Virginia. Now, he appreciates her sense of humor and support.

McDaniel said he expects Hartline, who is known for her penchant of giving snacks to the students, to spend some of her $5,000 winnings on snacks for the classroom.

Hartline was named the Excellence in Education 2019 Educator of the Year at a ceremony March 6, which snagged her both the honor and the cash prize.

“I’m just in awe,” Hartline said following her recognition. “I’m so proud to represent my high school.”

The Excellence in Education awards also named the Support Employee of the Year. That award went to Amanda Keeney, the cafeteria manager at the Myakka City Elementary School.

Keeney, who rapped a song called “Lunch Lunch Lady” to the tune of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” was cheered on by her colleagues attending the luncheon.

“I love that it shines a light over our little school in Myakka,” Keeney said. “I feel like we all won.”

Keeney and Hartline were among four nominees in each of their categories. As winners, they received a $5,000 cash prize from the Suncoast Credit Union.

The 2018 Educator of the Year, King Middle School English teacher Heather Anderson, had a message for the nominees:

“You are phenomenal people,” she told them. “You are phenomenal educators.”

Some of the phenomenal educators didn’t land a top prize.

After winning the Support Employee of the year award, an emotional Amanda Keeney makes her way through the crowd back to her seat.
After winning the Support Employee of the year award, an emotional Amanda Keeney makes her way through the crowd back to her seat.

Educator nominee Diane Stead, a fifth-grade teacher at Freedom Elementary School, had both current and former students in the audience.

Holden Russell, who is currently in her class, and his older brother Noah, who used to have Stead as a teacher, both said she makes learning fun with her positivity and support.

Holden and Noah’s mother, Susan Russell, emphasized the support.

“She’s always encouraging of the students,” she said.

Stead said her nomination was an honor, and that she always tries to empower her students.

“Hard work and perseverance will get them success,” she said.

Though support employee Robert Rice, the head custodian at Tara Elementary School, didn’t win the title, he said he still was a winner no matter what.

“They love me,” he said of his students. “I love ’em right back.”

Rice had what appeared to be a troop of supporters holding up signs with his face printed on it and cheering him on when he was called to the stage as a finalist.

Hartline said the award process was a reflective one.

“My proudest moments are when I watch my students take the walk they never thought they would get to take,” she said. “The one across the stage at graduation.”


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