Summerfield Elementary School second-grade teacher Melissa Bondoc is one of five finalists for Teacher of the Year.

Summerfield Elementary School second-grade teacher Melissa Bondoc’s normally tranquil, orderly classroom erupted into a cacophony of whooping and hollering as Hillsborough Education Foundation’s (HEF) ‘surprise patrol’ visited her classroom to alert her she had been selected as one of five Teacher of the Year finalists.

“I’m honored to represent all of the excellent educators we have at this school,” said an emotional Bondoc, who was presented with balloons, a gift basket and an oversized ticket to January’s awards ceremony.

The surprise patrol consisted of representatives from HEF, Hillsborough County Public Schools and Suncoast Credit Union, along with major sponsors of the individual awards: Amscot Financial and Caspers Company.

Principal Carmine Alfano was not surprised that Bondoc was nominated for Teacher of the Year. “She’s the ultimate team player and always goes above and beyond what’s expected of a teacher,” he said.

Alfano said he receives plenty of positive feedback from parents. “If it was up to parents, she’d have 80 students in her class,” he joked.

Bondoc and 12 other educators and district staff were visited by the surprise patrol alerting them they are finalists for the coveted titles of the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year, Instructional Support Employee of the Year and Teacher of the Year.

Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year finalists include Kristine Kelly (Potter Elementary), Bernadette London (Lomax Elementary), Benigno Lopez (Shield Middle), Karian Rivera (Reddick Elementary) and Lisa DiTarando (McKitrick Elementary).

Teacher of the Year finalists include Trista Willard (Mendenhall Elementary), Sonya Kelly (Tampa Palms Elementary), Laura Widerberg (Armwood High) and Jennifer Price (Lanier Elementary).

Instructional Support Employee of the Year finalists include Faith Smith (Temple Terrace Elementary), Steve Lunin (Sickles High) and Anita Garcia (Mitchell Elementary).

Shields Middle School Success Coach Benigno Lopez, a finalist for the Ida S. Baker Diversity Educator of the Year, was emotional when he learned the news. “Actions speak louder than words and are caught and not taught,” he said. “We’re here to make a difference and be a light for our students.”

Category winners will be announced at the 2022 Excellence in Education Awards Ceremony on Thursday, January 20 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

Casper’s Company (McDonald’s) Vice President of Community Relations Bob Conigliaro, founding sponsor of the program, is grateful to be a part of a program that celebrates teachers. Bondoc’s students gave a celebratory shout as Conigliaro presented each of them with a coupon for a free hamburger or cheeseburger.

“We help put teachers on a pedestal where they belong,” he said.

For more information about Hillsborough Education Foundation’s Excellence in Education Awards, visit

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Michelle Caceres
MIchelle Caceres has been writing for the Osprey Observer for seventeen years. She enjoys writing human interest pieces about inspiring members of the community who are working to better our community. She lives in FishHawk Ranch with her husband and recently became an empty-nester. When not writing, Michelle is serving her church community, reading and enjoying Florida's weather.