Paula Berry, a Wiregrass Ranch High School teacher who greets her students each day with a handshake, was named Saturday night as Pasco County's Teacher of the Year.
The announcement came at an event sponsored by the Pasco Education Foundation and held at the Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel High.
Berry teaches speech, Advanced Placement Language and English 2 Honors. She also serves as the benchmark-assessment coordinator at Wiregrass Ranch, helping to make sure students are prepared for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The school's FCAT reading scores have improved 13 percent with Berry in that role.
In an interview prior to Saturday night's announcement, Berry said she began her handshake routine when she taught in California at a school with a tough student body, some of whom were gang members.
"It diffused them as they came in," she said.
Berry said the greatest reward of her job is the relationship she develops with students. This year, she has 75 students who previously took a class under her and elected to do so again.
Other finalists for Teacher of the Year were Darcy Cleek, a science teacher at Long Middle School, and Sabrina Schmitz, who teaches journalism and graphic design at Mitchell High School.
The foundation also honored three other school district employees of the year.
Chuck Hutinger, an information services supervisor, was named Administrator of the Year. Finalists were Pat Reedy, who retired in December as Pasco High principal, and Melissa Musselwhite, director of Exceptional Student Education.
Christie Mitchell, health assistant at Centennial Middle, was named School Related Personnel of the Year. Finalists were Teresa Blankenship, a data entry operator at Land O' Lakes High, and Jacqueline Hall, an instructional assistant at Schrader Elementary.
Stephen Gandy, plant manager at Weightman Middle School, was named Non-Instructional Non-Bargaining Employee of the Year. Finalists were Nicole Westmoreland, financial coordinator in the Food and Nutrition Services Department, and Teresa Schuldt, maintenance secretary.