You could excuse Sarah Poppe for not exactly sprinting to the stage when she won the 2012 Teacher of the Year earlier this year, and for having a love seat pulled up for her when she got there: she wasn’t alone. The Flagler Palm Coast High School teacher will be giving birth to twins in about seven weeks—Oliver and Noelle—and one of the first thing she said when she accepted the award, with enough emotions for three, was to hope that they would not decide to interrupt the ceremony right there and then.
“From the first day I began setting up my make-believe classroom in the garage, my mother knew that teaching was my calling in life,” she’d written in her brief program bio. “After only a few moments in front of a real audience, it was clear to me that she was right because the last nine years have been challenging, rewarding, and ultimately have made me who I am today.”
The graduate of the College of New Jersey and Nova Southern University (where she earned a master’s in reading) war a reading and English teacher before spending the last five years as a reading coach, a particularly high-pressure position given Florida’s emphasis on high-stakes testing in reading: high school students who don’t pass their 10th grade FCAT generally don’t graduate. The reading coach can be their visa to a diploma.
“There’s not many professions in this world that you can wake up every day and enjoy going to work,” Poppe said after settling in her chair. She was surrounded by four school board members, Superintendent Janet Valentine, and Barbara Korn, who won the Employee of the Year honor.
Korn, originally from Cleveland (“go Browns,” she said after the ceremony), is actually a teacher and taught for several years in Palm Beach County before taking a detour through a mid-career in accounting and systems administration. The events of 9/11 led her back to the classroom, and is now an early learning instructor through the Adult Education department, at Bunnell Elementary. Nevertheless, she’s classified as a service employee rather than a teacher. “I teach pre-school, don’t even fit in this category,” Korn said afterward, “I’m stunned. Stunned, and very pleased.”
The annual teacher and employee of the year award, held at the Flagler Auditorium, featured every nominee from every school and the district office, a crowd of cheer-leaders with unusual capacities for shrieking—and, thanks to the pixie dust of editing and poetic license, Diane Sawyer, the TV talking head whose introduction to ABC News’s Person of the Week, became the introductory voice and face of the Teacher of the Year portion of the evening, though she didn’t manage to upstage Valentine’s more authentic stories.
Valentine spoke Mrs. Cunningham, the teacher who changed her own life by subtly enabling her self-assurance, as when she cast her in a classroom platy called “The Purple Turnip.” “I was the turnip,” Valentine said. The role had no lines, but gave the future superintendent confidence to stand before an audience and go through her paces. As she was doing this evening. “I’m pretty sure Mrs. Cunningham knew what she was doing when she put me in that play,” Valentine said before summing up the importance of all school employees who interact with students, not just teachers: “You guys are the steady forces within their lives,” she said.
Rather than have a keynote speaker, the stage—or rather, the giant screen—was turned over to students from each school, through video. They mixed admiring testimonies about teachers with answers to off-the-cuff questions (“can you cry underwater?”) posed them by Flagler Palm Coast High School Principal Jacob Oliva.
The individual winners:
Teachers of the Year:
Rosemarie Alfano, Belle Terre Elementary
Tara Millette, Bunnell Elementary
Teresa Shipp, Old Kings Elementary
Jennifer Colindres, Rymfire Elementary
Valerie Sanson, Wadsworth Elementary
Michelle Coolican, Buddy Taylor Middle
Suzanne Haibon, Indian Trails Middle
Sarah Poppe, Flagler Palm Coast High
Christine Brink, Matanzas High
Mike Snider, Pathways Academy
David Nelson, Flagler Technical & Adult Education
Employees of the Year:
Denise Winters, Belle Terre Elementary
Lora Petraglia, Bunnell Elementary
Joyce Beamer, Old Kings Elementary
Violet Ruffalo, Rymfire Elementary
Cindy Cashman, Wadsworth Elementary
Faye Dolce, Buddy Taylor Middle
Linda Ricci, Indian Trails Middle
Kathy Picano, Flagler Palm Coast High
Maryann Mlinic, Matanzas High
Clarice Dias, Pathways Academy
Barbara Korn, Flagler Technical &Adult Education
Mike Pinto, Technology
Dawn Curry, Government Services Building
Maria Fernandes, Custodial Services
Sharon Roberts, Food Services
Doug Gesek, Plant Services
Miguel DeCastro, Transportation Department