District Announces Education Support Professional of the Year and Top Finalists

Maria Foote, Destin Elementary School, has been named the Education Support Professional of the Year for the Okaloosa County School District.  Linda Gail Kulaw, Longwood Elementary School, was named first runner-up and Chin Taylor, Choice High School and Technical Center, was the second runner-up.

Maria Foote – Destin Elementary – Education Support Professional of the Year

“I am proud and extremely privileged to be part of a school where the word ‘no’ is never an answer,” said Foote.  “I am a strong believer in human rights, especially the right of an education for every child.  Working at Destin Elementary gives me the opportunity to give English Language Learner (ELL) students a chance to a better life through knowledge.”

Foote has worked at Destin Elementary School as an ELL Interpreter since 2008.  Her duties include supporting the ELL student population, communicating with parents, oral translation during conference, and written translation of documents and letters between the school and families.

“Destin Elementary has a very high population of ELL students and Maria assists our teachers, students, and support staff without hesitation,” said Principal Marti Gardner.  “Maria is the bridge between our ELL students, their families, and the community.  Although Maria has a husband and two children of her own, she continues to assist our ELL families on her own time whenever they need her.  She has willingly given her personal contact information to these families, and they call her to assist with doctor’s appointments, transportation issues, translation assistance, and other everyday needs.”

Foote is also active in fundraising activities aimed directly at providing school supplies and Christmas gifts for the ELL population at Destin Elementary.

“Maria is not only admired by the ELL families in the Destin community, but also by her peers,” said Gardner.  “She is always close to her phone during her summer vacation when the office staff needs her assistance.  Maria works with ELL students one on one to support their academic and language needs.  She also works closely with teachers to support language acquisition in the classroom and proficiency in reading.  The ELL population at Destin Elementary continues to show academic gains both in the classroom and on the FCAT and DEA.  Students who begin as non-speakers show astounding learning gains because she places the needs of the students before her own.”

Foote’s training includes Conflict Resolution and Disability (Volunteer Florida), Community Emergency Response Team Training (USA Freedom Corps), English Language Learners Study (OCSD), Child Abuse Awareness (NWFSC), CPR and First Aid (American Safety and Health Institute), and Meeting Standards for Paraprofessionals (OCSD).  She has received several awards which include the Service Above and Beyond the Call of Duty (NWFSC), Perfect Attendance Through Training (NWFSC), Taking the Lead Organizing Projects (AmeriCorps), and the National Community Service Award (AmeriCorps).

“Maria Foote is the bridge between our ELL students, their families, the school and the community,” said Gardner.  “She gives unselfishly her time to provide support our ELL families need 24/7 all year long.  The teachers value her participation in their conferences to convey the needs of the child and the parents.  Maria has high expectations for students, staff members, parents and community and will not give up until she has conveyed her message.  All of this is accomplished with a beautiful smile and positive attitude while wearing high heels.”

Linda Gail Kulaw – Longwood Elementary School – First Runner-up

Linda Kulaw has worked for Longwood Elementary School as a Secretary/Data Entry for four years.  Her main duties include inputting student registrations, ordering and receiving student files, inputting student immunizations and physicals, setting up and filing health files, handling student withdrawals, handling FTE and student class schedule changes, and serving as a back-up to the bookkeeper and Front Office. Kulaw has also served the county as an Okaloosa County Master Gardner for the past seven years.

Willing to go the extra mile when needed, Kulaw loves humor and tries to see the light side of things.

“I like to get to the root of a problem and solve it, and I try to do a job I can be proud to put my name on at the end of each day,” said Kulaw.  “When I make mistakes I try to ask myself, ‘What can I learn from this?’ We all know that every time we make a mistake it is an opportunity to learn.”

Some of Kulaw’s accomplishments while at Longwood include implementation of a system to maintain the registrations and withdrawal records of Longwood’s highly mobile population.

“It is with great pleasure that I recommended Linda Kulaw for the Education Support Professional of the Year,” said Principal Sonia Weikel.  “Linda is essential in maintaining the continuity of daily school operations. Her many talents and abilities include data entry, computer knowledge, excellent communication skills, organizational skills, ESE/ESOL compliance, office management, assisting students and teachers, human relations, and flexibility in assuming many different roles.  Her computer skills are extensive, and she is always willing to help.  Her excellent communication skills are evident as she navigates her way with phone calls, distressed students, upset parents, and teachers’ demands.”

Kulaw also has the distinction of earning her Master Gardner Certification and has transformed the school’s front lawn and butterfly gardens into beautiful works of art.

“Linda has developed a teaching guide to gardening that teachers use with their students for the outdoor classroom,” said Weikel.  “Linda always volunteers her time and expertise to help at after school events, decorating, serving snacks, and helping with student activities.  She is invaluable to me as we begin the process of creating the Master Schedule.  She systematically organizes the registration packets, distribution and collection of forms and, in a most timely manner, enters the courses for each student. This information is always accurate and available for building our master schedule and placing students in the correct classes.  Linda is a team player in all aspects and a most treasured employee at Longwood Elementary.”

Chin Taylor – Choice High School and Technical Center – Second Runner-up

Chin Taylor has worked at the Choice High and Technical Center for sixteen years and been with the Okaloosa County School District for twenty-one years.  As the Culinary Assistant, she helps the students prepare meals, store and dispose of food, test recipes, manage supplies, and helps with their lessons. 

“Having traveled half way around the world over 30 years ago, I now find myself surrounded by eager students, caring teachers, and energetic staff as the Culinary Arts Assistant Instructor,” said Taylor.  “I bring the traditions and beliefs of my Asian culture and combine them with American ideals for my unique instructional style.  My desire for my students is to transform them from beginning expeditors to knowledgeable professionals capable of stepping productively into the culinary world. I encourage excellence and responsibility, with the understanding that it takes time to achieve. I believe students learn best by example, and I believe in teaching them professional standards through class expectations.”

In spite of numerous obstacles in life, Taylor moved to America and overcame the language and culture barriers and has become highly-respected in the culinary classroom.

“While Chin may have the title of a class assistant in the Culinary Academy, she has gone above and beyond those responsibilities to ensure her students are well prepared for employment in their field,” said Patti Bonezzi, Director of the CHOICE Career and Technical Program.  “Chin fully instructs students with outstanding classroom management techniques in a commercial kitchen setting.  Not only does she teach her students the work ethic and skills required from food preparation to the final product with top-notch presentation, but she builds a relationship with those students who dearly love her. Her demands and expectations are extremely high and her results are proven if you have ever had the pleasure of being served a meal that has been prepared from start to table delivery in the culinary dining room.  The level of professionalism from serving the beverage to removing the dessert plate that she develops in young people ensures them success for their future.”

Taylor closely monitors the class as they prepare meals for catering and fundraising events. She has the ability to share her passion for food to these students to give them the pride of serving a first-class meal.

“Chin possesses an amazing ability to work with students of all levels to give them confidence and discover their expertise in culinary,” said Bonezzi.  “With her leadership and dedication, she has helped to build a program that is recognized by Johnson & Wales that can earn her students a scholarship opportunity to pursue further education in the hospitality industry.  Being highly regarded amongst her faculty, her quick wit and professional demeanor have earned her high regard by both students and staff.”

Education Support Professionals from all over the District will come together on Friday, March 15th to be recognized at the Annual Education Support Professional of the Year Breakfast.