On Thursday, February 16, New Tampa’s sole finalist for this year’s Excellence in Education awards will find out if she’ll be crowned Hillsborough County’s Instructional Support Employee of the Year.

Leena Hasbini, who runs the “Success Center” at Paul R. Wharton High, is one of only five finalists for this year’s award. The two other categories for this year’s educational awards are the Ida S. Baker Diversity Teacher of the Year and Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year, both of which are presented by the Hillsborough Education Foundation (HEF).

During the past few months, HEF has been tallying the votes from school teachers and staff around the county to name 15 finalists for the three categories. Hasbini knew that she was one of the 681 persons in the county nominated for the award, but she admits she wasn’t expecting to be a finalist.

On January 6, HEF traveled to schools and educational sites around the county to surprise the 15 educators with a “Surprise Patrol” that presents the honor to the educators.

“It is similar to the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Prize Patrol,” says Roselle Cronan, a spokesperson for HEF. “We don’t let the word get out until every teacher has been presented, so we don’t ruin the surprise.”

“I completely did not expect to be named a finalist,” says Hasbini. “It is such an amazing honor!”

Hasbini adds that she was so surprised when she was announced as a finalist that she literally nearly toppled over her desk.

Wharton principal Brad Woods says he believes Hasbini was selected as a finalist because of her dedication to all of the students at the school and that goes far beyond what is demanded for her job.

“She makes herself available for all of the students,” says Woods. “The kids can come to her with what their goals are for college and she helps them reach that goal.”

The Success Center at Wharton allows her to work very closely with students in helping them to pursue their post high school goals, prepare for standardized testing and for guidance on how to reach their fullest potential.

At only 22 years old, Hasbini’s expertise likely comes from recent personal experiences at the University of South Florida (USF). A graduate of Newsome High in Lithia in 2007, Hasbini graduated from USF in ‘09 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and recently wrapped up coursework for her Master’s degree in Counselor Education, also from USF.

Nominations for all awards were submitted to Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) by more than 200 area schools. All 681 nominees and 15 finalists will be honored on Thursday, February 16, at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where the three award winners will be announced.— SB

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