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Safety Harbor Teacher A Finalist For Outstanding Educator Award

Joanne Wright, a sixth-grade reading teacher at Safety Harbor Middle School, is up for the countywide award along with five other finalists.

It’s been a long road for Safety Harbor Middle School teacher Joanne Wright from where she started to where she is now.

Born in South Africa, Wright earned a bachelor’s degree in drama before heading off for a life of adventure that included skiing, snowboarding and sailing all over the world. 

But after settling in Vermont she decided to pursue what she felt was her true calling — teaching; today she is one of six finalists for the 2012-2013 Outstanding Educator of the Year Award for Pinellas County to be handed out Monday night at Ruth Eckerd Hall. 

“I was ready to get into teaching after four years of travelling,” Wright said during a break in her busy schedule. “Teaching is something I knew I always wanted to do.” 

Wright and her husband moved to Clearwater in 2001, and she soon found a job at a private school in Tampa.

But not having a degree in the field meant she had to work hard to break into the Pinellas County educational system. 

So Wright enrolled in the county's Transition to Teaching program, and with a lot of hard work and a couple of lucky breaks, she wound up at SHMS and is now being recognized as one of the top educators in the area.

I’m a huge fan of the program,” she said. “It’s how a person with a four year business degree can become a teacher.”

“Being a teacher is all about connecting with kids. Sometimes it helps to have a background in other fields to be able to relate to the students.”

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Wright, who incorporates technology in her classes and is heavily involved in clubs and mentoring, is somewhat in awe of being a finalist for the educator award.

But she is quick to point out that it would not be possible if it wasn’t for the school she is at and the people she works with. 

In fact, she admits the only reason she’s teaching in Safety Harbor is because of current principal Alison Kennedy.

“I was working at Dunedin Middle School and I was quite happy there. But when I met with Mrs. Kennedy, I knew I wanted to work for her.” 

She says it was Kennedy who nominated her for the educator award; in fact, the principal served as her personal campaign manager for a secondary award, the fan favorite, that will also be handed out Monday night.

Thanks to clever marketing — a billboard on US 19, a radio spot and a couple of robocalls to parents — Wright was leading the voting by a wide margin when the polls closed Wednesday night. 

She says if she wins that award she is going to find a way to get all the teachers to enjoy the prize that comes with it — watching a Tampa Bay Lightning game in a luxury box.

Still, amidst all the hoopla and attention she has received over the past month since the finalists were announced, Wright is just grateful to be able to represent her school. 

“I’m glad that educators are getting recognition from competitions like this, and I’m glad Safety Harbor Middle is getting the recognition it deserves because I feel this school can’t be beat.”

“Just to be chosen as the teacher to represent this school is the biggest honor I could receive,” she added. “I feel like I’ve already won.”

The 2012-2013 Outstanding Educator of the Year Award will be handed out during the Evening of Excellence ceremony on Monday, Feb. 25 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. For more information, visit www.pinellaseducation.org, or call 727-588-4816 x. 2112.

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