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Local teacher honored for increasing student achievement

By Staff | Nov 28, 2009

To get great FCAT scores is often a goal for teachers. To get them three years in a row is something superlative, school officials said.
Lee County Public Schools recently announced that Andrea Garber, a fourth-grade teacher at Tropic Isles Elementary School, was a winner of The Foundation for Excellence in Education’s 2009 Excel Award.
According to a school district spokesmen, Garber was honored based on an analysis of data provided by the Florida Department of Education that showed her students attained the greatest annual growth or learning gains in reading among students eligible for the federal free and reduced lunch program for three consecutive years.
The Excel Award is part of a broader initiative, Excellence in Teaching, launched by the Foundation for Excellence in Education in partnership with the Florida Lastinger Center for Learning at the University of Florida. The goal is to identify and share the secrets of successful teaching with educators and policymakers around the nation.
This week, Garber will head up to Orlando to accept the award, with Tropic Isles Elementary Principal Donald Bryant and his family there to share her honor.
A Cape Coral resident, Garber has been at the North Fort Myers school for 22 years.
“It is a family here; I feel welcome,” she said. “I think everyone here cares about the children.”
She got the high marks on reading — something she personally enjoys and believes is an integral part of the school day.
“We do reading in every subject — reading is everywhere. It’s so important you can’t do anything if you can’t read.
“I’ve always been a reader; I like fiction, mystery and romance.”
She said she tries to teach her students the love of reading through daily activities.
“We do a reading series and they enjoy reading aloud — and that helps them with their writing.”
It’s not just the reading atmosphere that works for her, said Bryant.
“Mrs. Garber also creates a family atmosphere in her classroom. It’s an environment where kids aren’t afraid to take risks like reading aloud.”
He said hers is also always an active classroom.
“She’s always moving around the classroom, in and around the kids. She’s also a good role model for other teachers and volunteers and shares her experiences with them. We have a lot of high-performing teachers here, and she represents them well.”
“It’s very important to bond with students,” Garber said. “We start each year as a family. I like to have a non-threatening environment, somewhere they feel comfortable and know I care about them.”
She’s originally from New York City, and has lived in Cape Coral for the last 22 years as well as teaching that entire time at Tropic Isles.
“I used to teach in the South Bronx,” she said. It was a lot different.
She and husband Jan have two sons, Michael and Josh, who are both in law enforcement. Besides reading, she loves to travel, and they have traveled extensively through the U.S. and Europe.
Her favorite part of teaching?
“Seeing the children learn, watching their faces; watching them go home with a smile on their face.”
Her students were thrilled, her principal reported, when they learned she had received the honor.
“She is one of those ideal teachers,” Bryant said. “She gets here early morning, quietly goes about work and never complains. And even though she’s very experienced, she’s very open-minded.
“One of the purposes of this award is to capture and share outstanding practices with other master teachers,” Bryant continued, of the official award day. “When she’s up at the event she’ll be quizzed and they will pick her brain to capture those effective best practices and share good teaching.”
“She did get an award for that achievement, something the school is celebrating.
Garber will be one of 81 exceptional Florida educators whose students learned at least 1.5 times the average student in their grade and achievement level in reading or math.
To honor the winning teachers, the Foundation for Excellence in Education is hosting an event — called the Celebration of Teaching — with former Gov. Jeb Bush, former Lt. Governor Toni Jennings and educator and author Ron Clark Saturday, Dec. 5, at the Rosen Center in Orlando.
“Once again one of our teachers has set herself as a model for her colleagues to emulate,” said Dr. James Browder, Superintendent of Schools. “Ms. Garber is doing a tremendous job — in an outstanding school — and I am proud to be associated with such a quality individual. She truly deserves this recognition.”