By NewsLine Staff

Like any other end to the school week, Switzerland Point Middle School band director Laurie Zentz had her band class engaged and focused on the lesson plans for today. She and her students had no idea that she was about to receive the surprise of a lifetime.

At 9:30 a.m., Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, along with Paul Imbrone, Macy’s vice president of government and public Affairs, made the surprise announcement: from a group of 72 teachers, Zentz was chosen as one of five finalists to compete for the 2017 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year Award.

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“Congratulations to Laurie Zentz for being named a finalist for this prestigious award. Her dedication and commitment to her students is testament to the hard work educators do every day in classrooms to strengthen the future of the state of Florida,” said Dennis Witte, Macy’s executive vice president and regional director of stores.

Upon receiving the good news, Zentz was presented with a $15,000 check from the Florida Department of Education and Macy’s, and a $500 Macy’s gift card. A $1,000 check, funded by Macy’s, was presented to Switzerland Point Middle School.

Macy’s will contribute more than $100,000 in cash to the state-run Teacher of the Year program, as it has done since 1988. This year, Governor Rick Scott secured additional state funds for teachers in the Teacher of the Year program to significantly increase these awards for Florida educators.

For the past 28 years, Macy’s, along with the Florida Department of Education, has honored the most exceptional educators in Florida who make magic in and out of their classrooms every day. The Teacher of the Year program recognizes and honors the contributions of outstanding classroom teachers who have demonstrated a superior capacity to inspire a love of learning in students of all backgrounds and abilities.

“In the case of Mrs. Zentz, the numbers certainly do not lie,” said Commissioner of Education Stewart. “In just five years, she has quadrupled the size of Switzerland Point Middle School’s band, making it the largest of its kind. Her passion for her students and the teaching profession as a whole shines through as she enables her students to work toward excellence each and every day, and I commend her for making her students the top priority.”

This year’s five finalists were chosen from more than 194,519 public school teachers throughout the state by a Department of Education-appointed selection committee representing teachers, principals, parents and the business community. Each finalist is selected on the basis of outstanding ability to teach and communicate knowledge of the subject taught, professional development, philosophy of teaching, and outstanding school and community service.

The winner of the 2017 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year award will be announced during a ceremony on Thursday, July 14, 2016. The event, hosted by Emmy Award-winning journalist Deborah Norville, will be held at Orlando’s Hard Rock Live at Universal Studios CityWalk.

In addition to a $20,000 award funded by Macy’s and the Department of Education, the Teacher of the Year will receive awards from Macy’s including an all-expense paid trip for four to New York City to attend the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The winner will also serve for one year as the Christa McAuliffe Ambassador for Education, touring the state to spread the word about educational opportunities and challenges in the Sunshine State. To date, Macy’s has contributed almost $3 million to teachers throughout the state.

Photo courtesy Macy’s

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