Any time Debra McCarthy's name was announced at the School District of Manatee County's Excellence in Education Awards, an uproar came from the back corner of the Manatee High School auditorium.
The applause and cheers came from at least 60 students of McCarthy, who is a language arts teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School.
McCarthy couldn't help but smile every time she heard the cheering from her students along with Lakewood Ranch High School administrators and fellow teachers. They were giving her support for being one of the school district's four finalists for Educator of the Year.
Although McCarthy and Jessica Spence, a first grade teacher at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School, were not named Educator of the Year, the two teachers were grateful and honored to be named finalists and to be celebrated at the Excellence in Education Awards Feb. 8.
The winner of Educator of the Year was Katie Bagley, a third grade teacher at Prine Elementary School.
McCarthy has taught in the school district for eight years and teaches Advanced Placement Literature and Advanced Placement Language and Composition. She also serves as the advisor for Lakewood Ranch High's Students Working Against Tobacco and Youth in Action clubs.
McCarthy said the support was overwhelming.
"I found it to be such a testament to all the hard work and energy I put into becoming a teacher and all the hard work I do on a daily basis for my students," she said. "It just meant the world to me."
Spence has been with the school district for 16 years.
Two East County support employees — Patrice Cairo, a computer lab manager at Gene Witt Elementary School, and Patricia Pearson, a clerical assistant and attendance clerk at Braden River Middle School — were honored as finalists for the district's Support Employee of the Year.
Cairo has been with the school district for 14 years and works with students, teachers and staff on their technology needs.
Pearson has been with the district for 19 years, with all those years at Braden River Middle School. She said she started at the school as a parent volunteering and loved the school so much, she decided to join its staff.
The winner of Support Employee of the Year was Denise Costello, a paraprofessional at Sea Breeze Elementary School.
Joshua Bennett, the principal at Braden River Elementary School, also was honored as the district's Principal of the Year.
Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.