EAST MANATEE -- A fifth-grade elementary school teacher who focuses on collaboration and an elementary school secretary whose faith helps her bring a smile to work every day were bestowed the Manatee County School District top honors on Wednesday as part of the annual Excellence in Education award ceremony.
Kari Stanley, a teacher at Miller Elementary School, and Cheryl Smith, a secretary at Mills Elementary School, were awarded teacher of the year and support employee of the year, respectively, each from a category of four finalists.
They were among four finalists in each of the categories.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you," Stanley said, with her 3-year-old daughter, Leighton, on her hip as she addressed the crowd.
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Stanley thanked her fellow educators who she said deserve this recognition every day.
"I plan on taking this gen
erous gift and pursuing my master's in educational leadership," Stanley said.
Smith was equally excited and spoke directly to her children on stage while accepting the award, telling them the question is not what they will do with their lives, but how they will live their lives.
"I see in very real and concrete ways the power of the educational experience to transform lives," Smith said.
Each winner is awarded $5,000 from the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation. The Educator of the Year nets an additional $1,000 from the Macy's Foundation.
Stanley and Smith will now represent the district at the state level.
In a two-hour ceremony at Manatee Technical College, each of eight finalists were honored by co-workers and community members for the work they do in the school district.
Stanley is a 31-year-old Palmetto resident in her sixth year at Miller and seventh year as a teacher in the district.
Last year, Stanley's older sister, Lindsay Gilman - also a teacher at Miller Elementary School - was a teacher of the year finalist.
When teaching, Stanley said she tries to focus on teamwork because a leader is only as good as her first follower. She works to earn buy-in from students to make them successful.
Smith is a 44-year-old Parrish resident in her third year as clerical secretary at Mills and 10th year in the district. Smith recently took on before- and after-school programs in addition to secretarial duties.
As a secretary, Smith said she uses her faith in God to keep the front desk running smoothly and happily. Co-workers say she has a natural ability to connect with anyone who walks in the door to bring them a pleasant experience.
The Excellence in Education Award process begins in June with each school or district site nominating a candidate. Nominee numbers are then whittled down by a site committee and a short list passed along to the district.
Other Manatee County Teacher of the Year finalists: Deborah Miele, math teacher at King Middle School; Mary Anne Maginot, math teacher at Nolan Middle School; and Becky Rouse, intensive language arts teacher at Southeast High School.
Other Manatee County Support Employee of the Year finalists: JerryAnn Craft, lab manager at Prine Elementary School; Suzanne Theiss, senior secretary at Southeast High School; and Tiny Lundy, projects assistant in the Capital Projects Department.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.