VERO BEACH – Struggling to hold back tears, fourth grade Osceola Magnet Elementary School teacher Cheryl Conley thanked the 60-plus crowd of students, parents and teachers who came to congratulate her on being named the 2011 Florida Teacher of the Year.
“There’s no place like home, right?” Conley said, her voice breaking from the emotion. “That’s what Osceola Magnet is about.”
Conley received the state title Thursday night in Orlando and drove back to Vero Beach to be received by friends and family at her school.
She will now be on a one-year sabbatical, traveling the state as an education ambassador.
“That’s going to be bittersweet,” Conley said of leaving her school and students for a year.
Ten-year-old Faith McFadden, who was in Conley’s fourth grade class this last school year, said she is going to miss Conley.
“I’m excited and sad,” McFadden said – excited her teacher won, but sad that she’ll be leaving.
McFadden was hard-pressed to describe a “typical” day in Ms. Conley’s classroom, noting that “nothing’s typical – every day’s different.”
Conley believes in making education fun and inspiring the children to be creative thinkers – part of that teaching includes dressing up as Albert Einstein, a pirate or donning a sombrero.
Conley is the second teacher in Indian River County to receive the state honor of being the Florida Teacher of the Year. Margaret Ingram, who had left Osceola Magnet for Beachland Elementary, was so named in 1988.
“Cheryl is just outstanding,” Ingram said. “This is an exceptional moment for her.”
Ingram, who also spent a year away from her school to travel as an ambassador, said that the advice she has for Conley is to stay happy and healthy.
“Now, she is a state teacher – she is everyone’s state teacher,” Ingram said, adding that Conley needs to own that.
“She is the epitome of what a teacher is,” Osceola Magnet Principal Susan Roberts said.
Though Conley will be leaving the school for a year, Roberts said she has every confidence that they will be able to find a teacher capable of filling Conley’s shoes.
“We’re definitely going to miss her,” Roberts said, “but we’ll keep a spot available.”
Conley said she would come and visit the school whenever her schedule allows for her to be back home.
“I’m very humbled to represent all of you,” Conley told the crowd, later adding, “I hope I make all of you proud.”
“You will!” was heard, shouted in reply.