PTA treasurer Rachel Barten

The Hillsborough County Council of PTAs/PTSAs held its annual awards ceremony this year on May 1, with several New Tampa schools, educators and volunteers taking home top honors.

Hector Rivera of Liberty Middle School was named Instructional Person of the Year for middle school. Rivera is a technology resource teacher who was nominated because he, “worked tirelessly to provide technical support and troubleshoot problems that our e-learners encountered with technology during the year,” according to his nomination. Rivera uses his bilingual skills to help Spanish-speaking parents overcome technical difficulties, and enthusiastically supports his school and students.

At the high school level, Dr. Tammy Crawford of Wharton High also received the Instructional Person of the Year award. Dr. Crawford is a success coach at the school who, according to her nomination, “is someone who has been a very strong advocate for all students, but especially for those who sometimes need the most help and are often overlooked.”

Wharton principal Michael Rowan was named Principal of the Year among the county’s high school nominees for the second time in three years.

According to the Wharton PTSA’s nomination, “Our principal, Michael Rowan, works to make our school a safe, welcoming and fun place that students want to come to!”

Hunter’s Green Elementary won awards for Health & Safety for its “Walk & Bike to School Week” event, for Advocacy/Legislation for its “Engage 33647” initiative, and for Volunteer of the Year, which went to PTA treasurer Rachel Barten.

This year was a year of unknowns for Barten, whose work used to include frequent international travel, which was stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Then, she faced unexpected surgery to remove a brain tumor. As she recovered, with no work obligations, she returned to the school PTA and became one of the group’s busiest and most passionate volunteers.

“I honestly think between Covid and my diagnosis, it should have been the worst year ever,” Barten says, “but it truly gave me the opportunity to focus on things I always wanted to do.”

Barten’s main priority is her daughter, Reagan, who is a fourth-grader at the school. She jumped in and volunteered at every possible opportunity, from the school’s fund raisers to running errands, helping with staff appreciation and handing out fliers in the car line after school. 

“It was two very odd crises that turned into blessings,” Barten said. “I was able to totally repurpose my attention to what I’ve always wanted it to be.”

After A Decade In New Tampa, Principal Gaye Holt Retires

After 10 years serving as principal of New Tampa schools, Gaye Holt will retire June 30. She steps down after a 39-year career in education, with the last seven years as the principal of Hunter’s Green Elementary and three years prior to that at Clark Elementary.

“I’m really going to miss everyone, and it’s going to be hard,” she says. “Whether I was at Clark or Hunter’s Green, the boys and girls, the parents, everyone in the community has been nothing but supportive, helpful and caring.”

Holt is known for her hard work and generous spirit, whether it’s greeting each child by name every morning or keeping the campus looking top-notch with her personal, daily inspections.

She says one of the funniest memories she has is when she dressed up as a member of the rock band KISS for a school fund-raising lip synch contest among teachers and staff. 

“It’s those kinds of things that everybody enjoys,” she says, “because it’s very uncharacteristic of me. I did it because the kids love it, and I’ll do anything for those kids – goo and slime, getting iced, all of that, I’ll do it for the kids.”

Her teachers and staff at Hunter’s Green say Holt will be missed tremendously.

“She’s so wonderful about procedures,” says Roxi Coriell, one of HGE’s kindergarten teachers. “There’s a plan for everything and the plan makes sense. When it came to coming back after Covid, I knew that we would be in great hands.”

Coriell says it’s obvious how much Holt cares about all of her students and members of the school community, a sentiment echoed by current PTA president Rebecca Towner.

“She is leaving Hunter’s Green Elementary with a strong foundation and a legacy that will not be forgotten,” says Towner.

Holt’s replacement was scheduled to be named at the Hillsborough County School Board meeting on May 18, which was held after this publication was printed.

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