Teachers back-to-school breakfast a Riverview chamber legacy
By LINDA CHION KENNEY
To mark the start of the new school year and the support and respect of the community they serve, teachers new to schools in the greater Riverview area were treated like royalty at a chamber breakfast this month.
Count among them Maria Santiago, a 20-year teaching veteran, set to begin her first year teaching math in Florida, at Spoto High School in Riverview.
Santiago said it has been her dream to teach in Florida and that she is “very excited” to become a Sunshine State educator. She said she moved to Florida years after moving to the United States from Puerto Rico to get a kidney transplant in Memphis.
“That special interaction with my students, to make a difference in their lives,” that is why Santiago said she loves to teach. “They come in with their attitudes, and through good classroom management, getting to the root of the problem and getting to know them, I figure out how to reach them. If you show students respect, you will get respect back.”
Between two lines of Riverview High School cheerleaders shaking pom-poms, Santiago entered the front doors of The Regent on July 28, where Riverview chamber members and volunteers stood ready to greet them to this year’s Teaching To Excellence celebration breakfast.
“With the recognition the teachers get and the gifts they receive, I think they realize how much the community supports them,” said long-time chamber member Joe Eletto, “and it’s encouraging to see the teachers so appreciative of that.”
The annual Teaching To Excellence celebration, which honors as well 2021 Teacher of the Year recipients at area schools, is the brainchild of Earl Lennard, a chamber board member who died in 2019 after a long illness.
Lennard, for whom the high school in Ruskin is named, entered the Hillsborough County school district as a first-grader at Palm River Elementary School and retired roughly six decades later as its superintendent of schools. He served also as Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections.
“This is Dr. Lennard’s baby,” said Tanya Doran, president and CEO of the Riverview chamber. “It was his vision to welcome and recognize teachers new to our community, and we keep doing it in honor of his memory.”
Along with the celebrated educators, The Regent, which sits outside the southeast border of the Winthrop community, was filled with chamber business and nonprofit members who purchased exhibit tables in support of the effort. Among them was Steven McKinnon, director of the Emergency Care Help Organization (ECHO) in Riverview.
“I happen to live here in Winthrop, and I have two grandsons who go to Symmes Elementary School,” McKinnon said. “The teachers there do such a great job with the kids. “They really do go over and beyond.”
Indeed, never has more been expected from educators working in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which started in the second half of the 2019-20 school year and now is in its fourth wave.
“This [past school] year has really taught us about flexibility because everybody, staff, parents and the kids, have been through it,” said Heather Coralluzzo, a counselor at Riverview High School. “It’s their understanding and their compassion that keeps them going and helps them through.”
“You can control what you can control, and we will take every precaution possible,” Nelson said, noting that this year, open house was held via video broadcast to parents and students in their respective homerooms, rather than as one mass gathering in the auditorium.
“We’re going to have probably more than 3,000 kids at Sumner this year, making us the largest school in the district,” said Nelson, who replaced charter principal David Brown. In his new job, Brown is supervisor of social studies education for grades 9 through 12.
Among those recognized as 2021 Teacher of the Year award recipients were Megan Russo, Megan Smith, Kathy Welchons, Hannah Porter, Tamika Hunter, Alicia Richardson, Lynn Engerski, Mekayla Cook and Nelly Moreno, who teach, respectively, at Boyette Springs, Collins, Ippolito, Riverview, Sessums, Summerfield, Summerfield Crossings, Symmes and Warren Hope Dawson elementary schools.
Also on the list are Terrell Swagger and Phillip Edwards, from Giunta and Rodgers middle schools, respectively, and Hailey Looney, Milagros Marrero Reyes and Laura Saylor, from Riverview, Spoto and Sumner high schools.
Charter school educators recognized were Abby Eskridge (Bell Creek Academy), Geri Lewis (BridgePrep Academy), Devin Bradford (Kids Community College Charter School high school), Katrina Evans and Bruce Johnson (KCC Charter School), Samantha Milhorn and Lakendra Joy (KCC Southeast), Shayna King (Pepin Academies), Jessica Laing (Pivot Charter School), Robin Hughes and Amelia Osisek (SouthShore Charter Academy), Chantel Goodwin (Valrico Lake Advantage Academy), Gloria Hall (Winthrop Charter School) and Denise Cavanagh (Winthrop College Prep Academy).