Amanda Palmer

Of the nearly 250 nominations that came in to the Hillsborough Education Foundation for the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year award, Hunter’s Green Elementary (HGE) teacher Amanda Palmer was named one of just four finalists considered for the award this year.

And, although she didn’t take home the prize on Jan. 21 (at a ceremony held at Blake High School in Tampa with a mostly virtual audience), she says she was thankful just to be considered.

“I feel so honored and grateful,” she says. “First, that the Hunter’s Green staff nominated me, and then to know it went to the District level, it blows my mind.”

Palmer teaches students with varying exceptionalities (VE), working with students in the regular classroom who need additional support because of a diagnosis or disability. The students are part of a regular class, and Palmer comes in to their classrooms to help them be successful in that inclusive classroom environment.

“I’m like their biggest cheerleader,” she says.

Palmer says that she was completely shocked back in December, when Mike McCollum, chief advancement officer with the Hillsborough Education Foundation (HEF), and a parade of administrators and others told her the big news that she had been chosen as a finalist.

“When they came to the school to surprise me, I said, ‘Is this real life?,” Palmer says.

The Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year is one of three awards given out each year by HEF. 

The foundation explains that Ida S. Baker became Cape Coral High’s first principal in 1977 who went to on to become the first African-American to serve as Deputy Superintendent for the Florida Department of Education (DoE). She was known for her efforts to support diverse students and encourage academic success and, after her passing in 1992, the DoE created this statewide award in her honor.

For the award, each school in Hillsborough County may nominate one teacher who “embodies the pioneering spirit of Ida S. Baker by going above and beyond to meet the needs of our diverse student population.”

The other two annual awards given by HEF are Teacher of the Year and Instructional Support Employee of the Year.

All 11 schools in New Tampa submitted a nominee in each category (see next page). This year, Palmer was the only New Tampa nominee to be chosen as a finalist.

When Palmer was a student at the University of South Florida, she interned at HGE as a first grade teacher. She then filled in temporarily as a VE teacher, and says she fell in love.

“I never knew this position existed,” she says. Palmer got certified in order to be the school’s VE teacher, and even went back to USF to earn a Master’s degree in Exceptional Student Education. She has spent her entire teaching career — nine years now — as the VE teacher at HGE.

She says she loves the way her job allows her to work with not just the 22 students currently included in her caseload, but also with the other students in the classrooms she supports.

While Palmer was able to bring a limited number of guests to the awards ceremony with her, all her other supporters, family and friends watched online in a virtual watch party “room” just for her. Each of the other finalists had their own watch party rooms, too.

About the whole experience, Palmer says, “I think it’s pretty amazing. All for just doing something I love.”

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