The school district has a winner.
Tracy Bowers, a fourth-grade teacher at Wewahitchka Elementary School, was chosen as this year’s recipient of the Teacher of the Year award for Gulf County.
Bowers’ class ground to a halt as school Principal Jay Bidwell, Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton and other members of the school board briefly interrupted her class to bestow the honor and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.
“There are so many deserving teachers,” said Bowers. “I see so many teachers of the year every day at the school.”
Teachers up for the award are nominated by their peers and evaluated by an out-of-county group.
Bowers’ gave a shy smile as she accepted the good news from the superintendent.
“You’re very humble, and very deserving,” said Norton. “We’re so proud of you.”
Bowers’ win comes with some added perks that include a monetary bonus and dinner with Florida Governor Rick Scott in Tallahassee.
Bowers has been at Wewahitchka Elementary for 21 years.
She graduated from Wewahitchka High School in 1987.
“Although I have been the principal at Wewahitchka Elementary for only a couple of weeks, I have long known about the almost legendary status of Ms. Tracy Bowers,” said Principal Bidwell. “She taught my youngest two sons and even though they are 18 and 14 now, they still speak fondly of their time with Ms. Tracy.
“After seeing Ms. Bowers in action firsthand, I can honestly say that her true abilities as a teacher outweigh even her lofty reputation.”
Melissa Ramsey, district supervisor for curriculum and testing, gave Bowers a big hug and told her that she had a “God-given gift.”
“It’s always a surprise because the other people here work as hard as you do,” said Bowers. “It’s such an honor to be nominated and that’s what touched me the most.
“I’m grateful, thankful and humbled.”
District 2 school board member George Cox said that Bowers’ had once been a student of his, and in his 23 years of teaching, he’d always remembered her.
“As a student, she knocked my socks off,” said Cox. “Even back then I knew that I was in the presence of super talent.”
In order for a teacher to be eligible for the award, they must demonstrate a superior ability to foster excellence in education, contribute to the continuous improvement of student learning and the school environment.
They must utilizes original and innovative instructional materials, methods, curriculum or tools, maintain a record of superior teaching performance, actively engage in collaborative and sustained professional development and demonstrate leadership in educational activities at the school and district.
“The first lesson I observed in Tracy's class absolutely knocked my socks off and I have continued to be impressed every time I visit her classroom,” Bidwell said. “I have seen many teachers during my 24 years in education and I can honestly say that Ms. Tracy Bowers is that rare instructor who I place in the category of ‘Teaching Royalty.’
“We are both lucky and honored to have such a wonderful lady and incredible teacher here at Wewahitchka Elementary School and we hope to be blessed with her gifts for many years to come.”
At Port St. Joe Elementary, the Teacher of the Year award went to Cindy Phillips who teaches science and reading at the fifth-grade level. Phillips has more than 24 years of teaching experience; seven of those have been in Port St. Joe.
“Cindy has taught various grade levels throughout her career but I believe her true passion is teaching science,” said elementary Principal Sue Gannon. “She comes early and stays late and even comes on weekends to take care of the snakes!”
At Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School, Julie Hodges, who teaches art education for grades 8-12, was the award recipient. Hodges has worked at the high school for just under two years
“I was in complete shock,” said Hodges. “I love what I do and I hope that my students leave my room with a sense of pride and enjoyment from being in a visual art class.
“The quality of art that the students are creating is only possible because of the support from the faculty here at PSJHS and the county office.”
At Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School the award was delivered to guidance counselor Karen Turner, who has served in the role for 8 years.
I am truly humbled,” said Turner. “As a guidance counselor I never expected to be voted on for this great honor.
“I love working at Wewahitchka High School and want to thank all for the opportunity to serve as their Teacher of the Year.”
Turner was the first and last guidance counselor at Wewahitchka Middle School before moving to the high school.