What was initially thought to be a guest speaker from the Education Foundation of Sarasota turned into a congratulatory celebration for social studies teacher Christine Braun. An 11 year veteran of the Sarasota County School District, Braun received the Sarasota County Middle School Teacher of the Year Award.
In the Auditorium, Pine View’s Jazz Band played a series of pieces as students shuffled into their seats, filling the room. Braun, who entered and sat in the front right, was not aware that she was going to be receiving the award, initially thinking it would be an acclaimed guest speaker. “Maybe it’s Ransom Riggs… Oh you know what? Maybe it could be the ‘Moonlight’ producer,” she said. Instead, the “speaker” turned out to be an elaborate ruse put on in order to surprise everyone. Braun was overcome with emotion when she found out that the person of honor turned out to be herself.
Several members from the school district walked onstage, including Superintendent Lori White, incoming Superintendent Todd Bowden and School Board Chair Caroline Zucker. On stage, they welcomed Braun to join them in accepting the award.
Shocked and tearing up, Braun walked onstage to receive two balloons, a bouquet of flowers and many hugs from her colleagues and husband (who was waiting backstage to join in on the surprise). “I don’t even know what to say,” Braun said as she received a sustained and passionate applause. After a standing ovation from students and staff, Braun held back tears and spoke to the audience:
Listen, this is not my award. I want to share this with every teacher on campus. This is my first job as a teacher… This job has taught me more than I ever learned in college and I can say the same about every teacher here. They’re such a hard working group of people and the students here… Thank you.
Following her speech, Principal Dr. Stephen Covert congratulated Braun. “We couldn’t be more proud of you Mrs. Braun, and the work you’ve done with our students,” he said.
Braun was initially nominated and selected by her colleagues to represent Pine View as the Middle School Teacher of the Year at the district level. She then entered a selection process to become the county winner. “We run interviews the whole week: two days for elementary, one day for middle and high school. We ask them a variety of questions based on their educational values, skills, communication and more,” shadow to the Director of Instructional Services Holly Chesnoff said. The interviewers included the Director of Instructional Services as well as last year’s winners of the title.
The award is part of a bus tour the Sarasota County School District is taking to schools to congratulate winners of the Teacher of the Year award. “So far today we’ve been to Riverview and Tatum Ridge. This is our last stop. The hardest part is hiding the bus,” future Superintendent Todd Bowden said. On Braun’s win, Bowden said, “She’s a great candidate who deserves the recognition.”
As part of the award, Braun will also attend a luncheon in April, where she will undergo the district selection process, where they will decide between the three district grade level winners to decide who will represent Sarasota County School District at the state level. On campus, there will be a giant congratulatory cake in celebration of Braun Friday, Feb. 3.
After Dr. Covert notified the rest of the staff of Braun’s recognition, there was an outpouring of support for with many emails sent to her by staff.
Fourth-grade teacher Amanda Simon said, “Such an awesome honor for a very deserving person! Congratulations, Chris! You have a heart for your students, for sure!”
Teacher Aide Laura Medlin said, “Let me say you are one fantastic teacher who leads from her heart, engages all students, and is kind and courteous to all staff members. You certainly have my vote for overall Teacher of the Year!”
“Congratulations Chris! Now everyone will know something we have always known,” fourth-grade teacher Lois Myers said.