By Dawn Krebs
FORT PIERCE -- With an entourage of school officials bearing balloons, hugs and congratulations, three teachers were surprised in their classrooms on Jan. 24 to find out they were named district semi-finalists for the title of St. Lucie County Teacher of the Year.
The semi-finalists are: Loryn Black of Fairlawn Elementary, Harry Williams of Fort Pierce Central High School and Lt. Col. Joseph J. Cavallaro at Treasure Coast High School.
In Fort Pierce, math instructor Harry Williams of Fort Pierce Central High School was teaching algebra when he was surprised with the nomination.
"I was always taught to give back to the community that served me," Mr. Williams said.
He has been teaching at the school for the past 31 years. The ninth-grade team leader and math department chairman, he has also served as the head coach in a variety of sports, including football, wrestling and track.
"He epitomizes Fort Pierce Central High School," said Todd Smith, principal. "He is a true representation of this school."
Another Fort Pierce teacher selected was Ms. Black, who has been teaching for four years as a second-grade teacher at Fairlawn Elementary in Fort Pierce.
"I'm so happy," she said. "I went to Fairlawn Elementary as a child, and I love being here. I wouldn't want it any other way."
She wiped away tears and received many hugs from her students and fellow teachers.
Ms. Black developed a tracking system for teaching and grading the common core standards, which has been adapted for use by the school's teachers.
"She is a very special teacher," said Marcia Cully, Fairlawn Elementary principal. "We're so excited for her."
In Port St. Lucie, the first to receive the news was Lt. Col. Cavallaro, who works with the school's JROTC. Coming in from outside drills, he and his class were surprised at the people waiting for them.
"I am almost speechless," he said. "I am so honored and so proud."
Lt. Col. Cavallaro has been teaching at Treasure Coast High School for four years. Including the ROTC program, he has worked with local organizations to have students participate in parades, field trips and other events.
He is also the lead coordinator for the student behavior rewards plan, co-chairs a student action group and began a "Random Act of Kindness" initiative at the high school, honoring students who exemplify school expectations.
"We are so fortunate to have Mr. Cavallaro working with our students," said Denise Rodriguez, Treasure Coast High School principal. "This is truly a facilitator of education."
The Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by the St. Lucie County Education Foundation.
The 2014 Teacher of the Year, along with the School-Related Employee of the Year, Distinguished Minority Educator of the Year and Outstanding First-Year Teacher will be announced at the "Night of the Stars" event on Feb. 23 at Lincoln Park Academy in Fort Pierce.