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Teacher of the Year finalists surprised at three schools | News

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Teacher of the Year finalists surprised at three schools
News, People, Schools
Teacher of the Year finalists surprised at three schools

Sarasota, Florida -- On Feb. 7, teachers at three public schools in Sarasota were surprised when they were revealed as the district's 2013-14 Teachers of the Year finalists by the annual Teacher Tribute Tour.

Superintendent of Schools Lori White, School Board members Jane Goodwin, Shirley Brown and Caroline Zucker and a team of district administrators and past winners congratulated the teachers as their students and peers helped celebrate the event.

The first stop was Riverview High School, where High School Teacher of the Year Katrin Rudge was led into the Aquadome, the indoor aquaculture laboratory where she teaches marine science. There Rudge was surprised with a bouquet of flowers and balloons in the RHS colors of maroon and white, presented by the district’s 2012-13 Teacher of the Year, Booker Middle School teacher Victor Fernandez. Students, including Rudge’s own children, Riverview students Rebecca and Ryan O’Connell, greeted Rudge with hugs and smiles. Rudge’s husband, Jeff Rudge, and her parents Larry and Rotraut Bockstahler, also were on hand to share the moment.

“It’s really great to have the high school teacher of the year be your mom,” said Rebecca, a 10th-grader who has her mother for a teacher. “We’re so proud of her.” Twelfth-grade student Ryan agreed: “She works so hard, including after school hours, because teaching is her passion.”

“I do it because I love it,” said Rudge. “It’s a joy to come to school every day. The individual recognition is wonderful, but this is really a team effort — students, teachers and administrators working together to grow this program.”

Rudge has taught for 11 years, all of them with Sarasota County Schools. She is the director of the RHS Aquascience Program and a co-director, with science teacher and planetarium director Jason Mocherman, of the Stars to Starfish Program. The program incorporates marine science and astronomy. Riverview students help direct 8,000 elementary and middle school students each year through the Aquadome and the school’s planetarium so they can teach students of all ages about environmental sustainability and the importance of all ecosystems to the health of planet Earth.

Riverview Principal Linda Nook, “Katrin’s classroom is a hub for exploration and creativity. She challenges students to problem-solve and truly think and work like marine scientists.”


Next, the bus pulled into Brookside Middle School. About 20 children stood on risers behind the stage curtains in the school’s auditorium as the Teacher Tribute Tour team arrived backstage. As the curtain rose, the students began singing George and Ira Gershwin’s song, “Strike Up the Band,” with new lyrics for the occasion (“Hey, teacher—hoo-ray for you!”).

White announced to the students in the audience that science teacher Rita Zywica is the 2013-14 Middle School Teacher of the Year. Fernandez, who was the district’s 2012-13 Middle School Teacher of the Year before he was named the overall Teacher of the Year, presented flowers and balloons to Zywica.

“I’m so glad to be chosen to represent all the middle school teachers in Sarasota County,” she said. “But I really owe this honor to all these kids. I love them; they’re the reason I’m here.” Zywica made sure to add that “all the rest of you who are not in my class are awesome, too!”

Brookside Principal Kristine Lawrence told the students, staff and guests that Zywica was a teacher at Heron Creek Middle School in North Port when Lawrence was principal there. “I thought she was a great teacher, but then she left for Brookside,” said Lawrence. “Now I get to be her principal again here. She’s always available to help kids — before, after and during school.”

Zywica, who has been a teacher since 2004 (all nine years with Sarasota County Schools), came to Brookside in 2007. She teaches seventh-grade life science and eighth-grade gifted and advanced physical science. She also advises the Earth Day Every Day Club, which helps beautify Brookside by maintaining the school’s butterfly garden, hydroponic herb garden and plantings around buildings.

Eighth-grade student Sonja Budierc called Zywicak “one of my favorite teachers. She’s really sweet. She explains everything so clearly and makes sure you ‘get it.’

”When asked about Zywica’s honor, eighth-grader Dreon Fowler said, “It kinda feels great. She’s a cool teacher! She puts so much effort into helping us learn.”


The final stop on the tour was Alta Vista Elementary School, where the group surprised physical education teacher Amy Mazner in the outdoor pavilion that serves as an exercise area. Gocio Elementary School teacher Jessica Gardner, the district’s 2012-13 Elementary School Teacher of the Year, gave the flowers and balloons to her successor. Students celebrating the moment included Avria Kuntz, a fourth-grade girl who was dressed as the school’s mascot, the Alta Vista Eagle.

Standing on a chair, declining a microphone and using her best outdoor voice, Mazner said, “Wow, this is crazy! Thank you. You kids make this possible; you inspire me!”

Mazner told interviewers that she was more than surprised. “I’m flabbergasted! The most rewarding thing is seeing kids thrive when you give them challenges and a structure to help them meet those challenges. I try to teach them life skills so they can apply as they grow up. I’m a kid at heart myself, so that helps.”

Alta Vista Principal Barbara Shirley said, “Amy teaches students to have high expectations of themselves. Her desire to help every child be successful by doing whatever it takes is the key to her own success as a teacher.”

Mazner, who has taught for 12 years — 10 of them in Sarasota County Schools — has been at Alta Vista since 2006. She coaches a jump-rope team and helps students with a school garden, using the experience to provide hands-on lessons in the natural and social sciences, math and nutrition, among other subjects.

Fifth-grade student Jesus Moreno said, “She gives us a lot of attention so we can get fit. If we do a great job and impress her, we get to play capture the flag or basketball.”

Maci Wales, also a fifth-grader, said her teacher “helps us do great things. This award makes me feel happy for her.”

The Teacher of the Year program is co-produced by the Sarasota County School District and the Education Foundation of Sarasota County and is made possible through the funding and support of community partners. Each of the three finalists will receive a cash award from the Education Foundation, gift baskets and scholarships from Nova Southeastern University and the Notre Dame Club of Greater Sarasota. All 41 individual schools’ Teachers of the Year will receive a variety of gifts, including a quality professional portrait by Prestige Portraits.

The overall district Teacher of the Year for 2013-14 will be announced from among the three finalists at a celebration to be held at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, March 21, at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. The individual Teachers of the Year for each school also will be honored at that event. The district Teacher of the Year will represent the Sarasota County School District at the Florida Department of Education-Macy's Teacher of the Year program and will serve as a spokesperson for and representative of the teaching profession at various events throughout the 2013-14 school year. 

Release courtesy Sarasota County Schools.

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