By Matt Wiley

The Pasco School District’s 2013 “Teacher of the Year” will be named at the “Heart & Soul of Pasco County” ceremony on Saturday, February 9. The annual celebration, put on by the Pasco County Education Foundation, Inc., is being held this year at Wesley Chapel, where Wesley Chapel schools lead the pack with two of the three Teacher of the Year finalists representing Wesley Chapel-area schools.

Among the finalists is Wiregrass Ranch High’s (WRH) Paula Berry, an Advanced Placement language teacher.

“Knowing that I’m being recognized in the same group as the other teachers is just amazing,” Berry says. “Being named the ‘Teacher of the Year’ at Wiregrass Ranch was humbling enough in itself.”

Currently in her fifth year at WRH, Berry also teaches Speech and an iPad English 2 Honors course (see the next page for more info). She says that her goal now is to complete the application to be considered as an Apple Distinguished Educator, a title given to a select group of educators around the world who are recognized for “doing amazing things with Apple technology in and out of the classroom.”

As far as winning is concerned, Berry says that really she hasn’t given it much thought.

“It’s so far beyond my imagination,” she explains. “I’m in awe of the other teachers. I honestly haven’t thought that far ahead.”

To be considered, teachers had to complete an 11-question, essay- style application, which asked questions about each nominated teacher’s greatest teaching accomplishments, challenges and current education trends that they recognize.

Also up for Pasco “Teacher of the Year” is Dr. John Long Middle School’s Darcy Cleek, an advanced science teacher.

“It’s very humbling,” says Cleek. “I’m honored. This (teaching) is what I do all day, every day — even on the weekends.”

Cleek says she spends a large amount of her free time researching lesson plans for her classes, so that they always are engaging and worthwhile.

“I always try to think beyond the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test),” Cleek explains. “I try to help get these kids ready for life.”

Congratulations also are in order for the “Teacher of the Year” nominees from the rest of Wesley Chapel’s schools — Double Branch Elementary’s Patrice Bradarich, Quail Hollow Elementary’s Kanin Wynne, Sand Pine Elementary’s Nadine Lambert, Seven Oaks Elementary’s Erica Walchak, Veterans Elementary’s Mari Dlugi, Watergrass Elementary’s Tobi Turner, Wesley Chapel Elementary’s Darlene Polansky, Weightman Middle School’s Claudine Nipps and Susan Cullum from Wesley Chapel High.

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