Every year, the Hillsborough Education Foundation, in partnership with Hillsborough County Public Schools, presents the Excellence in Education Awards. This premiere event celebrates educators and school personnel who consistently bring forth their best efforts and utilize their talents to ensure the students they serve receive the best education possible.
This prestigious evening hosts nearly 3,000 attendees representing the 266 schools in the Hillsborough County Public School District. At the ceremony nearly 700 nominees, 12 finalists, and ultimately 3 winners are honored in three categories.
2017 Excellence in Education Awards finalists:
Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year
Aaron Berry, Alonso High School
Aaron Berry, a Tampa native and proud product of Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS), now serves HCPS at Alonso High School, where he teaches reading, as well as a hip-hop class that incorporates literature and the arts. Aaron graduated from Bloomingdale High School and then attained a master's in business administration at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. His passion for helping young people started in the seventh grade as a volunteer tutor for elementary students. From teaching reading skills to suggesting local fishing spots and everything in between, Aaron Berry strives to be a positive influence on every young person with whom he comes into contact.
Pedro Castrejon, Jefferson High School
Teaching in Hillsborough County for five years, Pedro Castrejon is a product of the very same welding program at Jefferson High in which he now teaches. Graduating from Erwin Technical College in applied welding technology in December 2005, he truly has a passion for welding. Both of his parents came to the land of opportunities as immigrants, not knowing any English, to try and make a better future for their family. His biggest accomplishment is being able to vote for the first time on Nov. 8, 2016 after becoming a United States citizen. He is lucky to have Susan and Miguel Gallardo as his biggest mentors throughout his life. He's been married to his best friend, Laneesha, since June 2013. Knowing that he is taking full advantage of the opportunities in front of him and that he gets to make a difference in his students' lives is his daily motivation.
Olivia Williams, Colson Elementary School
Olivia Williams graduated from Flagler College, Magna Cum Laude, with bachelor's degrees in both deaf/hard of hearing and elementary education. She is currently pursuing her graduate degree. She has been teaching in Hillsborough County for four years and was chosen by the Council of Exceptional Children as the 2014-15 Rookie ESE Teacher of the Year. She is inspired not only by her own deaf students but also the more than 100 hearing students who have been in the American Sign Language club at Colson. Olivia also serves the local deaf and hard of hearing community as a video relay and community sign language interpreter.
Instructional Support Employee of the Year
Nancy Alexander, Wimauma Elementary School
A graduate of Owego Free Academy in New York, Nancy first attended the Radiologic Technology program at Arnot Ogden Memorial Hospital. After 15 years, she retired to devote time to her greatest accomplishment - her three children. In 2003, Nancy joined the family of Wimauma Elementary School, and serves as kindergarten assistant, coordinator for the Box Tops for Education program and the Social Sunshine Committee, and sponsors the school's checkers club. Nancy is also the secretary of her community's Home Owner's Association. Nancy is committed to modeling the pursuit of excellence as she inspires children to become resilient, independent learners.
Roma EsteMcDonald, Muller Elementary
Roma EsteMcDonald has been an employee of HCPS since January 2015. Her first job was in the Early Exceptional Learning Program at Muller Elementary Magnet School. She has since moved into the kindergarten paraprofessional position. "Ms. Roma" is motivated by the unconditional trust kindergartners place in their teachers and the knowledge that kindergarten is the first step in preparing students for life. It is common to see her in attendance at Muller's many events. Beyond Muller's walls, she volunteers at her son's middle school and church. She attended Clark Atlanta University and expands her knowledge base by attending classes at Aparicio-Levy Tech College.
Terranique Ragins, Franklin Boys Middle Magnet
Ms. Terranique (Terri) Ragins was born and raised in Plant City. She graduated from Plant City High School and continued her education at Hillsborough Community College, earning an associate's degree in elementary education. She pursued a career with HCPS as a school bus driver in 2000 and has been a Secretary 1, Secretary 3 and Principal's Secretary. She is currently the Principal's Secretary at Franklin BPA. She is the mother of four wonderful children. Her greatest accomplishment is raising her children as a single mother, while continuing to advance in her career. She is involved in the after-school enrichment program, ELP and assisting HOST. She is also a member of the SAC Committee and the Sunshine Committee, and is a proud bus mentor. Her motivation on a daily basis is making sure that her faculty, staff, students and BPA parents are well taken care of before and during each day.
Teacher of the Year
Carrie Donatelli, Turner/Bartels K-8
Carrie Donatelli has been a classroom teacher for 16 years and for the last five years in Hillsborough County. She is currently a kindergarten teacher at Turner/Bartels K-8. Carrie earned her bachelor's degree in early childhood from the University of South Florida. She has earned her National Board Certification and is also a Microsoft Educator. She is active in her school's PTSA, serves on its technology committee, and enjoys mentoring interns. Carrie's motivation comes from knowing that she is laying the foundation for each of her kindergarten students. Her husband is also an educator in Hillsborough County and their two children attend Hillsborough County schools.
Cathelyn Gregoire, Armwood High School
Cathelyn Gregoire is a third-year English teacher at Armwood High School
who graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She was born in the Commonwealth of Dominica, but relocated to Florida at 16 after graduating from high school. Cathelyn calls students her children because they motivate her to excel and improve her teaching talents so she can better guide them towards a brighter future. She enjoys writing and takes part in writer's workshops with friends and fellow teachers in her community. To this date, her proudest in-school moment was when a student said, "After all these years I finally understand rhetorical appeals. I love the way you taught it."
Katerina Pawloski, Tinker Elementary School
Katerina Pawloski graduated from the University of Tampa with a bachelor's
degree in elementary education. She then earned her master's degree from Colorado State University, and has worked for HCPS for three influential years. She is most proud of being named a Daniels Fund Scholar, demonstrating exceptional character, leadership, and a commitment to serving her community. She was also named a Global Leaders Fellow in 2015 for US-Brazil Connect. She coaches volleyball, basketball, and track for the Tinker K-8 athletics program. Katerina's motivation each day is to embed values learned through her personal experiences to her students. She credits her success to the constant support from her family and friends.
Lauren Schnebly-Hackworth, Mitchell Elementary School
Lauren Schnebly-Hackworth teaches fifth grade at Mitchell Elementary.
She has been teaching for seven years, six of those years at Mitchell. Hackworth is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received her bachelor's and master's degrees in special education. She also received a master's in educational leadership, and has completed Future Leaders Academy for Hillsborough County. Hackworth is an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa, and her school's Project Innovate and Technology Integration coordinator. She spearheaded the Project Innovate Initiative, allowing Mitchell to move towards its goal of 1:1 devices in all classrooms. Her achievements are based on her belief of finding new, innovating strategies to guide all learners to incorporate 21st century skills.
Maria Torres-Crosby, Memorial Middle School
Maria Torres-Crosby lives for the relationships she builds with her students at
Memorial Middle School, where she has taught for 20 years. She holds a master's degree from Long Island University. Her professional accomplishments include National Board Certification, Inclusionary Individual of the Year, and College Board Teacher of Distinction. As the National Junior Honor Society sponsor, she leads students in the Breast Cancer Walk-A-Thon, canned food drives, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Pasta for Pennies, and other community services. In her personal life, Maria volunteers as a church educator, and she cherishes quiet time with her husband, her cat and books.
Becky Walker, Spoto High School
Becky Walker received a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting at
the University of Alabama. She has been a teacher for five years, all in Hillsborough County Title 1 schools. In addition to teaching biology at Spoto High School, Becky serves as the Science Department head, is an academic coach, and a member of the Core Instructional Leadership Team. Her motivation to excel is rooted in her belief that compassion in education is the most powerful tool to overcome poverty. Becky is married to Carl Walker, and considers her finest accomplishment to be her three sons, Thompson, Joey, and Nick Brandes, who graduated from the Hillsborough County school system (Gorrie, Wilson, and Plant).