It was no accident that East Lake High visual arts teacher Eileen Iacobucci decided to spend her work life in the classroom.
The spark came while she was growing up in Amherst, Mass.
“I grew up in an educational family, where my father was an elementary school principal, my grandfather a high school science teacher, and one of my sisters is a kindergarten teacher,” Iacobucci recalled in comments she wrote as part of her recent nomination for Pinellas County Teacher of the Year.
“It was that upbringing that early on solidified my goal to become an art teacher,” she said.
Her colleagues have decided that Iacobucci has more than met that goal. She was named the school district’s top teacher in a ceremony Wednesday evening at Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, one of 10 finalists selected from a field of 131 educators nominated in the fall by their schools.
The annual recognition is organized by the Pinellas Education Foundation and Pinellas County Schools.
In her letter nominating Iacobucci as a top teacher, East Lake principal Carmela Haley quoted Warren Bennis, the late American scholar who was an authority on leadership and managing large organizations. “Leadership is the capacity to turn vision into reality,” he said.
“Mrs. Iacobucci is the embodiment of this statement,” Haley wrote. “Other than being the school’s department chair, mentor to new staff and interns, member of the School-Based Leadership Team and leader of the prestigious Performing and Visual Arts Academy, Mrs. Iacobucci is truly a lifetime learner, embracing a growth mindset.”
Iacobucci’s students typically start with her as freshmen and continue through their senior year, building skill and confidence along the way, according to Haley.
“She works individually with students, elevating them to their highest potential, beginning with the fundamentals of art and culminating in their most sophisticated works, winning awards and being chosen for display in local museums,” the principal wrote. “Many of her students continue their education in the arts, attending prestigious universities such as (the Savannah College of Art and Design) and The Ringling College of Art and Design.”
Iacobucci, 65, arrived at East Lake High in 2007 for what she calls her “dream job.” She previously taught at Palm Harbor Middle School and Lake St. George and Sunset Hills elementary schools, having joined the district in 1998. Before that, she worked at two Pinellas private schools and held teaching jobs in Massachusetts and in Flagler County.
Because her East Lake classes are electives, not every student before her is necessarily interested in art, at least at the start, Iacobucci acknowledged. Some are there simply to fulfill a graduation requirement, so she meets them where they are.
“Once I establish that curiosity, I encourage them to use art as a means of expression and a way to convey their feelings and ideas in their pieces,” she wrote. “This is often cathartic for them, especially in the recent times we have had.”
She says the work of creating art hones skills that can benefit students in their other courses and in their lives after high school.
“I believe that every child is deserving of a visual arts education,” Iacobucci said in her acceptance speech Wednesday. “Art is the language we all speak. It’s critical thinking, problem-solving and inclusiveness. It transcends all disciplines. It’s the creative, calming feeling of accomplishments for our students. It’s acceptance, it’s risk-taking and it’s timeless. With art, there’s always more to discover.”
Thursday morning, Iacobucci received the customary Teacher of the Year treatment with a limousine ride to school.
Pinellas is the last of the Tampa Bay area school districts to select its Teacher of the Year.
The Hernando County School District on Tuesday announced that its top teacher this year is Lt. Cmdr. Christian Cruz, leader of the Naval Junior ROTC program at Central High in Brooksville. Last week, Hillsborough County named Armwood High biology teacher Laura Widerberg as its Teacher of the Year.
Pasco County’s Teacher of the Year, announced in December, is Ryan Bintz, the theater teacher at Longleaf Elementary.
The four educators will represent their districts in the Florida Teacher of the Year competition later this semester.
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