MANATEE -- A few Oneco Elementary School kids spotted Marty the Marauder first.
"There's the pirate," a boy in the courtyard says, pointing to The Bradenton Marauders mascot who is walking up to the front office with a troop of school district administrators and Manatee Education Foundation members.
School administrators know what this means.
"I'm so excited," Principal Tina Stancil says. "And it's not even for me."
Slowly, the parade makes its way to Zadda Bazzy's music classroom. It pauses outside the door before surprising Bazzy with the news that she is a finalist in the EdVantage Education Awards, which will honor one educator and one member of support staff as the county's best at an awards ceremony in March.
The announcement came with balloons. Interim Superintendent David Gayler, Assistant Superintendent Scott Martin, members of the Manatee Education Foundation, among others, surprised three other educators and four support staff members with the same news Friday.
This is the second year the district has hosted the EdVantage Education Awards, after not holding the awards for al
most a decade, said EdVantage Education Awards Committee Chair Mary Glass.
Nolan Middle School science teacher Carrie Rainwater had taken Friday off to spend time with her mother, Annette Martin, who had flown from South Carolina to be with her daughter because Rainwater isn't coming home for Christmas.
The two got called back into the school so that Rainwater could be recognized.
"I think it's amazing," Martin said. "Carrie makes things happen. She tries to make everything and everyone better."
The judging process follows state-mandated criteria so that a final winner is eligible to compete for in the Florida Department of Education/Macy's Teacher of the Year contest.
A couple of weeks ago, eight judges narrowed the playing field from 24 finalists to 12.
Glass said the judging criteria are tough. The process includes things like classroom observations and performance reviews. While there is different criteria for educators and support staff, both rubrics focus on leadership, student learning and time management, among many other things. Teachers and support staff are originally nominated by other teachers, administrators, parents or students.
"It's quite a task for them," Glass said of the judges. "They have a lot to do to narrow it down to these final four."
On March 6, an awards ceremony will be held at Manatee Technical Institute and the final winners announced. Sponsor Gettel Automotive Group will give the winning teacher a brand new Prius and sponsor Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union Foundation will open a $5,000 saving account for the support winner.
Other prizes are in store, Glass said. The Pittsburgh Pirates have promised winners a trip to Pittsburgh, complete with game tickets. Glass said the committee, which was formed by the Manatee Education Foundation, which also coordinates and raises money for the awards, is working to finalize other prizes with several other community sponsors.
Other finalists named Friday for educator of the year include Deborah Miele, math teacher at King Middle School and Jason Schiessl, theater arts teacher at Southeast High School.
Finalists for support employee of the year are Diane Popovice, registrar at Mills Elementary School; Joni Wallace-Brightbill, secretary II at Matzke Support Center; Sandy Heaton, senior school secretary at Wakeland Elementary and Todd Persinger, head custodian at Anna Maria Elementary School.
Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.