Newsome High School reading teacher Kim Keebler, seen on the right of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, poses with fellow recipients of this year’s 16th Congressional District Teacher Awards. The other teachers hail from Manatee and Sarasota counties. (Photo credit: U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s office.)

By Linda Chion

The 16th Congressional District Teacher Awards, established by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan in 2014, are awarded annually to exceptional teachers for their outstanding achievements on behalf of students, and this year, Kim Keebler from Newsome High School is the Hillsborough County recipient.

Nominated in January by Newsome Principal Katie Rocha, Keebler said she believes she received the award “because of my ability to connect with my students and my colleagues.”

Keebler said her love for teaching came early, as she was moved by the work of her mother, Ellie Reifsnyder, who taught at Mango Elementary School.

Calling Reifsnyder “the biggest influence” on her decision to become a high school English teacher, Keebler said it was from her mother that she “learned how important it is to connect to your students, to motivate them to set and achieve goals and to make them feel valued.”

Indeed, that is the reasoning behind the teacher awards, which Buchanan said he established because while teachers “may not always receive the appreciation or recognition they deserve,” they do “have one of the most important and difficult professions of all.”

A reading teacher since 2008, Keebler said she began her teaching career at Armwood High School, where she earned her high school diploma in 1987. She taught also at East Bay High School in Gibsonton and Bloomingdale High School in Valrico before landing her job at Newsome seven years ago.

Keebler graduated from the University of South Florida during a hiring freeze for new teachers and worked 12 years in the mortgage industry. She said she refocused on a career in teaching after the market crashed and has worked with “amazing teachers” ever since.

As for the many colleagues who “graciously shared their wealth of knowledge, enthusiasm and love of teaching,” Keebler said she counts among them Jeannette Teeden, media specialist at Plant City High School, and Newsome literacy coach Sandra Misciasci, who received the 16th Congressional District Teacher Award for Hillsborough County in 2020.

As Keebler put it, “I have grown so much since my first day of teaching, and it has shown me the power that comes from collaboration.”

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