WELLINGTON, Fla. - Among the faculty at Elbridge Gale Elementary, Kristen Rulison has earned recognition as a "model teacher" for her skills at helping both struggling and advanced students become better readers.
Now she's achieved even higher praise — the title of Palm Beach County teacher of the year.
In a surprise visit to Rulison's third-grade classroom on Tuesday, acting schools Superintendent Bill Malone announced the award as her students watched and applauded.
"I truly do love going to work every day," said Rulison, 28, who is finishing her sixth year as an educator. "I have the most amazing job in the world."
Principal Gail Pasterczyk called her a "superstar" for her dedication before, during and after school hours.
Rulison works as a reading tutor for 50 minutes before the start of class three days a week. On all school mornings, she serves as a Supplemental Academic Instruction teacher, teaching two groups of students who need extra reading support. In the afternoon, she teaches language arts to classes of gifted and high-performing pupils.
And after school and in the evenings, Rulison serves as sponsor of the campus dance club, mentors new and student teachers, volunteers as treasurer of the school's Parent Teacher Organization, and sits on various district committees.
Markeem Wilcher, 11, says the praise for his teacher is well-deserved.
"I think she's the best teacher in the world," Markeem said. "She can make you understand reading."
Diamerah Johnson, 10, agreed. "She helps us become better readers. She's helping us get ready for the FCAT."
District administrators selected Rulison for the award after reviewing nominations from principals from most campuses. Applicants must demonstrate an ability to improve student learning and perform as campus leaders, among other criteria.
In her application, Rulison explained how she strives to provide "a world-class education to children at a critical stage in their development as learners."
"Teaching is not just creating lessons for my students to memorize the skills and concepts that they are studying, but rather to help them make connections to the importance of what they are learning and how this knowledge can be applied and useful in their own lives," she wrote.
Rulison now joins the competition for the Florida Department of Education-Macy's Teacher of the Year 2012 Program, Malone said. As the district's nominee, Rulison is to receive $750 from Macy's; her school will receive $250.
The Florida teacher of the year, announced in July, receives a cash prize of $10,000 from Macy's, and four other finalists will get $5,000. Macy's also gives $1,000 to the finalists' respective schools to be used for educational programs.
"I'm very honored," Rulison said. "I can't even imagine being teacher of the year of the whole county."
Rulison's husband joined Malone and other school district officials for Tuesday's impromptu class ceremony. Tommy Rulison teaches physical education at Osceola Creek Middle School in Loxahatchee. The couple, who are expecting their first child this summer, live in Royal Palm Beach.
Also Tuesday, Malone paid a surprise stop at the district's West Transportation Facility. There, he announced that bus driver Victoria Smith is the district's school-related employee of the year.
Smith, 57, has worked for the school system for 26 years. She is known for her "positive and professional manner," supervisors say.
Smith also is highly dependable — she missed just one half-day of work last year.
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