The year belongs to Belle Terre Elementary.
Both the school’s top nominees—Margaret Carcagente and Agatha Lee—were declared 2011 Flagler County Employee of the Year and Teacher of the Year in a ceremony at the Flagler Auditorium Thursday evening. Carcagente is a special education paraprofessional who started her career in Long Island and has been in Palm Coast 12 years. Lee has been a second grade teacher in Flagler since 2004 after starting her career in Pasco County 13 years ago.
“When I heard Maggie got it for Employee of the Year for Belle Terre,” Lee said, “I thought ahh, good for Belle Terre, we have one, we have a winner, and I thought there’s no way they’re going to have two people from Belle Terre, so I was truly shocked.”
Lee credited her colleagues—their passion and dedication—as the sort of inspiration that makes her work the honor she says it is. What makes it work in her classroom? “I like to really incorporate technology into my daily lessons, I like to incorporate songs, when I’m trying to get their attention I sing the Taco Talkers song, I like to create a lot of my own material, I like to create my own PowerPoints and worksheets when I’m teaching my lessons.”
Agatha Lee Sings Her Taco Talkers Song–and Talks About Being Teacher of the Year[media id=141 width=250 height=150]
The Taco Talkers song? Her hear sing it (click the clip to the right). It works, she says of her own creation, one of many gimmicks that help her manage her classroom and get her students back on track. Her second graders, ironically, were not too aware of the event tonight. They heard an announcement about it over the public address system at the end of the day today, they asked what it was all about, and they wished her good luck.
And Margaret Carcagente?
“I’m shocked, I’m honored, I’m—oh my gosh, I don’t even know what to say,” Carcagente said between roving hugs from friends and colleagues, with Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” drumming in the background. “Belle Terre is the school that rocks in the district. We have great schools, but Belle Terre is Number 1.”
All of a sudden a man who called out to her as “my first wife”—and a man she referred to as “Dad”—barreled down: “I worked with this lady for 10 years,” he said in the stage voice of a motivational speaker.
2011 Flagler County Teachers and Employees of the Year, By School (Click on Each Name to Read the Honoree's Story)
“She is a true inspiration. She loves kids more than anybody I ever met in my life.” The man was Mike d’Ascheberg: the district’s Teacher of the Year two years ago, a physical education teacher at Old Kings Elementary and, from all appearances, a rogue comedian whose affinities with Margaret go back to their origins in New York City’s suburbs. “Every morning I would come and see this lady and we would have vodka together just to get through—I mean, we would have root beer, we would have orange juice together, just to get through the day. And I love this lady. She is the most beautiful lady in the world, we had so many good memories together, she loves kids, she motivates kids, she motivates the teachers to love kids.”
“All right, enough already,” Margaret finally tells him.
Walking around here and there was Steven Hinson, the principal at Belle Terre, who could be excused for feeling like a proud patriarch (despite his young age). He was being humble about it. “We are a very proud school. We always try to put our best foot forward and do our best with kids,” he said. “Definitely a team over there. As administrator I just want to make sure I support them. They’re the instruments that actually make it happen in the classroom. I’m there to support them.”
Lee and Carcagente each got a $1,000 check for their award. Each of the 25 other honorees, including 10 teachers, got $500 each. The money was provided in part by business sponsors, and in part by the district itself. Every nominee also got two free tickets to the Flagler Auditorium show of their choice, and of course the plaques immortalizing their honor. In July, Lee will go to Orlando for the statewide declaration of the Florida Teacher of the Year.
To start things off at the auditorium Thursday evening, with Superintendent Janet Valentine hosting—and with 2010 Teacher of the Year Jill Stirling and Employee of the Year Aimee Mock by her side—they were given the red-carpet treatment, literally—a red carpet spread the length of the center isle of the Flagler Auditorium. Down that carpet all 27 nominees walked, grand entrance-style, to hollers and halogen. They walked, waved, bowed and, in a couple of cases, played to the cheers like well-heeled stars: clearly, some of the teachers and some of the service employees—secretaries, custodians, aides, cooks—had louder stadium-quality lungs in the audience than others.
But all (well, almost all: the county’s charter schools, which are publicly funded, were not represented) were celebrated without reserve. Just as graduation in May is the one time a year when attention is exclusively on students’ broadest success, this is the one time a year when the school district prizes and congratulates its other distinguished achievements: the best few of those who help make graduation possible for so many.